June 29, 2003

Sacramento

When you're spending around twenty hours a day there, your hotel is extremely important. And though it pains me to say it, the Embassy Suites in Sacramento didn't measure up.

They got all of the big things right. The location is just about perfect: it's on Capitol Mall right next to the Sacramento River. The state capitol building is about ten blocks away down Capitol Mall, in plain sight from the front of the hotel. Across Capitol Mall is "Old Sacramento", the historical district, which contains the old waterfront and train station, and also the California State Railroad Museum, which is a truly nifty place. Capitol Mall continues across the river over the Tower Bridge, which is a draw bridge. The center section lifts up between the two towers that give it its name. When I add that our hotel room looked out over the river and the Tower Bridge, you'd think that our joy would be complete.

But the devil is in the details, and the details weren't right, especially not for a family of five. Now, we expected there to be rough spots--Monterey is a big tourist destination, whereas Sacramento is a seat of government. It would be unreasonable to expect the Embassy Suites in Sacramento to cater to families like the one in Monterey does, and we didn't expect it. But the following gripes would affect anyone who stays there:

  • Extra towels are provided by the poolside. Each time we used the pool, I had to ask for additional towels, because the rack was always empty.
  • The normal pillows had down in them. I'm allergic to down, as is Jane; we didn't feel like experimenting on the children, so we called Housekeeping and requested hypoallergenic pillows. After two hours had gone by, I had to call the Front Desk and complain. In Monterey, by comparison, the Front Desk called us half-an-hour after we'd requested the pillows to make sure that they'd gotten there.

  • Embassy Suites provides a very nice complimentary breakfast, which we truly enjoyed in Monterey. The chefs in Sacramento, by contrast, somehow have figured out how to cook bacon so that all of the flavor is removed.
  • In fact, the food was a real sticking point. For dinner the first night I ordered a deli sandwich--pastrami and cheese on sourdough. I got a hot pastrami sandwich with mustard on white bread. The next day, Jane ordered a hot pastrami sandwich. She got a pastrami sandwich on grilled bread, but the meat and cheese were cold.
  • A remarkably trivial point, but one that seems to illustrate the difference fairly well. In Monterey, the shower had a clothes line in it. Since we were swimming every night, we made great use of this. In Sacramento there was no such thing.

So it's with regret that I find that I can't recommend the Embassy Suites in Sacramento.

All that said, we still managed to have a good time.

The kids rushed through the Railroad Museum far more quickly than I'd expected, which was sad; I was thinking that it might take two days, like that Aquarium, but they were done in an hour and a half.

The next day we went to Sutter's Fort, which turned out to be much better than I'd expected. A bit of background for my non-Californian readers: John Sutter came to California in the 1830's or so, and built his fort in the middle of what's now Sacramento. It became the leading trading post in central California during the 1840's. And then, in 1848, Sutter arranged to build a sawmill some considerable distance away. His man on the spot, John Marshall, found gold in the millrace--and the California Gold Rush was on.

I've been to Sutter's Fort several times, and this was the best visit yet. I expected we'd be through it in half-an-hour, but all this summer they are doing a living history program there. So we spent time listening to a variety of folks doing their jobs in various parts of the fort. The two best were a trapper (equipped with a wide variety of skins) who talked about the fur trade, and the blacksmith, who was demonstrating how to make nails (the fort's blacksmith made 1500 a day!).

But the real highlight of our stay in Sacramento were visits to a couple of old favorites. A good friend of ours (she reads this blog, and she knows who she is) lived in Sacramento for several years, during which we visited her several times. Among the places she took us were Tower Books, a truly excellent bookstore, and Chevy's Mexican Restaurant. This was maybe ten years ago, and although Chevy's is now a well-known chain we'd never previously heard of it. There are Chevy's in Los Angeles now, and we've been to a couple of them, and though we like them, the food has never seemed quite as good as at the Chevy's by the river in Sacramento a hop, skip, and a jump from where our friend lived. So naturally we went there for dinner our last night in town.

We got there just after five o'clock on Thursday. What we hadn't realized is that this particular Chevy's is one of the major happy hour spots in that part of town. It was jammed. (According to our waiter, the only Chevy's that does more business is in Times Square, NYC.) The hostess estimated 25 minutes for a table. I looked at our three little kids, and said, "You don't want our kids cluttering up your lobby for twenty-five minutes...can you do anything to get us seated more quickly?" They could, and did. It took some figuring out, but we were seated in five minutes--by a window, with a clear view of the river. The service was outstanding, and the food was every bit as good as we'd remembered; maybe better. We were so pleased that on the way out Jane got a hold of the manager and thanked him warmly.

So: Sutter's Fort, Tower Books, Chevy's good; the Sacramento Embassy Suites, mediocre at best.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 29, 2003 03:11 PM