Friday, December 11, 2009

Exploring Sacramento Valley

It’s been a busy week for us exploring California’s capitol. After a dry, relatively quick drive north Sunday, Mr. B headed for school first thing Monday morning while the girls and I took care of the business of settling down. We headed to the grocery store to get stocked up for our weeks here. An overnight snow storm just up the road resulted in an entertaining scene in the parking lot where about 30 percent of the vehicles were topped with snow. I had forgotten how close Sacramento is to snow, so failed to pack our snow gear. Bummer!

Our room includes a functioning kitchen, so we plan to eat in as much as possible to save money. We all enjoy eating out, but it’s just becoming cost prohibitive, largely because the girls are growing and the children’s menu of chicken fingers, frozen pizza or pricey pb&j just doesn’t do it for them anymore. They order of the regular menu more often than not, so that means eating out for four adults, price wise. Yes, sometimes we split orders, but often we all have different dining needs (ok. wants.) and since we’re already out, we indulge ourselves a little.

After wrapping up business, we headed to the 23-mile American River Parkway, the Sacramento Valley’s natural jewel. If I ever find myself living in this area, I suspect I’ll spend a lot of time in this relatively undeveloped, natural area along the riverbanks. The recreational area includes more than 85 miles of uninterrupted, paved bike paths, plus miles of additional dirt paths, designated equestrian trails and unimproved natural areas ripe for exploration. The river runs through it all. It’s a geocacher’s dream, too, with dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of caches hidden throughout. The girls and I picked up half a dozen quick finds, explored San Juan Rapids, considered the modern cliff dwellers with their multi-million dollar homes perched precariously atop eroding river banks, then headed back to the hotel for a swim and dinner.

Tuesday we headed to the Capitol building, home of the California State Legislature. This was a particularly good time to visit if you’re into holiday cheer; students from schools throughout the Bay Area were performing in the rotunda. (There's always something going on. Check out the events calendar before you visit if you'd like to know more.) I particularly appreciated the docent who welcomed us to the living museum; she invited us to wander freely. “As a California resident, this is your home,” she said. Though they liked the d├ęcor and the music, the girls weren’t all that impressed by being in the place where the laws of California are debated, killed and sometimes passed. I really hadn't planned well for this trip, so they weren't exactly prepped for it. Had I to do it again, I would introduce them to the idea, the structure and more details about what they were due to see BEFORE we headed out (as we've done so often in the past). I think it gives more value to their visit. (If you'd like to let your kids explore before making a real-life visit, consider starting here.)

We relaxed the rest of the day in the hotel pool, our room (complete with loft bedroom the girls are enjoying heartily), and Jacuzzi before calling it a night. Wednesday we kicked around the hotel most of the day, opting to have a day of rest, reading and relaxation in the comfort of our home away from home, and in from the cold. Then we went to the most fantastic trampoline playground I've ever seen. Sky High Sports offers six separate trampoline areas, including tricking tramps with foam pit landing areas, dodgeball courts for big kids and little kids, and the big floor - a floor of 38 adjacent trampolines with angled walls made up of 19 more trampolines. Visitors of all ages are welcome to bounce off the walls, flip or dodge anywhere in the facility. (There's pizza and other snack food, and an arcade, too.) The girls and I were all exhausted by the time our two hours was up, and it was well worth the entry fee ($9/person/hour with two-for-one Wednesdays). This would be a GREAT place for a birthday party or other gathering of active folks, or a fantastic rest stop to break up a long trip.

Thursday we headed downtown to visit Sutter’s Fort State Park, E’s choice. Unlike the California Missions, Sutter’s Fort was established entirely as a business venture. It was John Sutter, an entrepreneurial Swiss immigrant, who wanted to fire up the water-driven sawmills to provide wood for Western states and Hawaii. When he sent James Marshall into the foothills to find a suitable location for the mill he had no idea his effort would ultimately lead to California’s Gold Rush, and the demise of Sutter's fort. While researching one designated location, Marshall turned up a gold metal which Sutter tested and determined was gold. (This weekend we’ll head to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park to see the other half of the story.)

Sutter’s Fork park had great potential for visitors. We were particularly excited as we shelled over our entrance fee to be told that we were there on an “exhibition day” and there were lots of activity stations set up throughout the fort. There was a blacksmith’s station, basket weavers in action, laundry station, weavers and bakers, carpenters and more. There were kids in costume taking part throughout. The bummer came when our girls tried to take part. They were shooed away. It seems a school had paid extra to take part, and visitors really weren’t welcome to lend a hand. “You just have to watch,” one teacher told them. Pretty much took the wind out of all of our sails. We checked out a few of the static displays in some of the fort’s rooms, then called it a day.

From there, we headed to Safetyville, a public education facility designed to teach kids about safety. Visitors walk through the miniature city, complete with crosswalks, traffic signals and a variety of life-like obstacles and structures, learning about traffic, bicycle and pedestrian safety. There are other talking points at various stations as well. The “animal control office,” for instance, includes a video about animal safety – how to react to strays encountered in public places, etc. It was very cold during our visit, so once our toes and fingers were nearly numbed and we’d completed the tour, we turned in our maps and headed back to the Jacuzzi for some thawing before dinner in Old Town (oddly dark in this shopping season – but we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at seasonally decorated, welcoming Fat City).

Today, the girls and I drove west to visit Auntie B in Vacaville. We played with her overgrown puppy and visited for awhile before heading a few miles further west to Fairfield where we enjoyed a tour of the Jelly Belly factory. The tour through the confectionery and packaging plant was fun, and the girls particularly enjoyed the free samples throughout, including a whole bag of beans to take home with them.

There’s a lot to do in the Sacramento area, and we did quite a bit of it during our last visit here some three years ago. Next time, we’re bringing our bikes. The uninterrupted path along the river is too wonderful to ignore. We have another week in the area, and more family and friends to visit in the next several days. We'll share whatever we come across in out travels.



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1 comment:

  1. Fun! The room with a loft sounds unique for a stay like that. Hope your next week goes as well as this one has.

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