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By Eric Johnson
Published Feb 26, 2024

Downtown Sacramento, seen from  Sutter's Landing Park in Midtown. Downtown Sacramento, seen from Sutter's Landing Park in Midtown. Image credit: Eric Johnson

California’s Awesome Capital City

Hi and happy Monday. As always I write today from Sacramento, and this week I bring you news from your state capital, all built around a thesis: Sacramento is its own kind of awesome.

First, staying with the Black History Month theme that The Newsletter has been championing for the past four weeks, I am pleased to celebrate two venerable Black cultural institutions, and introduce a brand new institution that is likely to draw national attention. Out of order:

1. Last night I caught a performance of the 1975 play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, staged by Celebration Arts, a Black theater company founded in 1986. This revolutionary Obie Prize-winning work consists of a series of monologues (or “spells”) in which the performers dance to accompany their stories, or another character’s stories, which are sometimes joyous and often devastatingly painful. Set on a spare stage with minimal props, these "choreopoems" relied entirely on the seven actors’ voices, bodies and hearts, and the show was thrilling. 

Celebration Arts has dubbed this the season of Black Girl Magic. Its next production, Zora and Langston, is written and directed by Sacramento’s own Imani Mitchell, and is drawn from correspondence between the novelist Zora Neale Hurston and poet/playwright Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance. It opens Friday, March 1.

2. Last week, the Sacramento Observer reported that Sacramento State University will be the first public university in the nation to host a Black Honors College on its campus. Sac State President J. Luke Wood, an alum, said the college will be modeled on the Historic Black Colleges and Universities of the South and Northeast, and that the effort represents “something that has never been done before outside of an HBCU, which is to have an honors college that is specifically designed to serve students who are from the Black community, who are interested in Black history, Black life and Black culture, and to use that as a way to protect the environment so that students are leaving having their brilliance, dignity and morality extolled.”

3. The Sacramento Observer itself has been covering the Black community here since 1962. Cofounded by longtime publisher Dr. William H. Lee, it is now guided by his son, Larry Lee, who in 2023 was named named Publisher of the Year by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. That organization has selected The Observer as the nation’s top Black newspaper seven times in its history, including last year.

I Heart Sacramento

The clouds can be spectacular this time of year in the Sacramento Valley. Walking on the levee by the American River late last Thursday afternoon, we were looking up to marvel at their puffy beauty when we noticed the almost full moon. Nice! The Sierra were also looking fine on the eastern horizon, draped in fresh snow.

I had no idea before we moved here from Santa Cruz that Sacramento is such a beautiful city. I did not know that you can see the snow-capped Sierra from here on clear winter days, or that bald eagles occasionally hunt this river right in town. This morning, taking a walk down at the river to clear my head, I heard the comically loud bugling of sandhill cranes overhead, and looked up to see a flock flying in V-formation way up there, so high that, even with their six-foot wingspans, they looked like a plain old flock of geese. Stuff like that happens almost every day.

In the seven years since we moved here, Sacramento has continued to surprise me. Midtown, the neighborhood where we live (right near the banks of the American River) is a showcase of old-school mixed-use development. We are in a modest hundred-year old duplex directly across the street from a stately, five-bedroom home and kitty-corner from an apartment complex that has been home to a string of Sac State students since we’ve been here. Every block for several miles in every direction is lined with its own parade of magnificent old trees—Paris may be the only city in the world with a more impressive urban forest than Sacramento. I’m not making this up. 

Sac really is in many ways a case study in good urban planning; there are a lot of parks, and we can walk to great restaurants and bars—on Friday night, I popped into Harlow’s to see Helado Negro, just one of the countless great shows I’ve seen in my neighborhood nightclub.

I realize I’m bragging—you’re welcome. Come visit—you’ll thank me. I know (roughly) where you live, and Sacramento is no more than a few hours beautiful drive from your home. (Another great thing about this city: We’re centrally located in the heart of Northern California—in 90 minutes, I can be at my favorite XC ski destination in the Sierra Nevada, or in San Francisco. If the traffic allows, I can be back in Santa Cruz in a couple hours plus.) Okay I’ll stop.

Art History: Sacramento’s Most Enduring Cultural Institutions

These arts groups have deep roots in the capital city.

20 Free Things to Do in Sacramento County

Sign up for a free spin through the Capitol Building and its gardens.
Home to the state capital, Sacramento County offers many amusements for visitors and locals alike. But only some require no cash outlay.

Recipe of the Week

Our friends at Sacramento Digs Gardening publish a recipe from their gardens every Sunday, which we feature here so you can start your week with some yum.

See more recipes in their Taste Winter! cookbook.

Versatile asparagus casserole perfect for any meatless meal

Light and creamy, asparagus-mushroom bake can be a meatless main course or side dish.
Recipe: Easy asparagus-mushroom bake with eggs and cheese.

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