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The micro-neighborhoods of Midtown/Downtown Sacramento come with their own charm. Boulevard Park is lush with gardens, P Street is a Victorian-architecture aficionado’s dream, and the Handle District is full of farm-to-fork restaurant options. Yet, somehow, when people hear I live in Southside Park, their faces tend to go a little blank until I list a few geographic markers: “Do you know the original Insight Coffee?” That usually elicits some recognition. Nestled in the corner between I-50 and I-5 (sounds cozy, right?), the Southside Park neighborhood spans from 3rd Street to 12th Street and from R Street to W Street—kitty-corner to the trendy R Street Corridor, though it’s not technically included.
An underdog on the grid, Southside Park is a multicultural gem. Here, you’ll find small Asian markets, as well as an active Hispanic community that holds frequent events at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and celebrations in the park. On Sundays, you can even buy street corn from vendors or delicious carne asada tacos from a stand in front of the church. Southside Park is the last vestige of cultural confluence on the grid.
Although there are enough things to eat, drink, and do, it’s a sleepy neighborhood in the best way possible. The tree-lined streets are mostly quiet, aside from the occasional passionate political march or cheerful Color Run that come blasting through the streets. It’s a nice hideaway from rowdy Midtowners, yet still affords the opportunity to walk to restaurants and bars.
South | You may have heard of the fabulousness that is South. The Southern-style restaurant has brought a refreshing, laid-back vibe to the Southside neighborhood. There’s an element of cool that reads somewhat hipster, but in a friendly, palatable way. And, their fried green tomatoes are heavenly—they’re perfectly seasoned and a delightful treat to share with a date before your main course. My other recommendation is, of course, Petey’s Fried Chicken. It’s absolutely all it’s cracked up to be, and everything it comes with is just as good: steamed kale, a mouth-watering flaky biscuit, and honey butter!
Insight Coffee | The OG of all the Insight locations, this one is often packed with cyclists, artists, and adorable pups—just about everyone. Perhaps the best thing about this particular Insight is the variety of seating options. It’s as if they planned for every Myers-Brigg personality type. Are you social but find it awkward to stare at your date 100% of the time? Try the line of salvaged theater-style seats that face the window. They just so happen to be perfect for people-watching, too. Or, do you have a lot of work to get done but enjoy feeling like you’re in the company of others? Try out the community table. Or, are you the outdoorsy type? Rest on the bench outside that faces the shop. Either way, you get the idea. No matter where you sit, be sure to snag an Insight highlight, the iced matcha latte (deliciously mellow and subtly sweet), and choose from an assortment of scones from Estelle’s bakery.
Vallejo’s | Vallejo’s feels like it’s on the edge of the earth, or at least the edge of the neighborhood. Facing a cluster of state buildings, it’s nestled within residential Southside Park and has a cute patio that’s “perfect for large parties” (Broad City, anyone?). They also have one hell of a mole plate—it’s no wonder it’s a favorite among local Mexican-food enthusiasts.
Osaka Ya | Admittedly, I’ve never tried this spot, which is a crime within itself for a Downtown dweller. Nevermind that I live mere blocks away from it. But I’ve heard enough about their famous snow cones to know that it belongs on this list. Apparently, it’s the best shaved ice in Sacramento, and boasts impeccable service as well. I can’t wait to try it once the weather heats up!
Old Ironsides | Old Ironsides holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first bar I ever went to. I would go to Lipstick night, which was—and still is—an indie dance party, now in its 16th year. Although it was held every Tuesday night back then, Lipstick is now held on the first and third Saturdays of the month. I often lament the lack of dance nights here in town, but this one is still solid. Aside from Lipstick, there are frequent shows and open mics if you’re looking for a live indie-music fix. Cozy up in their Old Hollywood-style booths for moody vibes and intimate conversations.
Elixir | Elixir scores a negative one on the ambience and decor scale, but somehow it manages to be charming. It’s a neighborhood dive where you can watch the game or start or end your night—a place without airs where you can relax and chill with friends. Plus, they have a pretty good veggie burger and garlic fries which, yes, are good drunk or sober.
Farmers’ Market | On weekends, Southside is a place that truly feels like the weekend. People are out socializing, picnicking, cycling, and walking. And on Sundays, the largest farmers’ market in the area takes place across from the park, under the underpass, which has recently been adorned with the beautiful mural, Bright Underbelly. A pleasant stroll through the market can help you stock your apartment with flowers, produce, or even the occasional houseplant. One of the best vendors has to be the citrus guy at the Southwest corner of the market who, during the last hour of the market (11am – noon), shouts his discount prices like an auctioneer, working in conversational chit-chat between his fast-talking schtick. Also worth a stop are the succulent stand, which is full of gorgeous air plants and potted cacti, and the avocado stand, where they will hand you the perfect avocado—firm yet tender to the squeeze—that they’ve seemingly been stashing away just for you.
Southside Park | On your way to the farmers’ market, you’ll pass Southside Park itself, with its tall trees, kooky spaceship installation, and large pond centerpiece. There, you can attend festivals like Fiesta en la Calle, enjoy romantic picnics, or embark on an evening jog with your dog. It’s an enormous park with a vibrant Chicano mural that, impressively, was originally painted in 1977. The bright focal point demands to be reckoned with from almost every angle of the park, and makes the perfect backdrop for the local Aztec dancers when they perform their rhythmic, entrancing routines. Aside from the obvious Chicano influence, Southside Park is a collision of culture. Part of its charm is that anything goes—there’s no soccer mom watchdog frowning upon the skater kids. Southside Park is its own. It thrives on its laid-back attitude. Far from the picture of debauchery, it’s a balanced ecosystem of weirdos and salt-of-the-earth people. Beers Books | Anyone who’s been to Beers will tell you that it’s one of the most beloved independent bookshops in town. They carry both used and new books with a pretty-killer selection of literary classics. It’s the perfect place to stop by on a leisurely Sunday after caffeinating at Insight, or to get your culture on with a live reading from a touring author. (R.I.P. Raffles the shop cat.)
Beatnik Studios | Beatnik has regular art exhibits as well as specialty events like craft markets and wedding fairs. If you enjoy shopping local artisans or need a venue for your next event, check out this spacious studio.
Verge Center for the Arts | It’s always exciting when the neighborhood overflows with parked cars, because that often means something cool is happening at Verge. Their latest exhibit was interactive, offering all kinds of fun ways to be a part of the art on display. There, I scribbled out a wish to hang on a wishing tree (Yoko Ono style) and watched as someone goofily inserted the wrong limbs into a sweatshirt, as directed in the piece’s instructions.
Not Technically Southside Neighborhood, but Totally Walking Distance:
There are countless intangible details that will endear you to Southside Park: the dude who cruises by during the summer months in his low rider, blasting One Way’s “Cutie Pie;” the guy who perplexes with his sporadic soccer game-style whistling; the raccoons who emerge at sundown, patrolling the park in packs; “Meatless Mondays” at Old Ironsides; the secret warehouse parties that pop up throughout the year; the quiet, gradual settlement of young people, instead of full-fledged gentrification—the list goes on. A little bit quirky, a little bit up-and-coming, this leafy neighborhood might just capture your heart, soul, and taste buds.