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Midtown is home to some of Sacramento’s best restaurant and shopping experiences. On Capitol Avenue you’ll see Biba, a Sacramento classic for upscale Italian dining; on ‘J’ Street, there is Centro’s, a fun place for evening drinks and bites; and in the center: Sutter’s Fort – a snapshot of mid-nineteenth century living. It seems incongruous, and it is, but maybe it is those very contrasts that make this place interesting.
Sutter’s Fort was built as one man’s dream of an agricultural empire. At one time, as many as 300 people lived and worked within its walls. Today, it stands as a reconstructed relic of the past, providing windows into the early California settlers’ habits of working, living, and playing. For years, it has been a field trip staple for natives of Sacramento; but, as a transplant, and as a mother, I found that it has a lot to offer for the leisurely family visit as well.As you approach the fort, the lush landscaping invites you right up to the imposing walls. It’s an excellent spot for a picnic lunch, and you will frequently find people basking in the sun as they sit on the elevated slopes surrounding the building. And then there are those famous doors – big, beautiful wooden doors which have been featured as the backdrop for many family portraits. The fort itself is a live/work compound encircling a large courtyard, complete with an aged oak tree and covered wagon at the center.Start your tour in the underground museum, which houses a scale model of the original fort and artifacts from its zenith. There is a running film about the history of the fort as well; which, I admit, my children were not quite patient enough to sit through, though I saw several others enjoying it.
From there, you will move back to the outdoors, where many rooms are thoughtfully presented for viewing; each representing a different aspect of early California life: sleeping arrangements, cloth production, play, food preparation and dining, to name a few. As we travelled through the various setups, the kids and I conversed a bit about the difference in lifestyle from then to our present experience. Anthony was struck by the weaving loom and by the number of firearms kept within, while Zoe was dismayed to find that the kids had much fewer toys than she is accustomed to. She loved the drapery on the four poster bed, however.For the fellow photo enthusiasts out there, let it be known that Sutter’s Fort is a treasure trove of amazing pockets of light. Through high windows and open doorways, natural light filters in, creating beautiful silhouettes and dramatic portraits. For beginners, a quick tip for your phone camera: hold your finger (to set exposure) to the edge of the window light or doorway to create a sharp contrast while maintaining detail; you might be surprised with the results!Stop at the Trade Store at your own risk. You’ll find some pretty neat artifacts to keep the experience alive when you get home: handmade bracelets, replica toys, a canon sharpener, as well as original note cards created by local artist Udo Schroeder. There are also a few historical manuscripts and pieces of pottery. The website boasts that they sell toys that “need no batteries, only imagination and skill”; a rarity in our modern world. We escaped with nothing more than photos and memories (this time), but that wasn’t for lack of effort – Anthony was rather interested in the gunpowder candy.
Sutter’s Fort offers a quiet historical experience in the center of an urban landscape. As you walk back out into the “real world”, it may be that you return with a greater appreciation for that modern life, and for those pioneers that made it possible.
Sutter’s Fort is open 10-5 daily. It is located at 2701 L Street. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children aged 6-17. Children 5 and under are free. Check the calendar for monthly special events!