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Heart and center of the Central Valley and capital city of the state, Sacramento has long been regarded as the second-class stepsister of San Francisco. But with its increasing number of skyscrapers, upscale restaurants, swanky hotels, and professional sports teams, California’s capital city is no longer the sleepy little valley town folks whiz through on their way to Lake Tahoe. Located 90 miles northeast of the Bay Area, the city is best known for its dual status as the seat of state government and the epicenter of California’s largest industry-agriculture. (The city’s biggest party occurs every August with the California State Fair.)

A Gold Rush boomtown, Sacramento sprang up where the American and Sacramento Rivers meet-the intersection is now an historic district known as Old Sacramento. There are restaurants, shops and several museums in the area. In 1839 Swiss immigrant John Sutter traversed both waterways, built his famous fort, and established his colony called New Helvetia (New Switzerland). But his hopes that the thriving colony would evolve into his own vast empire were dashed when gold was discovered up near his sawmill in 1848. Sutter’s colonists deserted New Helvetia to search for the precious nuggets, and as word of the discovery spread, thousands more wound their way to the hills above Sacramento to seek their fortune. You can see his re-created village at Sutter’s Fort, or learn about the earliest inhabitants of the state at the California State Indian Museum.

Today Sacramento is home to more than a million people, many of whom work in politics. They dote on their spectacular Victorian homes and fine Craftsman-style bungalows, and are justly proud of the tree-lined streets and thick carpets of grass that surround their houses and parks. Visitors should add the Sacramento Zoo to their sight-seeing list, as well as the American River Parkway, a 5,000-acre nature preserve with 22-mile bike trail.

In summer months, when thermometers often soar above triple digits, many folks beat the heat by diving into swimming pools, chugging around the Delta on a houseboat, or floating down the American River in a raft or an inner tube. In winter, ski buffs get the jump on their Bay Area neighbors racing to the snowy slopes of Tahoe, thanks to the city’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada. No matter what the season, Sacramento knows how to show visitors a good time.

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