By Greg Aragon
There is good reason that Sacramento became the California state capitol. Not only did the Gold Rush of 1849 begin a few miles from the town, but its location at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers made it a great spot for people, supplies and trade to arrive by water.
The city began in 1839 when the Mexican government granted 48,000 acres of land to pioneer Johann Augustus Sutter and he set up camp near the two rivers. Ten years later, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, a sawmill owned by Sutter and the region was instantly put on the map. News of the discovery quickly spread across the globe and fortune hunters came by the thousands from across the world. California became a state in 1850 and Sacramento its capital four years later.
To get a better idea of how it all began for the area, a friend and I recently took a trip to Sacramento’s Old Town for a couple nights of golden adventure and discovery. Our getaway began at The Delta King Hotel in Old Sacramento.
Originally built in 1927 in Glasgow, Scotland and Stockton, California, The Delta King is an authentic 285-ft riverboat that used to make daily river voyages between San Francisco and Sacramento. The vessel was a rock star until the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge were built and pushed the boat aside in the late 1930s.
The ship saw some work as a floating barracks and a troop transporter in WWII, before being towed over the years between Canada and California in the hopes of getting a new life. Then in 1984, after being partially submerged for 15 months in San Francisco Bay, the Delta King was acquired by the Coyne family, given a complete historical renovation and towed to Old Sacramento.
Today, The Delta King is a beautiful riverboat hotel with 44 modern guest rooms, two gourmet restaurants, entertainment, two professional theaters, a wine school and exceptional facilities for weddings, banquets, and meetings. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
When not walking the decks of the Delta King, we were exploring other parts of Old Town.
A registered national landmark and state historic park, Old Sacramento is a 28-acre site on the banks of the Sacramento River. It is a vital historical, business, residential, shopping, and dining district with greatest concentration of historic buildings in California. The town is replete with wooden sidewalks, horse-drawn carriages and living history characters that provide a glimpse into 19h-century life.
After gold was discovered in 1849, businesses sprang up along the riverfront in what is now Old Sacramento. There were hotels, saloons, bathhouses, the first theater in California, and a variety of shops, where would-be miners could outfit themselves for the gold fields. The city was also the western terminus of the short-lived Pony Express and the transcontinental railroad.
Today, Old Sacramento is home to the largest interpretive railroad museum in North America. The California State Railroad Museum (www.californiarailroad.museum) is a 100,000 sq-ft museum that displays 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars and showcases some 40 one-of-a kind exhibits that tell the fascinating story of railroad history from 1850 to the present. Historic equipment and exhibits on the transcontinental railroad and 19th-century rail travel are housed in the reconstructed 1876 Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station.
After touring the museum, we made another great discovery in Old Town. We stumbled upon the food at Fat City Bar & Café (www.fatcitybarcafe.com). Located in an historic building, the place oozes with atmosphere, with turn-of-the-century artifacts including the legendary Pioneer Bar, the famous Purple Lady (Chicago World’s Fair, circa 1893) and a collection of classic Tiffany-style lamps.
My dinner at Fat City began was highlighted by a delicious and filling Old Fashioned Meatloaf, with ground sirloin with red wine mushroom sauce and brown butter mashed potatoes. My friend had the Osso Buco, a pork shank, seasoned, seared and then braised in a roasted vegetable stock until fall-off-the-bone tender. This was served with mashed potatoes and our pan jus gravy.