Locals Know Best: Sacramento, California

By Liza Weisstuch
October 30, 2016

There once was a time when Sacramento was, to put it kindly, in a rut. Locals cast their gazes longingly towards San Francisco and Oakland, epicenters of creativity and culture. Then Sacramento State graduates Maritza and Roshaun Davis had an idea: give Sacramento’s creative class an outlet for showcasing their talents and watch them—and the city—thrive. Enter: Unseen Heros, the lifestyles event production company they founded.

“In 2008, Sacramento was still trying to find its identity,” says Maritza. “It’s like when you were a teenager and you were awkwardly trying to grow, Sacramento was like a teenager—with braces and awkward with its body.” 

Today Sacramento has grown into its own, with no small thanks to Unseen Heroes, which oversees year-round events like  the Saturday midtown farmers market and Gather Oak Park. Both, as they put it, are “events that make people proud of what’s here.” The couple (in life and business) also own shops specializing in California-made goods and curate a rotating pop-up market where they house their offices. Since founding Unseen Heroes in 2008, they’ve made a career out of knowing every nook and cranny of Sacramento. We recently reached them to get their inside tips on where to eat, drink, stay, and hang in the city. *Spoiler alert*: “obnoxiously delicious” ice cream, a poke bar, and unbelievable happy hour deals all factor in.  


Oak Park is Sacrament's oldest neighborhood, but there are plenty of spots that are under the radar, like the retro-minded Arthur Henry’s, which bills itself as a Supper Club and Ruby Room. Without windows or signs, the only indication that it’s there is its red door. “If you’re in the mafia, this is where you wanna make your deals. There are a lot of dark, fun, strange elements to it,” says Maritza. “I don’t want to give too much away, but if you order dinner there, it’s going to come raw, so be prepared to cook.” They offer a beer and steak special for a remarkable $16 and a bourbon list that’s sure to impress.

For every steak in Sacramento there’s a slab of grilled soy meat. Andy Nguyen has an ample variety of wholesome vegetarian and vegan meals—countless permutations of noodles, rice, tofu and vegetables. Meals are generous in size and clock in under $10. If your preferences lean south of the border, La Benbita has what Maritza deems the best margaritas, made with fresh juices. The cantina is known for its festive patio and unbeatable happy hour special: two tacos and a margarita for $13.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll have a great story to bring home after a visit to Gunther’s. The time-worn ice cream shop is an institution among locals, as evidenced by the fact that despite it being tucked away in a relatively residential area, people flock there in droves. “When you see the line out the door and down the block, you know you’re there,” said Maritza, describing the handmade ice cream and shakes as “obnoxiously delicious.”


Unseen Heroes curates and manages Gather, a culinary event that takes place on the second hursdays of each month from May through October. There are lots of food onsite--tacos, pizza, veggie fare from Mother (also a restaurant), and much touted donuts from Sweet Dozen Donuts (Get a lemon poppy seed donut then try everything else, advises Maritza). There are long communal tables where everyone kicks back and chows down. The rest of the year they curate Midtown Farmers’ Market, a culinary extravaganza in Midtown. Over 90 vendors hawk their wares, from beef jerky and sausages to balsamic vinegar, honey and wine. It's a go-to for a taste of the vibrant local culinary scene.  


Not far off the freeway sits JayJay, a gallery founded in 2000 that spotlights a roster of international artists whose work spans all media. “They have a lot of fun pieces and the owners are really hands-on and engaged,” says Maritza. “they’ve been around the area for 40-plus years and they’ve helped curate different large projects. They get their hands on cool artists and they have their finger on the pulse of young up and coming artists.” After you’ve looked at art, taste some. Head down the street to Tupelo. The couple asserts it makes the city’s finest mocha, made with Mexican chocolate. Cap off the afternoon down the street with dinner at Selland’s Market-Cafe, which is known for its elevated comfort food—salads, sandwiches, pizzas—prepared with local seasonal ingredients. At select times, two dinners and a bottle of wine clocks in at $25.

Another Martiza-and-Rashaun-approved outing that’s a feast for the eyes and palate is centered in the Curtis Park, quaint with great brownstown galleries. Sol Collective is more of a community center than a gallery, but nevertheless, it’s a destination for unique shows of all media and installations by a lineup of international artists as well as pop-up shops. Additionally, Maritza and Roshaun rave about the classes offered throughout the month that anyone can drop in on: beat-making, art, and, most regularly, yoga. Fortify yourself afterwards with noodles galore at Shoki Ramen, where about $15 will get you a bowl of excellent ramen, a drink and curry on rice. As an added bonus (or, some might say, courtesy), you can order wines here by the half-glass. Wrap up the day at Gunther’s. The old fashioned ice cream shop (See above for Maritza's rave review) is a mere five blocks away. 

Some people go to nature to experience a sense of place, others go shopping. Display, owned and run by Maritza and Roshaun, showcases Sacramento’s creative class with its ever-changing inventory of products made by local designers and brands, from gift items, household goods, and lots of fun stuff for kids. More recently, they opened the neighboring Damas, featuring goods and clothing for women, by women. Men have plenty of spots to shop, too, like Get a Clue, a longtime midtown retailer. They specialize in sneakers, denim, shirts, and the like, mostly by local designers. Hungry? Preservation and Co. has plenty of boutique edibles, like a house bloody mary mix, plus tons of sauces, jams and such.


Modern, funky and rich in local lore, Maritza and Roshaun recommend Citizen’s Hotel, not least because  its restaurant and bar, The Grange, has a fantastic happy hour. Steps away are two super-hip spots to eat: Empress Tavern and the very lively Mother Sacramento, a vegetarian haven. Despite its brand name, the Westin Sacramento Hotel, which sits on the Sacramento River, has a lot of character. It’s a short drive away from the hubbub of downtown, and in addition to its affordability, they note that it’s nicely landscaped, so much so that locals hang out there just for the scenery. 

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Locals Know Best: Savannah

Mention Savannah to most people and they’re quick to free associate: sweet tea, riverboats, peaches, and all the other clichés. But anyone who’s known and loved the city his or her whole life is quick to scoff at those formulaic stereotypes. Ruel Joyner is one of those people who can’t resist slipping into ambassador mode when he starts talking about Savannah. You’d have a hard time finding someone whose story is more deeply woven into the city’s tapestry than Ruel’s. He’s the third-generation owner of 24e Design Co., a store that’s been operating continuously on lively Broughton Street since 1986. Moreover, his grandmother lives in one of the oldest homes in the historic district. “If you grew up here, you can leave but you’ll be back. It really is a captivating city,” he said. “It’s magnetic. It’s center of something special. When people come visit, it’s not unusual to hear that they later move here.” We checked in with him for his advice on the most exciting things to see, do, eat, drink and stay in Georgia’s oldest city.   GET THERE: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is a bustling hub, but coming and going, Ruel says, is “the easiest thing in the world. You can swing your keys and be on valet service and get to your hotel in 15 minutes.” He describes the city as “Mayberry on steroids,” as it’s a small town and everyone knows everyone like they did in high school, but as far as American cities go, it’s an international one, not least because it’s a port city.  STAY: Ruel recommends against looking for bargains on the outskirts of the city. Savannah is a relatively undiscovered city, he says, which means it’s still wildly affordable. (“Everything is cheap, except for our taxes,” he says only half-jokingly.) Try to land a room in the Historic District. He recommends the Bohemian on the Savannah River, where you can while away hours at Rocks on the River, the hotel’s rooftop bar, and sip sweet tea and watch container ships come in. But there are plenty of other choices, they might not be as full-service, but they have no less charm. Thunderbird Inn, an exercise in retro-fabulous mid-century modern style, from the vintage décor to the complimentary RC Cola in the rooms, tops his list.   EAT: Savannah is in the throes of an urban renaissance and the culinary scene is Exhibit A. If you’re looking to splurge (and remember—Georgia splurge is different from Manhattan splurge), head to Pacci, a modern Italian ristorante at the Brice Hotel. It has a polished and modern look but a southern laidback vibe and Ruel actually helped design. The duck with blueberry sauce is not to be missed. For a little less polish, Bernie’s, is Ruel’s favorite hole-in-the-wall, not least because it looks like it could have been Blackbeard’s den. It’s a go-to for fresh oysters—steamed and raw—and shrimp that is, quite simply, “to die for.” Savannah’s international character is captured in the dining options. CO (Thai for “feast”), will get you acquainted with Asian box pressed sushi, an unusual sushi style. (Spoiler alert: it involves tartar that’s been minced and mixed with sticky rice and pressed into a square.) The burgers at Collins Quarter are “slap-your-mama good,” he avows. If you can start your day with breakfast at B. Mathews, you’ll be treated to the “best breakfast sandwich in the world,” says Ruel. And plan to spend at least one night hanging out at Bayou Café, known for its live blues and stiff drinks. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Eric Culberson, one of the best guitarist on the east coast, hands-down, Ruel says. “It’s as Savannah as it gets,” he says.   WANDER: Savannah is nothing if not a city designed for wandering. To hear Ruel explain it, it’s laid out like a series of squares, each of which has its own mark of distinction. “They’re all like living rooms throughout the city. As you’re walking Bull Street, the spine of our city that connects City Hall to Forsythe Park, it’s like going from living room to living room. There’s music buskers, students sitting and sketching architecture, it’s a real living, breathing city of so many layers and textures. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to walk down Bull Street and hear five languages. It’s an international port city—people from all over the world come here and discover a European city. SEE: Savannah College of Art and Design is one of the top art schools in the world, so little surprise that the city is fertile ground for people into the arts. SCAD Musuem of Art is the school’s affiliated museum, but the creativity is not confined to a museum here. “The whole Historic District is like a campus of the school,” says Ruel. “Whatever time of year you come to town, check and see what’s going on. There will be something tied in with the museum and its people, whether that's shops or parties. It's a big laboratory of things to do and that’s really what keeps it fresh and going." SHOP AND SAVOR: Broughton Street is Savannah’s High Street and a wander through the shops could easily be an entire afternoon’s activity. Paris Market and Brocante (French for “flea market”) http://theparismarket.com/  is known not only for its highly curated collection of home décor inspired by the markets of Europe, but also for its café where you can pause for macaroons and the popular iced coffee while you pour over the collection of design books.  Down the street is 24e Design Co., Ruel’s store. The 11,000-square-foot space is a veritable gallery of everything from bench-made décor to one-of-a-kind historic flags and vintage gas signs to furniture made of old airplane parts. And those are just some things you might find one week. The inventory is constantly changing. Ruel has a few favorite stops for bites throughout the day. He’s a fan of Beatnix, a café specializing in creative cold-press juices, as well as Warrior One, which offers patia bowls, ultra-healthy oat/dragon fruit/honey/berries mix that’s nothing short of “life-changing.” And while you’re in the mindframe of good health, feel free to drop in for one of the classes in the attached yoga studio; they’re offered every other hour. After that, pop into the café/pub hybrid Coffee Fox  to refortify with a beer or cappuccino. Ruel calls out the city's art museums, like the Telfair Museum in the Historic District, and the affiliated Jepson Center, which features modern art of all stripes, both very much worth the visit. The list goes on: the Ships of the Sea Museum, featuring an unparalleled collection of model ships and maritime objects in a circa 1819 home, and the Great Savannah Races, celebrating the history of auto racing in the city, which once housed a giant race track.  ESCAPE: Savannah is worth visiting for the architecture alone, but few talk about its proximity to natural marvels like the beautiful barrier islands. Ruel recommends checking in with Wilderness Southeast or Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to learn about the many different ecological trips on offer. While you’re traveling outside the city, you’d be remiss to overlook Tybee Island (ten miles away),especially in the winter when you can relish its quiet beauty. And bring an appetite. The Crab Shack, set amid Civil War oaks, is known for its larger-than-life steamed seafood platter.


5 Things You Don't Know About... Standing Rock

Budget Travel has always considered Native American history and culture, and the travel destinations that reflect them, to be a vital part of our mission. From the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to the Little Bighorn, from the spectacular Southwestern parks located on Navajo land to the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota, we’re always eager to share news and tips about these destinations. But sometimes, unfortunately, it takes a crisis to bring a travel destination to our attention. As you probably know, the Standing Rock Sioux are in the midst of a peaceful protest to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Environmentalists and tribal leaders say that the pipeline will threaten water supplies for the Standing Rock Sioux and the millions of people who live downstream from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (2.3 million acres straddling the border between North and South Dakota). The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, says that the pipeline will be a safer way to transport crude oil than the current surface modes of transportation, and that it has followed state and federal rules. The standoff is likely to continue, and protesters (who include not only North and South Dakota locals but also indigenous people and other supporters from across North America and beyond) are setting up structures to allow them to remain through the harsh Dakota winter. We thought now might be a good time for us all to learn more about Standing Rock as an important piece of protected land and a beautiful and educational travel destination for nature lovers, history buffs, fishing and cycling enthusiasts, and others. We’re going to bet you didn’t know… Standing Rock is the fifth largest reservation in the U.S., including grass plains, hills, and buttes bordering the Missouri River, Lake Oahe, Grand River, and the Cannon Ball River. The name “Standing Rock” was inspired by a rock formation (a “sacred stone”) that resembles a woman carrying a child on her back. Standing Rock is home to Lakota Sioux and Dakota Sioux, and the cultures of the two groups (and the sub-groups within them) are quite diverse. Historically, the two groups included horsemen, buffalo hunters, and farmers. Sitting Bull (1831 to 1890), perhaps the best-known Sioux leader, was born along the Grand River. Sitting Bull’s lifetime spanned the expansion of U.S. settlements on native lands, and he resisted the government’s attempts to relocate his people and to buy sacred land. Sitting Bull was killed during an attempt to arrest him. There are two official Sitting Bull burial sites: The original is in Fort Yates, North Dakota. The second (where Sitting Bull’s remains were reportedly relocated) is across the Missouri River from Mobridge, South Dakota, and features a bust by sculptor Korzcak Ziolkowski. Sakakawea (1788 to 1812), the Shoshone woman renowned as an essential guide to Meriwether Lewis & William Clark’s Corps of Discovery, is commemorated near the Sitting Bull sculpture. Visitors can visit the Fort Manuel Replica, near Kenel, North Dakota, which recreates the community in which Sakakawea spent her final years. (Note: The spelling Sakakawea reflects a more accurate pronunciation than the more traditional spelling Sakajawea.) The Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway is a gorgeous 86-mile stretch that crosses Lakota and Dakota lands along historic S.D. Highways 1806 and 24. Keep an eye out for memorial markers, interpretive signs, and monuments to learn about the history of Native Americans and settlers in the region. The Lewis and Clark Legacy Nature Trail, in Prairie Knight Marina near Fort Yates, is a three-mile trail suitable for hiking and cycling. You’ll learn about the area’s plants and how the Lakota and Dakota people used them. To learn more about affordable lodging, camping, and recreational activities at Standing Rock, please visit standingrock.org.


B&B Bargains for Fall (From $99)

It's no surprise that our friends at BedandBreakfast.com know how to celebrate B&B month (a.k.a. October) with spectacular deals across the U.S.. We're seeing B&Bs to suit every traveler's taste, and the best part is that each of these eight standouts is well under $200/night (one even starts at $99). Katrina's Cabin, Fredericksburg, TexasA historic cabin in the heart of Fredericksburg, Katrina's Cabin has a private hot tub, a front porch and back porch, a fully stocked kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a loft, a dog-friendly attitude, and plenty of character. A light breakfast is included in your stay. The house sits on a beautiful shaded lot, just across from the famous Fredericksburg Herb Farm. Rates start at $99/night. Union Gables, Saratoga Springs, New YorkExperience old-world hospitality with exceptional service, charm and elegance. Union Gables, built in 1901, is a romantic mansion restored to its original beauty with modern amenities. All rooms are unique in style and have antiques, gas fireplaces, 43-inch flat screen televisions, most have king size beds, and complimentary wireless internet service. The grounds are gorgeous with a garden oasis, heated outdoor pool and wrap around front porch. Enjoy a full gourmet breakfast cooked fresh to order each morning. Complimentary wine every evening, and fresh baked cookies. Rates start at $125/night. Buchanan Lofts, Lafayette, LouisianaThis is your artsy stay in the heart of Cajun Country. Built in a renovated warehouse, Lafayette's Buchanan Lofts is the studio you wish you were creative enough to own. Each loft is unique, with quirky touches, creative furnishings, and stacks of art magazines on every polished surface. Seventeen-foot-high ceilings soar over airy rooms furnished in a minimalist-industrial style. Guests can enjoy super-cool inclusions like fiber-optic Internet, fully fitted stainless steel kitchens, and Blu-Ray players before heading out for Lafayette's stomping music scene and Cajun eats.  Rates from $100/night. Villa D' Citta, ChicagoAt Villa D'Citta, innkeeper Cathy Hartman expertly brings Tuscany to the Windy City. Luxurious rooms and modern amenities (DirecTV, high-speed Internet) marry well in this Chicago mansion smack-dab in the middle of Lincoln Park. Come for the massive suites and jetted tubs, the pillow-top beds and Juliet balconies, the steam rooms and fireplaces. But the reason you'll return is stored inside a Subzero fridge: Italian charcuterie, eggs, ham, and freshly baked Italian breads, perfect for a midnight panini. True Italian hospitality makes leaving near impossible. Rates from  $129/night. Rainbow Hearth Sanctuary and Retreat Center, Burnet, TexasOn nine lakeside acres in Texas Hill Country, you’ll find a treehouse yurt with king-size bed and domed ceiling. Rainbow Hearth offers an on-site spa and lakeside organic dining, and is pet-friendly. Rates start at $139/night. Glendeven Inn Mendocino, Little River, CaliforniaGlendeven is a luxury, eight-acre, ocean-view farmstead overlooking w meadows and lush forests. Its four buildings are developed around a fully restored 1867 New England-style farmhouse where a typical room is a suite with wood-burning fireplace, ocean views, a view balcony, queen or king bed and a private bath. A full three-course hot breakfast is served in-room each morning; complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres are available in Glendeven's own Wine Barn, which is Mendocino's only wine purveyor serving and selling only local Anderson Valley wines by the bottle. Stunning botanical gardens, grazing llamas, and 100 laying hens contribute to Glendeven's feeling of a luxury ocean view farmstead. Rates start at $175/night. The Owl's Perch, Robbinsville, North CarolinaThis uniquely decorated remote 200 square foot one room rustic guest house with private deck overlooks beautiful Squally Creek nestled in the tree tops of Nantahala National Forest. It's definitely off the beaten path, located on a bumpy graveled old logging road but accessible by car and experienced motorcyclist. Rates from $105/night.Craftsman Inn, Calistoga, CaliforniaNapa Valley's Craftsman Inn provides an affordable way to explore Calistoga and the surrounding region without sacrificing amenities. Outfitted with touches like L’Occitane bath products and sleek subway-tile backed waterfall showers or Jacuzzi tubs, the eight guestrooms balance English and American antiques with a modern. The icing on the cake: Craftsman Inn’s lavish daily Champagne breakfast is lauded by guests near and far. Rates start at $149/night.


This may be our favorite travel video series yet

We've had a blast getting to know some of Arkansas's great vacation destinations. From justly renowned spots like Little Rock and Fort Smith to gems like Mountain View and El Dorado, which many Americans have yet to discover, we captured an up-close-and-personal portrait of the state. Check out our four videos, each devoted to a world-class, budget-friendly Arkansas vacation destination that's waiting for you: Fort Smith: Where the Old West Begins Experience the Roots Vibe of Mountain View Music El Dorado: Savor the Boomtown Little Rock: Urban Style & Natural Beauty