Get on the bus

For Sac State students, mass transit is a free ticket to explore Sacramento

by Alexis RaymondMaybe you swore off buses after high school. Or maybe you’re the type who gets motions sickness riding sideways or backward on trains. Either way, we encourage you to reconsider your stand on mass transit. Plenty of good food, cheap entertainment and local flavor await you in Sacramento, and there’s no cheaper or more convenient way to get there than via the Rapid Transit bus and light-rail system. You’ll never have to feed a meter, get lost or hunt for a parking spot. Best of all, it is completely free—just flash your OneCard and you can ride anywhere, anytime, without spending a dime.

Six bus routes stop at the Sac State transit center, located right near the residence halls, and another nine stop at the 65th Street light-rail station, just a half-mile walk from campus. So put your car keys and your quarters away, get on the bus and explore your city. To get you started, we’ve picked two bus routes and identified some of our favorite places along the way.

Bus 36: Get your cheap-food fix

Midtown Sacramento via Folsom Boulevard
Make sure your stomach is empty before you cut through “Hornet Crossing” (behind the practice track and golf range) and take the short walk to the 65th Street light-rail station. Bus No. 36 will bring you practically to the doorstep of more than a dozen stores and eateries known for fine food at cheap prices.

First stop: Sub Shack
Hidden behind a bramble of overgrown bushes, this place looks like a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, and it is. But it’s a great choice for weekend breakfast, when two can gorge on enough French toast, corned beef hash, spicy breakfast potatoes, eggs and pancakes to feed a fraternity for under $20. And the sandwiches aren’t bad either. 5200 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 457-5997.

Second stop: Trader Joe’s
Whether you must stock your new apartment with foodstuffs or stuff your dorm room with between-meal snacks, look no further than Trader Joe’s, the standard-bearer for cheap munchies and microwavable meals. The prices are so low that shopping at Trader Joe’s will overtax your back (when you try to lug all of your purchases home) more than it will strain your wallet. 5000 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 456-1853.

Third stop: Cafe Bernardo
Often regarded as one of Sacramento’s best restaurants for good, cheap food, and with good reason. Most salads and sandwiches are $7 or less, and you can get a good dinner like stir-fry noodles or grilled polenta triangles for less than $10. Yummy desserts like the black-bottom cupcake or the homemade ice cream are around $2.726 Capitol Avenue (916) 443-1180.

Fourth stop: Jack’s Urban Eats
Disembark the bus just before it turns right onto 21st Street and walk a block down Capitol Avenue to the cafeteria-style Jack’s, where you can counteract your healthy, made-to-order salad with decadent Urban Fries (served with bleu cheese and spicy chili oil). The half salad for $5.50 is plenty big, or you can double up for $1 more. 1230 20th Street, (916) 444-0307.

Fifth stop: Paesano’s
If you want sit-down service, creative pizzas and inexpensive pasta dishes, keep walking past Jack’s to this casual and oft-crowded pizzeria. Paesano’s has garnered “best pizza,” “best Italian” and “best restaurant” accolades from SN&R readers over the years, evidenced by a typically lengthy wait list. The dining room is urban and funky, but on a nice day you can’t beat the sidewalk patio. 1806 Capitol Avenue, (916) 447-8646.

Sixth stop: Crepeville
It might take you longer to read all the options on the colorful chalkboard menu than to actually eat your meal. Some people (including this intrepid writer) find favorites and default to them every time (hint: basil crepe with cheddar, onions, basil, tomato, spinach and feta cheese or Fuji salad with walnuts, apples and gorgonzola cheese). But the warm, overflowing crepes, chunky, home-fry-style potatoes and low prices compensate for any stressful decision-making you might experience. Split a dessert crepe with your dining companion and you’re still unlikely to crack the $10 mark at this casual eatery. 1730 L Street, (916) 444-1100.

Seventh stop: Ma Jong’s Asian Diner
It shares real estate with Sacramento’s newest, hippest club—the Park Ultra lounge—but two people can dine here for the same price as the cover charge next door. Nothing is more than $10, and you can get a warm and comforting rice bowl for as little as $6.50. Vegetarians take note: more than a dozen dishes can be made with tofu. 1431 L Street, (916) 442-7555.

Last stop: Hamburger Mary’s
This chain restaurant with in independent streak attracts everyone from punk rockers to visiting grandparents to Sacramento’s gay community. As the name implies, food is pretty standard fare with an emphasis on burgers (veggie patties available) and (spicy) French fries. It’s a loud, boisterous place that’s ideal for groups. Come late enough and you can catch drag queens singing karaoke. J Street at 17th, (916) 441-4340.

Bus 30: Bringing You to Stuff to Do

Downtown and Midtown via J Street
You don’t even have to leave campus to catch bus No. 30 to Midtown and Downtown Sacramento. Hop on at the Sac State Transit Center, travel down residential J Street for a mile or two and you’ll arrive in what is arguably Sacramento’s nerve center for entertainment, nightlife, shopping and general horsing around.

First stop: Limelight Bar, Cafe & Card Room
If you’re over age 21 you can play Texas Hold ’Em with a room full of regulars and wannabe poker stars. Twenty-person tournaments ($25 buy-in) take place every day at 6 p.m. (get there early to sign up) and cash games are available practically 24-hours a day. If you can’t outlast your competition you can still drown your sorrows with a glass of beer, some greasy pub food and a game of pool. Alhambra Boulevard at J Street, (916) 446-2236.

Second stop: Labyrinth at Pioneer Congregational Church
No, you’re not hearing a sermon. You’re going to “get centered” in the labyrinth out back. Located in a pleasant courtyard, the labyrinth represents a symbolic journey along the path of life. Think of it as walking meditation. It might sound hokey now, but try it and see how the stress of exams, noisy roommates and heavy poker losses melts away as you wind your way toward the middle of the circle. If nothing else, the fact that it is free and open 24 hours a day should appeal to the cash-strapped and caffeine-laden. 2700 L Street, (916) 443-3727.

Third stop: The Depot Video Bar
Get off the bus at 20th Street and L Street and walk north a block to The Depot Video Bar at 20th and K, one of Sacramento’s most popular gay bars (the other one is right across the street). This is the place to be for communal TV watching: on any given weeknight you can catch The L Word, Desperate Housewives, Will and Grace, American Idol or The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Free pool on Mondays, cheap happy-hour specials and 34 televisions showing music videos and comedy clips make this a great hangout for friendly folk of any sexual orientation. 2001 K Street, (916) 441-6823.

Fourth stop: SN&R offices
While you’re in the neighborhood, visit us right next door to The Depot at 20th and J streets. Granted, there might not be a lot to do here, although the people at the front counter like the company. But you can pick up enough free copies of SN&R to share with your friends, and you’ll know how to find us the next time we have free movie passes to give away. 1015 20th Street, (916) 498-1234.

Fifth stop: Infusion
In a city of cloned Starbucks, it’s a relief to find a coffee bar that looks nothing like one. From the original art on the walls to the red vinyl sofas, Infusion’s personality is refreshing, not fabricated. And with its wireless Internet access and no-rush attitude, it doesn’t deviate from coffee culture completely. Once named “best seat in the house” in SN&R for its hanging bubble chairs, Infusion is the coziest, quirkiest place in Sacramento to hang out with friends, throw back some hot beverages and be yourself. 1628 K Street, (916) 442-8889.

Sixth stop: Crest Theatre
Just a block north of L Street is Sacramento’s only independent theatre and the prettiest place in town to see a movie not starring Adam Sandler, Ashton Kutcher or Jennifer Lopez. Students with a college ID pay only $5.50 for any movie, any time. Not to mention, with a steady stream of independent films, the Crest typically offers excellent screen writing, acting and creative afterthought for your entertainment dollar. 1013 K Street, (916) 442-5189.

Seventh stop: Downtown Plaza
Bordered by L, J, 7th and 3rd streets, Downtown Plaza has everything you would expect in a suburban mall except the suburb. You’ll find popular stores like American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic, Forever 21, The Gap and Macy’s, plus a seven-screen movie theater, a good brew pub and food-court stalwarts like Sbarro, Panda Express and Johnny Rockets. 547 L Street, (916) 442 4000.

Last stop: J Street Shopping
If you’re not the shopping mall type, you’ll appreciate the boutiques and independent retailers along J Street between 17th and 28th streets. The Beat [1700 J Street, (916) 446-4402] has a large selection of new and used CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl records [if you don’t remember them your parents will], and an espresso/listening bar. Cuffs Urban Apparel [2523 J Street (916) 443-2881] stocks new, vintage, vintage-inspired and recycled clothing and accessories that scream indie, urban hipster. Find popular contemporary fashions from the likes of Ben Sherman, Miss Sixty and Energie, plus an in-house beauty salon, at 23 Lounge. [2316 J Street (916) 930-0165].

A complex of cheap eateries

Just across from the 65th Street Light Rail station (at 65th Street and Folsom Boulevard), the new F65 Center is a cheap eater’s dream come true:

Dos Coyotes: cafeteria-style southwestern with complementary chips and salsa bar.

Pita Pit: choose from more than 20 fillings and add as many of the 14 toppings and 13 sauces you can pack into a pita.

Mr. Pickles: your choice of 20 overstuffed subs, like the Fast Eddy (hot roast beef with barbecue sauce and melted cheese), for less than $7.

Strings Italian Café: a convenient date spot, especially on Wednesday when all-you-can-eat pasta (plus bread and soup or salad) is $7.99.