Moving to Sacramento -- where to live, what to do?
April 11, 2011 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Relocating to Sacramento -- where should I live? What do I need to know?

Single, 30s guy moving to Sacramento for a 2 - 3 year work project (and definitely would consider staying if I love it). I'll be working on the "La Riviera" area, I think (Bradshaw Rd. exit off of 50).

I don't necessarily need to live right next to where I work -- I don't mind a limited commute (20 - 25 minutes). If it was close enough for a bicycle commute, that would be ideal. More importantly, I'm looking to live in a non-suburby area, with plenty to walk to and plenty of stuff happening. I only need a small place right now, and I know I'll want to go out and meet people. My budget is pretty flexible, and I'd even consider buying a small condo if it the situation is right (I'm currently selling a large house in South Carolina, and I know I don't want another big standalone place in CA).

So, is downtown the place I need to be? Are there other "pockets" of multi-use areas I should consider? My nightmare is to be stuck in a cookie-cutter apartment community off a freeway exit with nothing to walk to and no one my age around. I also can't stomach a commute longer than about 25 minutes. I did a 45 - 60 minute commute once, and it won't happen again. Too much life wasted.

(Info about places NOT to live is just as useful to me as places TO live!)

Finally, and this may be a separate question, while I'm living and working in Sacramento what ELSE should I do? I know I want to visit a lot of other parts of CA (I've never lived on the Left Coast before) such as SF, Tahoe, Napa, etc., but I'm not really familiar with what the Sacramento area has to offer. I'm a foodie, so I'll definitely be sampling the restaurants in the area, but I'll also have flexibility most weekends to explore. I want the full experience!

So, all you Hive Mind contributors, help out a Midwest and East coast transplant coming to sunny California!
posted by peripatetic007 to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sacramento is basically a small town, a lot like San Jose and other state capitals. If La Riviera is that part off Watt & 50, you want to get as far north-west of there as possible.
posted by rhizome at 4:41 PM on April 11, 2011

I don't like Sacramento- it's hot and spawly- but it's in the middle of neat places to visit and smack in the middle of California's very goofy history. My favorites for visiting are skiing (2 hours away), San Francisco Bay Area (1-1.5 hours), and Yosemite (4 hours).
posted by small_ruminant at 4:43 PM on April 11, 2011

I live on the North shore of Tahoe, so I can give you a lot of info on this area if you wish. It's great in the summer for beaches, hiking, camping and bears. It's great in the winter for snow, snow sports, snow, snow and did I mention snow? It's about 2 hours away (depending on which part of Tahoe you are heading to), several thousands of feet higher in elevation and a distinct eco-system apart from Sacramento. Mountains to palm trees, yup.

I can leave Tahoe in the morning when it's 32 degrees and be in Sacramento a few hours later and it's 85 and sweltering. Rev up your air conditioning if you are moving here, but compared to South Carolina, the heat will be very different - not so much humidity, very very dry.

Locals call the city Sac or Sacto.

I don't know much about 50, but I-80 is a nightmare any day from 2 pm to about 7 pm. UGH.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2011

Personally I hated Sacramento when I lived there, mainly because of the apartment complex in the middle of nowhere existence, its very isolating. I moved to San Jose many years ago and never looked back. Unfortunately my knowledge is way out of date to suggest particular areas in the city. I just remember it as mostly suburban sprawl of little redeeming value.

However, the only thing to recommend Sacramento (in my mind) was its proximity to the mountains. You have an easy shot along Hwy-50 to some awesome skiing and outdoor activities in the Sierra and Lake Tahoe. In general its a great base from which to explore Norther California and beyond. So every weekend and holiday was an excuse to get the hell out of Sacramento and go someplace more interesting.

PS: Its damn hot in the summer, but not humid like the east coast. But typically too hot for outdoor activities unless they involve a swimming pool. That's said its nice to be able to party all night by pool because it's still 90 degrees at 1am.
posted by Long Way To Go at 5:04 PM on April 11, 2011

Sacramento, outside of downtown/midtown is suburby. The La Riviera area is very much the suburban part, though it's close to the American River Bike Trail.

It depends on how much you want to spend and trade-offs. A lot of the apartments in that area are going to be cookie-cutter. You could live more midtown, though it'd be further but I think you'd be doing more of a reverse commute.

I grew up in Carmichael, the next suburb over from the La Riviera area, and I like it but if I were to move back it'd be midtown/downtown. It can be hot and sprawly, but I think it's really improved in the last 10 years. I live in Berkeley now and I'd sooner move to Sacramento than to San Jose, but that's just me. Sacto has a pretty nice atmosphere and people are friendly, though I try to not go back in the summer. (My parents don't have AC and I don't care how nice the Delta breeze is, it's hot!)

Random tip - if you're into food/wine, check out the El Dorado Hills wine country. Quirkier than Napa and not as clich├ęd.
posted by kendrak at 5:08 PM on April 11, 2011

I commute between Los Angeles and Southern Oregon, and I actually really like downtown Sac. We always stop there because it's exactly half way and the people there seem so "normal," which may not be what you want to hear, but compared to L.A., and even Southern Oregon, they seem incredibly non-showy for a big city.

I would check out the Citi-Data Forum on Sacramento. It is hands down the best place to get experiential and thorough detail from people who live, or have lived, there.

Finally, aside from the obvious beautiful natural countryside around Sac, and the big-city attractions of S.F., L.A. and S.D., do consider at least one Highway 1 coastal trip from Mendocino to Malibu, and pass up Napa vineyard sampling for Southern Oregon's emerging vineyard scene (way less touristy and even more beautiful). If you're into live theatre, there is WORLD CLASS theatre every year in Ashland, Oregon, about 5 hours up the I-5, that revolves around it's highly respected Shakespeare Theatre Festival, and tickets are cheaper than in San Francisco, or Sacramento. And, finally, in addition to skiing, enjoy at least one summer river rafting trip in the area's most excellent rivers.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:09 PM on April 11, 2011

If you're willing to commute, Davis CA is very close by and is kind of the anti-Sacramento - a small, liberal, green (environmentally and in color), well-educated college town. I loved it there. If Sacramento ends up not being to your liking, it may be a good option. But definitely go out and visit and see whether Sac (or Davis, or any of the Sacramento periphery) appeals to you. Best of luck, and enjoy the weather, I miss it so.....
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:25 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Re: Davis, FWIW, the commute comes up on Google Maps as 28 minutes... and that's from downtown to (as far as I can tell) your job. You would probably want to try and avoid rush hour traffic, though.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:27 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm a former Davis-ite who has many friends still living in Sacramento, and who love it. Davis is great, but I'm not sure what the non-student experience would be like there. I'm not well-versed in the Sac neighborhoods well enough to talk knowledgeably, but can say that a friend of mine lived until very recently around T and 23rd (which despite being in the frighteningly named Poverty Ridge according to Google Maps, is a nice area) and it was quite walkable for bars and the like. It is my impression that Midtown is the best neighborhood in terms of having nightlife, restaurants, galleries, etc at your fingertips.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:41 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Davis is nice, if I had to choose between Davis and Sac to live long-term, it would be Sacramento. Davis revolves around its identity as a college town. Come to the Davis Farmer's Market as a lovely weekend bike ride.

Davis is assuredly not a 20-35 minute bike ride from where you will be working. Kendrak has given the best answer so far. The American River Bike Trail is excellent for biking (except for a month every year when it is flooded), and the place for you to live is midtown.

The free weekly Sacramento News & Review (SN&R) has reviews a restaurant in each issue. Their features are pretty good, too. The Sac Wiki is a great and growing resource. It's like Wikipedia but for Sacramento. Here are some restaurants to get you started.
posted by aniola at 7:07 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, I second wuzandfuzz.
posted by aniola at 7:09 PM on April 11, 2011

Davis is assuredly not a 20-35 minute bike ride from where you will be working.

Oh, no, absolutely not. Sorry. I meant by car.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:23 PM on April 11, 2011

At last, a question I can really answer!

Davis is assuredly not a 20-35 minute bike ride from where you will be working.

Oh, no, absolutely not. Sorry. I meant by car.

If OP is working regular working hours, I do not see this being a 20-35 minute commute by car. But, not to derail re Davis.

I think the best advice is to live somewhere in Midtown - it's a lively area with lots of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, shops, etc. And, depending on where you live in Midtown the commute should be within your desired range.

Things to do - by all means check out the American River Bike Trail, but also generally the American River Parkway is just beautiful (IMHO, in all seasons). I lived in Fair Oaks for several years (east along 50) and there are several great access points. Buy a year pass (~$55) and you'll never have to worry about parking. If you are into camping or other outdoorsy stuff, there is of course Tahoe but don't discount places closer to Sacramento in the foothills. Check out Desolation Wilderness if you are into backpacking. Every month in Midtown there is something called "Second Saturday" where lots of studios and art galleries are open in the evening. It can be fun, but it seems to have become more about the free wine and cheese for a lot of people so it's not really my scene. But, still might be worth checking out. And, of course, San Francisco and all it has to offer is about 90 minutes away. Traffic getting to the Bay Area can be a total bitch on the weekends, but one option is to take Amtrak from downtown Sac to the East Bay and then hop on BART. It will likely be longer but it's an option for people who can't stand sitting in traffic.

Food - well, I have lots of opinions about this subject. Below are some of my favorites.

Gunther's Ice Cream (lemon custard, zomg)
Hana Tsubaki for sushi
Thai Basil in Midtown
Cafe Bernardo in Midtown for brunch
Freeport Bakery (they did my wedding cake and are generally great)

Since I lived in the suburbs a lot of the places I've tried are in the 'burbs, but I think these two are worth a drive.
Paul Martin's Bistro in Roseville
Hawks in Granite Bay

For ingredients shopping, you want to go to South Sacramento for any Asian/South Asian ingredients. Oto's Marketplace is fantastic for Japanese stuff, including sashimi grade fish. Sacramento has a bunch of farmer's markets but unfortunately (IMO) many of the vendors are not organic. Sacramento Natural Foods Coop is great, and there is a Whole Foods.

If there is anything else you are particularly looking for, feel free to memail me. Also, Chowhound is a great resource. Check out the California board and search for Sacramento for recommendations.
posted by lvanshima at 7:51 PM on April 11, 2011

The farmers market in downtown Sacramento on sunday mornings (i forget exactly where, but under the freeway) is probably the biggest and best farmers market I've ever been too. It's where people from actual farms come to sell their food , seemingly often to restaurant owners (I'm really cynical about "farmers markets" right now...)

Although I've never lived there, if I moved back to Sacramento, I would seriously consider midtown, and I second most of Ivanshima's food recommendations.

New Canton on Broadway used to be amazing, but it might have gone downhill since last I was there.

Old town Sacramento has some nice things - including a fun jazz festival. It can be stupid and touristy as well.

A word of warning - don't drive behind the tomato trucks in the summer.
posted by lab.beetle at 9:34 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like Davis (speaking as a non-student), but most people are going to want to live in the city, period, unless you hate cities and like little burbs better. And while I don't know jack about Sacramento leasing from experience, the Davis lease cycle is utterly inflexible and probably isn't great for someone who's moving earlier or later than September 1 (plus well, you'd have to have a lease signed nownownownownow for September 1 about everywhere). I don't think it's what you're looking for, but you're welcome to stop by and visit.

There's also the other burbs of Woodland and Winters and Dixon for cheap living/commuting, but they have even less social life, so I don't think you want them either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:01 PM on April 11, 2011

I love The Big Tomato! It is hot in the Summer, and is surrounded by sprawly suburbs, but it is also surrounded by lush farmland, vineyards, and two beautiful rivers, has an interesting history, and is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. Those suburbs aren't just filled with McMansions, but also with large numbers of southeast Asians, south and latin Americans, and eastern Europeans. It's a really interesting place to live, and has a lot more going for it than just its proximity to other places.

You definitely want to live in Midtown, or Land Park/East Sac ( you'll get used to saying "Sac" without thinking it's dirty). I think the light rail would take you to La Riviera. It goes through East Sac, but not Midtown. Midtown is pretty bar-heavy, and tends to skew either hipstery or overgrown frat boy, depending on the block. East Sac is a little more family friendly, but still very walkable. That said, I lived in Boulevard Park, which is just a few blocks from one of the most bar- and restaurant-dense parts of Midtown, and wasn't bothered at all. Midtown is filled with beautiful Victorian and turn of the century houses, and Sacramento is The City of Trees, so it's a really lovely place to live.

The farmers market is amaaaaaazing. It goes year round under the freeway down around 10th street. Incidentally, Midtown is called "The Grid" because it is organized in an alphabetical/numerical, um, grid.

It's an extremely bikeable city too. It's very, very flat with bike lanes nearly everywhere. I forget if someone mentioned this, but you could probably take the American River Bike Trail from Midtown or East Sac to your job.

Don't bother looking in Davis. It has overpriced, crappy housing, and is overrun by students. I went to UC Davis and still lived in Sacramento because it was cheaper and nicer. It's a great town though, and a nice 15 mile bike ride away.

The Yelp community for Sacramento is really active. You should check out their listings and Talk boards. Also Midtown Monthly is a great free local magazine, that is also online. Heckasac (sorry I can't link on my phone) is a fun, if idiosyncratic, local blog. Speaking of, get used to people saying "hella" or "hecka" as an intensifier.
posted by apricot at 10:13 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the great advice!

A couple of responses:

-- I had a chance to walk around Midtown today and had a great dinner and conversation with the bartender at 58 Degrees & Holding, a wine bar and restaurant at 18th and L (I recommend the charcuterie plate, but then I'm a sucker for charcuterie). He confirmed much of what y'all said -- Midtown is the place to live. I've looked at some apartment rentals and the prices are pretty reasonable as well.

-- I don't mind the heat. Sacramento has NOTHING on Columbia, SC. =)

-- Davis really does look interesting, but looks to be a bit too far away for me to be happy with the commute. I did the reverse commute today (as it will be once I start working), and there was no traffic at all. 15 - 20 minutes max.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by peripatetic007 at 10:52 PM on April 11, 2011

Yeah, you're looking for midtown.
posted by willpie at 7:14 AM on April 12, 2011

Oh! I didn't realize you were there right now! So you're getting a feel for the place.

The heat really isn't that bad. It's a dry heat, and the Delta breezes come in at night and cool everything down. I'm living on the east coast now and would be happy to trade the unrelenting humidity for sunny 90 degree days and crisp mornings!
posted by apricot at 7:30 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as much as I love the mild Bay Area weather, I much prefer the dry heat of the Central Valley summers over anything from the South or Midwest.
posted by kendrak at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2011

I am not from Sac, but my dad is so I have spent a great deal of time there. I absolutely love (LOVE) the Woodlake and McKinley neighborhoods. Lovely post-war era homes, well kept, super green and lush. It is super close to that giant (awesome) farmer's market, within walking distance to the American River, and right on the light rail that goes downtown. If I were going to move there, Woodlake or McKinnley would be at the absolute top of my list.
posted by LyndsayMW at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just found out that the light rail (SACRT) has a stop AT my place of work. Right there. So, I can hop on at 16th st. or 23rd st. and be there in just over 20 minutes.

This just got a whole lot easier, folks. Thanks so much for the advice!
posted by peripatetic007 at 10:20 PM on April 12, 2011

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