Sacramento shows its range
Sacramento, California’s vibrant capital city, gets a lot of attention for some very good reasons. Thanks to its West Coast locale, it provides sunny weather and mild seasons. It is an outdoors haven with the well-earned monikers City of Trees and River City. And, of course, it has the distinction of serving as the political hub of the country’s most-populous state.
But one of the city’s proudest distinctions is less well-known: its rich diversity. When Harvard University did a Civil Rights project a few years back, it was Sacramento that landed atop the list of the country’s most culturally diverse destinations. Today, it continues this legacy with an ever-diversifying list of happenings and attractions. Cultural festivals include Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in America; the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee, a Memorial Day tradition commemorating one of the most culturally eclectic musical art forms around; and an annual Christmas Around the World festival. Global influences are also evident in the city’s food scene, which is one of the most ethnically expansive around, and attractions like the newly remodeled Crocker Art Museum, which houses an international collection of fine art. This tapestry is firmly rooted in a long and fascinating history, lovingly preserved today.
Perhaps most importantly, the city offers a varied roster of things to do. “Sacramento’s appeal has grown and widened for those who have recently visited,” says Steve Hammond, CEO and president of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “You can take in the Gold Rush-era charms of Old Sacramento, which are livelier than ever. Later, you can bike along the banks of the Sacramento and American Rivers, and stroll amid downtown’s stately Victorian homes and enjoy the shade of the city’s urban forest. You may even catch a glimpse of the governor himself at the impressive Capitol building.”
This variety holds true in Sacramento’s surrounding areas as well, from lush, winery-filled Gold Country to up-and-coming Folsom. It all adds up to an appealing destination for a range of groups. After all, at the end of the day, diversity really means one thing, and it’s a trait every planner craves: something for everyone.
MAJOR MEETINGS VENUES
The Sacramento meetings market is filled with an assorted swatch of hotels and unique venues. Yet this variety doesn’t come at the expense of accessibility—the city is known for its close-proximity venues, which offer sought-after convenience.
It is also a city that hits a sweet spot for groups: big enough to accommodate gatherings in the thousands, and small enough to make attendees feel special when they come to town. “Groups of 500 to 1,000 people have had some of the best opportunities to be a ‘big fish’ while enjoying the attention and focus of Sacramento’s hospitality community and city leaders,” Hammond says.
As far as landmarks go, the Sacramento Capitol is hard to miss. The striking white structure with the imposing dome is known as much for its aesthetic as for what goes on inside—state debates about a broad range of political issues. The venue is the focal point of downtown Sacramento, the city’s bustling heart and home to some of its largest meetings venues. Besides its status as the government hub, this area of the city is also valued for its convenience. “Most of the meeting planners really like the proximity of the convention center to our downtown hotels,” Hammond says. “They consider Sacramento a very walkable downtown.”
The king of the events scene, just across the way from the Capitol building, is the Sacramento Convention Center. The venue is easy to identify thanks to the twin spires on its front façade, and it offers enough room to accommodate an array of groups. It includes 134,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 31 meeting rooms, a 24,000-square-foot ballroom and a 3,800-seat auditorium.
Exemplifying the breadth of options available in town, this traditional venue is coupled with an older and wholly unique one nearby: Memorial Auditorium. Constructed in 1926, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it exudes old-school sophistication, with a brick exterior, a row of columns at its feet and an interior awash in dark reds and golds.
Adjacent to the convention center, two premier hotels offer convenience and top-rate services. The Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Sacramento is elegance manifested, with classical architecture, marble floors and rows of windows that bring the beautiful Sacramento outdoors inside. It is home to Dawson’s, widely regarded to be the city’s finest steakhouse, and a popular spot for the locals (at the bar, the regulars have their usual seats marked with a nameplate placard). The 503-room hotel offers a diversity of meeting options. Standouts include the Capitol Room, with four balconies perched above the city skyline; Park Capitol Suites, loft-style rooms ideal for small meetings; and outdoor space across the way from the Capitol building and lush Capitol Park. These spaces, in conjunction with breakout rooms, ballrooms and more, comprise a total 28,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Also next to the convention center—and sometimes used in tandem with the Hyatt for large events—is the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel. Here, the aesthetic is bright and bold, with vibrant art lining the walls and a row of green street lights in its open atrium. The hotel was converted from the Julia Morgan-designed Sacramento Public Market, and pays spirited homage to this past; its meeting rooms, for instance, are named after the last people to purchase goods at the market before it closed. Foodie groups enjoy the property’s restaurant and catering, both under the tutelage of a former chef for the acclaimed Palace Hotel in San Francisco. (As April Chambers, business travel sales manager, says: “We like to think we have the best food in town.”) The property offers 503 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Down the way from these hotels, a true standout is the boutique Citizen Hotel, a Joie de Vivre property. Like the Sheraton, The Citizen has a beguiling past. It was converted from an old office building, which was once one of the four tallest structures in the city (at a then-towering 14 stories), a transition that has lent it a distinct style. The lobby, for example, is filled with old law books from its former life, and because the guest rooms were once office spaces, each one has a different size and layout.
The Citizen also has plenty of fun with its capital location. According to Amy Dempster, director of sales, “A political theme is carried throughout the hotel.” Old political cartoons decorate the guest rooms, and corridors are lined with photos of government protests. The property comes with 198 guest rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a rooftop tented terrace overlooking the Capitol. Plus, it includes the locavore-friendly restaurant Grange, which offers an extensive collection of California wines.
Outside the downtown hub, several properties offer even more meeting options. On the outskirts of town is Arco Arena, home to the city’s beloved Sacramento Kings and the team’s famously boisterous fans. But this sprawling arena isn’t just a place to shoot hoops; planners for large conventions and trade shows can utilize its 442,000 sq. ft. of space.
Closer to the city center, Cal Expo is another massive venue that plays host to a packed event: the California State Fair. When it’s not serving as the grounds for rides and sugar highs, it offers up its diverse facilities to planners, including a 100,000-square-foot pavilion.
A crop of hotels in close proximity to Cal Expo offer easy access to its grounds, as well as plenty of meeting space on their own. The 307-room Radisson Hotel Sacramento is deceptively close to the venue; the sprawling property tucked away from the street feels like it’s in another world. Situated around a huge lake with a centerpiece fountain and paddleboats, it’s easy to see why sales manager Donna Seley calls it “an oasis in the city.” It offers 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a conference center, a plaza and the city’s largest hotel ballroom at 16,000 sq. ft.
Black Chasm Cavern, Sutter Creek.
Nearby, the Doubletree Hotel Sacramento offers the largest guest rooms in the city—448 of them—and is one of the most outdoorsy around. Situated on 22 acres, it offers the Capitol Patio, with a bridge suspended over a creek and ducks milling about, which can host up to 200. The property’s total 38,844 sq. ft. of function space also includes an outdoor pavilion with a gazebo and elegant ballrooms. And for shopaholics, it’s conveniently close to the 165-store Arden Fair Mall, the city’s retail mecca. Nearby, Hilton Sacramento Arden West, the only full-service, high-rise Hilton in the city, offers a skylight-filled solarium, top-rate grill, 331 guest rooms, 18,850 sq. ft. of meeting space and complimentary shuttle service to the mall.
A more off-the-beaten-path gem is the Four-Diamond, Four-Star Le Rivage Hotel, which adds a sense of romance to the diverse Sacramento event mix. Its location along the Sacramento River sets an intimate, peaceful tone, and the property carries this through with a fountain out front, a secluded outdoor pool with a fireplace, and a lawn along the river with fire pits and bocce ball courts. Unique spaces include an outdoor tent right by the water and two spacious suites—the Monte Carlo and Riviera—with parlors and river views, which have become a big hit for corporate gatherings of up to 25. Another distinction is the hotel’s on-site Scott’s Seafood restaurant, perennially selected as the city’s best seafood spot. Le Rivage offers 100 guest rooms and can accommodate groups of up to 200.
The backbone of Sacramento’s diversity is its distinctive history, which includes a rich Native American heritage and time under European conquest. Yet it is most known for being the birthplace of the California Gold Rush; the discovery of gold at nearby Sutter’s Mill is what prompted miners to literally rush to the West in the 1800s. This period of history is artfully preserved in Old Sacramento, the city’s most popular and enduring attraction. Here, visitors can walk along cobblestone streets and wooden sidewalks, peruse turn-of-the-century duds and munch on old-fashioned chocolate sweets. Yesteryear attractions include a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse, railroad museum and paddlewheel steamboat—all of which can be rented out for memorable events.
The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum is a replica of a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s, with upright wooden desks, a large chalkboard and other fixtures from a time gone by. Groups of up to 50 can hold meetings inside. For a glimpse into the state’s transportation history, the California State Railroad Museum can’t be beat. Spanning 225,000 sq. ft., it features 21 locomotives and cars, including a Pullman-style sleeping car and a Railway Post Office that guests can board. Function options include a roundhouse for up to 550, a lawn area that can accommodate several thousand and—most uniquely—a steam- or diesel-powered excursion train for meetings that move along clattering tracks. The Delta King, docked along the Sacramento River, is a 285-foot-long showboat from 1927 that used to ferry people from Sacramento to San Francisco. Today, it’s home to 44 guest rooms, two restaurants, 9,000 sq. ft. of indoor venues and a 2,400-square-foot outdoor landing.
Another unique option in this area is Hornblower Cruises & Events, which docks boats in Old Sacramento and offers river tours of the city. While getting a new perspective on Sacramento, groups can meet on-board with F&B provided. To stay nearby, there’s Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza, with 359 guest rooms and nearly 15,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Across the city, several distinctive venues add more to Sacramento’s mixed bag of options. Garnering the lion’s share of attention right now is the Crocker Art Museum, an 1885 public art museum (the oldest west of the Mississippi) that reopened at three times its original size in October. The new incarnation of the museum fuses the original Italian villa-style building with a brand-new, 125,000-square-foot structure. The two sides are connected via walkway with windows overlooking two lush courtyards: one landscaped, and one with an artsy waterfall that blocks out street noise.
Most importantly, from an artistic perspective, the change has allowed the museum to show significantly more of its growing collection, which includes everything from classic paintings and uber-modern curiosities to a ceramics collection with more than 800 pieces. A standout meeting option in the historic section is an ornate ballroom for up to 150, which includes columns and antique furnishings. In the new section, options include a 260-seat auditorium and intimate atrium. For spaces not filled with precious art, catering is provided by Mulvaney’s B&L, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in town (it also has a popular café outpost in the museum).
The experience is perfect for planners seeking something outside-the-box, and is as culturally rich as the city in which it resides. “Sacramento is one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most diverse communities, and with the Crocker Museum expansion we are increasing our ability to serve those communities, strengthen the civic fabric and draw cultural travellers to Sacramento,” Hammond says.
Event set-up at Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel.
At the California Museum, traditional art takes a backseat to the history and distinctions of the Golden State. The museum includes exhibits on Japanese-Americans during WWII and remarkable Californian women, to name just a couple of its features. A 250-seat auditorium or two conference rooms can be utilized. Another option with history on its side is the Crest Theatre, an old-fashioned movie palace that traces back to a 1913 vaudeville theater. Beautifully preserved today, it can be utilized by groups of up to nearly 1,000.
The variety found in Sacramento also holds true in its neighboring areas. Nearby to the capital city, Gold Country (calgold.org), so called for its role during the rush, is made up of several peripheral regions. In addition to its historical integrity, this area provides outdoorsy adventure, a range of topography, cultural festivals and—most surprisingly to many—a breadth of top-rate wineries (between Sacramento and Gold Country, there are more than 200). These wineries are the perfect spot to add another dimension to the Sacramento-area meeting experience.
Ironstone Winery and Vineyard in Murphys offers the backdrop of the Sierra foothills and an abundance of meeting options, including a culinary center and executive boardroom indoors, and gardens or a lakeside park outside. Renaissance Vineyard & Winery in Oregon House also comes with meeting space, and includes a tasting room by a lake. Or for something out of the ordinary, groups can head to the Black Chasm Cavern in Sutter Creek, a national historic landmark that offers cave tours deep underground.
Besides its plethora of wineries, another unique feature of the surrounding area is the expansive Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln. The property ensures you never have to leave, with 14 restaurants and bars; A-list entertainment from stars including Jay Leno and Adam Lambert; and ample gaming, all housed in a sleek, Vegas-style structure. The already-big property got even bigger in July, when it unveiled new bars, a pool, a spa and an expanded casino. Most appealingly for planners, it also debuted a 297-room hotel, a perfect complement to its 10,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Another option is nearby Folsom, served by the Folsom Tourism Bureau. Most recognized as the inspiration for Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—and the site where he performed two legendary concerts—it has boomed in recent years to become a sought-after visitor and meetings destination.
Outdoor recreation abounds here, with golf courses, the American River, Lake Natoma, Folsom Lake and ample wooded trails offering plenty of active options, from hiking and biking to fishing and kayaking. Other attractions include the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, the West Coast’s first electricity-generating plant, and charming Sutter Street, a thoroughfare from 1851 filled with an assortment of dining and shopping outlets. Small groups flock to the city’s selection of meetings hotels, including Lake Natoma Inn Hotel & Conference Center, which offers 138 guest rooms, a pool, a busines center and 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in a wooded setting overlooking the lake.
For more information on properties, venues and attractions in the Sacramento area, visit smartmeetings.com/event-planning/sacramento-area.
Sacramento International Airport offers flights from 14 major carriers and one commuter airline, with nonstop service to about 30 U.S. cities, including Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Washington D.C., New York City, Seattle and Portland, Ore.