Beyond the Tower Bridge

What Sac's skyline lacks in flash it makes up for in history, design and blue Popsicles

Sacramento’s skyline might seem a little bland, but the city certainly has a few standout structures (hello, state Capitol and Tower Bridge). Those landmarks are definitely unique to Sactown, but let's be honest: They're also fairly obvious. In fact, the city has a number of distinctive and historic buildings that seem to fly under the radar.

Gregory Bateson Building

1600 Ninth Street, Capitol area

Built in the late ’70s, the Gregory Bateson Building was one of the country’s first energy-efficient office structures. From the outside it looks urbane and futuristic—at least maybe it did in the 1970s. The Bateson’s true genius is the massive atrium inside, which uses natural lighting and radical ventilation techniques to cut energy use by 75 percent.

J. Neely Johnson House

1029 F Street, Mansion Flats

Built in 1853, this Greek Revival home is unofficially Sacto’s first governor’s mansion. One of California’s first chief executives, J. Neely Johnson, lived here in the late 1850s. Like many other large houses in Mansion Flats, the Johnson house has a slightly raised “Delta-style” foundation to protect the home from flooding, which happened frequently during the 1850s.

Department of General Services Central Plant

625 Q Street, downtown

This new utility plant cools and heats 23 state office buildings, including the Capitol. Completed in 2010, the towering funnel-like structure glows at night like a bright-blue Popsicle. In keeping with Sacto’s history of pioneering green technology, the new thermal plant uses 90 percent less water than the old facility.

Sacramento River Water Intake Structure

Sacramento River off Jibboom Street

Is it a ship? A giant steel-and-glass butterfly landing on the river? Nope—it’s the city’s modern water-intake facility on the Sacramento River, which pumps 160 million gallons each day into local homes and businesses. Pedestrians can even walk over a suspended concrete bridge into the facility and feel like they’re sailing on the Sacramento, just below the confluence with the American River.

Sacramento City Library (Carnegie Library)

828 I Street, downtown

About: It’s tough to tell because of the trees shading the library along I and Ninth streets, but this 1918 Italian Renaissance-style building has eye-popping examples of terra-cotta tiles adorning the exterior. As with many buildings in Sacramento, the terra-cotta came from Gladding, McBean in Lincoln, a famous clay-manufacturing plant 30 miles northeast of Sacramento that also provided tiling for buildings such as the Elks Tower Sacramento and The Citizen Hotel.