Exploring Sacramento: The Sports and Recreation Edition

A guide to outdoor activities and sports in the Capital Region

PUBLISHED NOV 29, 2022 12:48 P.M.
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The Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.

The Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.   Chris Allan   Shutterstock


From pro basketball and soccer to whitewater rafting, biking and running, Sacramento is a haven for sports lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. And with warm, sunny weather for most of the year, there are ample opportunities to enjoy all the city has to offer. Below, California Local highlights Sacramento’s top sports and recreational activities to help you plan the perfect fun-filled experience.

1. City of Hoops

When the former owner of the Sacramento Kings was threatening to take the NBA team to another city, the Kings’ rabid fans helped convince tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé to put together a new ownership group in order to keep the team in Sacramento. Ranadive also spearheaded the $58 million Golden 1 Center, which opened in 2016, helping usher in a new era for the Kings and the city.

The high-tech, 17,608-seat stadium—which includes a giant 4K videoboard, 24 speakers and more than 100 Wi-Fi access points—is the ideal venue to watch high scorer De’Aaron Fox and the rest of the team battle it out on the court. And be sure to bring your appetite. The center’s executive chef and restaurant partners source 90 percent of their ingredients from a 150-mile radius of the arena, so fans can enjoy fresh and unique items including grass-fed beef and gyro-meat burgers, wood-fired pizza, beer battered rockfish as well as vegetarian options.

The Kings are the oldest team in the NBA, with the franchise starting as the Rochester Seagrams in 1923. After playing in New York, Cincinnati and Kansas City, the team landed in Sacramento in 1984. While the Kings had their best seasons in the early 2000s, the team has struggled since then, yet their popularity remains. This is partly due to the downtown transformation that the Golden 1 Center helped spur, including Downtown Commons. The two-level, outdoor, mixed-use entertainment and shopping complex has restaurants, shops, bars and the 16-story, 250-room Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, which is just steps away from the basketball arena.

2. Get Your Kicks

Fans in the stand waving flags
Supporters wave flags at a Republic FC game.
Spitfire1000/Creative Commons 4.0

Sacramento Republic FC is one of the premier clubs in the United Soccer League Championship, a professional Division II men’s soccer league that launched in 2011. The team started play in 2014, winning the championship in its inaugural season and later reaching the playoffs four times, helping ignite a rabid fan base. The team’s home pitch is Heart Health Park, located at Cal Expo. The $3 million sports and entertainment venue, which has VIP seating and a state-of-the-art digital video board, is one of the largest professional soccer pitches in the United States, able to accommodate about 12,000 people.

After years of trying, Sacramento Republic FC was awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team in 2019. Part of the expansion plans included the construction of a new soccer stadium in The Railyards, a dormant, 242-acre industrial district near downtown slated to become a mixed-use development. But those plans, including Sacramento’s bid to join MLS, hit a roadblock when the team’s lead investor backed out last year. While finances remain a challenge, team officials are moving forward once again, announcing earlier this year their intention to build a $350 million, five-story stadium that could accommodate about 19,500 people and help accelerate development throughout The Railyards.

“We want to build a world-class soccer stadium in The Railyards, and to begin the next decade of Republic FC,” said Republic FC owner and CEO Kevin Nagle in an April press release. “We’re ready with a new vision that allows us to take our destiny into our own hands, and to create a community asset that will grow with the team and city.”

3. Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Just past the golden Tower Bridge, which links Sacramento to West Sacramento, is Sutter Health Park, home of the Sacramento River Cats. The Minor League Baseball team is a Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants and has played in the Pacific Coast League since 2000. Over the years the team has won 12 division titles, including in 2019.

Entrance to Sutter Health Park
The entrace to Sutter Health Park
Photo by ZikG/Shutterstock

The River Cats led minor leagues in attendance during each of its first nine seasons and remain one of the city’s more popular, family-friendly activities.

Sutter Health Park can accommodate up to 14,014 fans and boasts 36 luxury suites. Concessions include traditional ballpark favorites—peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack!—along with themed storefronts that offer a variety of specialized menu items. The park also features a nice selection of local microbrew, import, and domestic beer and other alcoholic beverages. And to help keep the youngsters entertained there’s a Kid’s Corner behind right field with an explorable miniature town, a Tower Bridge-replica play structure, misting pad and a wiffleball field.

For mom and dad, there’s the Legacy Club, which is open to select season ticket members and has an all-you-can-eat buffet and full bar. There’s also the exclusive Solon Club, a covered, open-air, sports-themed bar with 14 TVs, ballpark classic food and a full-service bar. Other venues include the Beer Garden along the left field line which provides views of the baseball field and downtown Sacramento. And the Sactown Smokehouse is a tented area that holds up to 500 people.

4. Outdoor Adventures

Sacramento takes full advantage of its natural resources and enviable weather with a host of opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors. One of the city’s highlights is the American River Parkway, a scenic, 32-mile multi-use trail system that runs from beautiful Folsom Lake to Old Sacramento. Popular with bikers, runners and baby stroller-pushing parents, the flat, paved trail parallels the American River and has access points to about a dozen parks, including many where you can go fishing, swimming and boating. At the Lower Sunrise American River Park in Rancho Cordova, for example, American River Raft Rentals offers a six-mile, three-hour self-guided rafting trip to River Bend Park near downtown. Also along the American River Parkway is the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, an education center where you can see millions of chinook salmon and steelhead trout before they are released into the river.

View of the American River
William B. Pond Recreation Area, a popular park on the American River Parkway. 
Dan Cox/USFWS Creative Commons 2.0

5. Wild Whitewater

While lower sections of the American River offer mild rapids and waves, the upper sections of the river offer heart-pounding whitewater thrills through the heart of the Sierra Foothills. Less than an hour’s drive from Sacramento, in the towns of Coloma and Lotus, there are many outfitters that offer rafting trips down the three forks of the American River, which range from gentle Class II waves, perfect for families, to roaring Class V whitewater, ideal for more experienced thrill seekers. Options include American Whitewater Expeditions, Mother Lode River Center and Oars American River Outpost. Rafting season typically begins in April.

6. Lake Lessons

Aerial view of Sacramento State Aquatic Park
The Aquatic Center is open to the public.
Florio37/Creative Commons 4.0

Another great way to enjoy the local waterways—minus the Class V rapids—is at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center. Located on the 4-mile Lake Natoma in Gold River, the center is a cooperative operation of multiple organizations, including California State University Sacramento and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The center was established in 1981 and serves Sac State students, faculty and alumni as well as the general public. In addition to safety classes, the center offers instruction on sailing and windsurfing, water skiing and wakeboarding, as well as boating and jet skiing. It also has a full lineup of rental equipment, such as kayaks, canoe and stand-up paddleboards. Youth programs and camps are also available.

7. Running Resources

Runners in a marathon
The International Marathon, a local fixture since 1983.
Robert Couse-Baker/Creative Commons 2.0

As home of the California International Marathon (scheduled for Dec. 4) along with smaller events, including Ironman, Sacramento has long been a great destination for runners, with miles of scenic trails and pedestrian-friendly roadways. Popular routes include Lake Natoma Loop. Located in Gold River, you can park at either the Nimbus Fish Hatchery or the Sacramento State Aquatic Center and tackle the loop that winds through rolling wetlands, valley oaks and high bluffs. Other options include popular Mckinley Park, which features a rose garden, pond, athletic fields and a 3/4-mile granite trail that goes around the park. For something more remote, try Sly Park in Pollock Pines, which has an 8.5-mile trail, where pine, fir, cedar and oak trees surround a scenic mountain lake. And finally, the city of Folsom has more than 34 miles of paved trails. A great local resource for runners is the Sacramento Running Association, a nonprofit that promotes the sport of running and helps manage events and programs for people of all ages.

8. High-Flying Fun

One of the newer outdoor attractions in the Sacramento area is Quarry Park Adventures, which offers guests such high-flying thrills as zip lines, a 40-foot free-fall jump, rock climbing and a three-story ropes course with some 60 elements to navigate. Built into an 84-foot-deep granite quarry in downtown Rocklin, the 21-acre park utilizes the quarry’s sheer walls, floor and rim as a one-of-a-kind setting, including a 60-foot rappel into a pit. For less adventurous types, the park also has a 2-acre lake where you can rent paddleboats. And for kiddos too young for the main adventures, there’s a “Quarry Kidz Kove” with climbing nets, zip lines, balance beams and more.

Entrance to Quarry Park
In addition to the Kidz Kove, Quarry Park offers nature lovers plenty of open space and wildlife viewing.
Photo courtesy of the City of Rocklin


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