Literary City Guide | SACRAMENTO, CA
Tour Guide: TRICIA STIRLING
Relationship to Sacramento: It’s complicated. Sacramento for me was not love at first sight, but after almost twenty years, it’s the only place I have ever truly, and perhaps ever truly could, call home.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Sylvia Plath
Writing soundtrack: Billie Holiday and Lena Del Rey
Pen or Pencil: Pen, black
Coffee or Tea: Coffee with cream, no sugar
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback. Preferably used but not annotated.
Beers Books. This bookstore has been around forever, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love shopping here. I come when I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I want to get lost in the shelves for a while. Usually I leave with a stack of books spanning all matters of subject: birds, stars, tarot, some Angela Carter, and a few .35 cent postcards. There’s a fantastic children’s section too.
The Book Collector. Once my neighborhood bookstore, I dearly miss the anticipation of walking to it, along with the satisfaction of walking home, nose-deep. I come for here for the fiction, which is meticulously organized, but I never leave without peeking in at the rare books in glass cases. Super cozy children’s section where my kids spent lots of time when they were small.
Time Tested Books. The perfect rainy day used bookstore, with its brick walls and book art and plants and lamps and yet another wonderful children’s section. I love flipping through the vinyl records, even though I don’t own a record player. It feels meditative, and perfectly aligned to the ambience of the store.
Avid Reader. Our local independent. Since moving across Broadway, the space has an unfinished feel that I find charming in a post-apocalyptic kind of way. Unapologetically Sacramento. I love it.
Underground Books. Another local independent with a focus on African American books. Inside is very cozy with lots of seating and natural light. Owner Georgia “Mother Rose” West wants to “keep African American culture alive and well in Oak Park.” The store’s motto: Find your freedom.
I’m crazy about The Sacramento Public Library system. It’s free to have an item sent from any branch, and if you’re looking for the rare book the library hasn’t purchased, you can get it sent over through Link Plus. There’s Lucky Day and Book Club in a Box and Overdrive for audiobooks, and each branch has its own monthly calendar of events.
The McClatchy Library. This library is located in the midst of a charming Midtown neighborhood surrounded by Victorians and historic turn of the century homes. In fact the library is in the once home of Ella McClatchy, and it is absolutely lovely. Go to wander through the stacks, check out the architecture, stay to write at the desk by the window in the no media room. You’ll need to bring your Moleskine for this, however, as there are no computers or gadgets allowed. (But your laptop and phone are welcome throughout the rest of the library.)
The Arcade/Arden Branch. Visit for a “library of things,” like a violin, a GoPro, or a pressure washer. Search library of things from the Sacramento Public Library website to see what else is available. My little local library, Colonial Heights, has a seed library and I’m here several times every week.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Stories on Stage. A literary series in which local actors are handpicked to read aloud short pieces of literary fiction by area authors. The result (literary theater) is really magical.
Luna’s Café and Juice Bar. This spot hosts several events each month, including Poetry Unplugged and Sac Unified Poetry Slam.
Sacramento Bee Book Club. This series brings best-selling authors to town annually. Previous authors include Frank McCourt, Isabel Allende, and Alice Hoffman.
Sacramento Poetry Center. We’re lucky to have so many wonderful poets in the area, and this spot hosts Stories on Stage and many other events.
Sacramento Black Book Fair. A two-day celebration featuring author panels, poetry readings, kids’ activities, and more.
Second Saturday Art Walk in Downtown and Midtown and First Friday in Oak Park. Both are evening time events which focus on local art and music, as well as opening the doors to local businesses. Both are free and great for people watching.
Creative Mornings. This is a global event, but Sacramento has a local chapter. If you can score a (free) ticket, this is a great way to interact with local creatives while enjoying amazing fruit and pastries donated by local bakeries and specialty shops.
Old Soul @ 40 acres. Nearly every time I make plans to meet a fellow writer for coffee, this is where they want to go. It can get crowded but I’ve always managed to find at spot at the window looking out on Broadway in Oak Park. (Next door is the aforementioned Underground Books.) Come to people watch, stay to catch up with an old friend. Although this is arguably the most popular of the Old Souls, there are several locations in town.
Temple. Come to Temple Coffee to work on your Steampunk novel, or to design your flying machine. Temple will remind you to pay close attention to the smallest of details. I like their Bliss: peppermint tea, coconut milk, and honey steeped in soy.
The Mill. Visit the The Mill to write about wildflowers and bees, or to read some Emily Dickinson. Treat yourself to an almond croissant and a jar of coffee blossom honey. Sketch out a poem for Ophelia.
A PROPER MEAL
Café Rolle on H Street. It’s this amazing French Café and my favorite place to go for consistently excellent food. The salad dressing is so yummy, I wish you could buy it by the bottle. If that were the case, I would probably eat nothing but salad for the rest of my life. Try the Assiete Campagne and pretend to be a character from a Hemingway novel while you sip from your glass of wine.
Mulvaney’s B&L. Delicious, seasonal, handcrafted menu items in a historic firehouse. When I was new to Sac, I happened to join a writer’s group that met in this space. Bobbin Mulvaney was in the group and she’d give us samples of delicious cuts of meat and veggies from her then-fiance’s catering business. We all knew we were part of something magical. We all knew that the Mulvaneys were destined for greatness. Try the house smoked salmon with Irish brown bread and heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella. Heaven.
Backbone Café. This spot specializes in high quality organic food, and everything here just happens to be ridiculously good. From vegan entrees to bone marrow, there really is something for everyone, including gluten free options from Pushkin’s bakery (our resident wheat and dairy-free restaurant/bakery which I also heartily recommend.) At Backbone, try the Island tacos, or the jalapeño Cesar Chavez, and while you’re there, make sure to check out the little café library stacked with books on healthy living (and Burning Man guide books). Backbone’s aim: “To become a stronger and healthier Sacramento.”
Squeeze Burger. It’s kind of legendary here in Sacramento. Previously known as The Squeeze Inn (because the counter space was so tiny, that was what you had to do) now Squeeze Burger has several locations and food trucks too. Their secret is what they call a “cheese skirt.” I promise, it’s better than it sounds.
Ginger Elizabeth. For all things chocolate, don’t miss this sweet little shop, run by Sacramento’s own chocolatier and pastry chef, Ginger Hahn. Most of their truffles are inspired by local organic farms. I love the Eureka Lemon and the Raspberry Rose Geranium squares.
Estelle’s. Another gorgeous shop—I go to the one downtown at the DOCO. The deserts are so pretty and they are all lined up like jewels behind glass. Try the raspberry dome, or the macaron rosé (but not before you take a picture for your Instagram.)
Rick’s Dessert Diner. I’m not the world’s biggest sweet tooth, but if I were, I’d want to know about Rick’s. It’s decorated like a 1950s diner but all they serve are sweets and treats. You can buy whole cakes if you want.
Gunther’s. Personally, when I want a treat, its ice cream I crave, and Sacramento has a wealth of places to get your scream on. I like Gunther’s because it has such a homey, neighborhood feeling and I always run into someone I know. Try the 50-50: vanilla ice cream at the center of a “real fruit freeze.”
TRICIA's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: Anywhere on the American River at sunset. And Scott’s Seafood has lush, verdant view of the Sacramento. I’m with Didion. Sacramento beauty is deeply connected to its rivers.
2. Favorite place to write: My front porch. It’s not a particularly beautiful view, but there is always something interesting happening on my street, like the guy who walks around shouting hellos and using the crutch he inexplicably carries over his head and uses to punctuate his greetings.
3. Favorite museum: Crocker Art. When my kids were small, we’d head to the nearby farmers market under the freeway and buy fruit and cheese which we stored in a small ice chest. Then we’d drive to The Crocker and spend an hour or two. When we were done, we’d eat a picnic at Crocker Park and talk about what we’d just seen. We never felt like we had to see it all, because we always knew we’d be back.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Old Soul at The Weatherstone. I adore the back patio. I spent so many hours there when I was in grad school.
5. Favorite thing about Sacramento: I’ve come to love the juxtaposition of the grit and the sparkle. This is a city of great allure and heaps of weird and so much personality. Ultimately, Sacramento isn’t about finding beauty and charm on every street, but turning a corner and seeing something completely remarkable and unexpected.