Sacramento on a shoestring

Surviving and thriving during three days in the city with 30 bucks in your pocket

Pyramid Alehouse

Pyramid Alehouse

Photo By Jill Wagner

Take yourself out to the ballgame
Not into art or kitsch? From April and September, the River Cats--the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics--play baseball at Raley Field, just across the river from Old Sacramento. Bring a blanket and get a seat on “Homerun Hill,” the grassy knoll in right field, for just $5.

It’s Friday and your checking-account balance is down to five figures, including the decimal point. You could just hole up with a pizza and a rented Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the idea of Elijah Wood’s distorted body and anxious eyes on your TV screen for 10 hours is a little troubling. Besides, you want to explore your new home city—or maybe see your hometown with new eyes and a new, independent attitude.

You might have to drink more water and fewer frappuccinos, but believe this: You can last a weekend outside your apartment on an average of $10 a day. Here’s how.

Friday night: Dinner and a movie

The last time you paid less than $4 for a food item, it was undoubtedly served in a paper bag or shrink-wrapped. Not so at the Pyramid Alehouse on K Street downtown, where every weekday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., five select appetizers are priced at $3.30. We’re not talking about frozen chicken nuggets incubated under a heat lamp, but ample, beer-battered, carb-heavy rations of grub that feel like a complete meal after 10 minutes in your stomach. If you’re of drinking age and can afford to splurge, try a pint of the seasonal brew for another $3.30.

Former governor Jerry Brown

Photo By Jill Wagner

At 5:30 p.m., catch the free daily brewery tour. Nod and look interested in the brewing process and Pyramid’s 20-year history, and you’ll be rewarded with a few free beer samples (Thomas Kemper soda if you’re not legal). Fork over a buck and you can take home the sampling glass.Next, shake off your cream-soda-and-carb coma and head a couple of doors down to the Crest Theatre—Sacramento’s only independent theater and the prettiest place in town to see a movie not starring Adam Sandler, Ashton Kutcher or Jennifer Lopez. You’d blow your whole budget for the weekend, never mind the day, at a multiplex. But at the Crest, students with a college ID pay only $5.50 for any movie, any time. What’s more, with a steady stream of independent films, the Crest typically offers better screen writing, acting and creative afterthought for your entertainment dollar.

The night’s damage

Appetizer: $3.30
Movie: $5.50
Optional pint: $3.30
Optional sampling glass: $1
Total: $8.80 to $13.10

Saturday: Capitalize on the Capitol

The legislature is bleeding the average taxpayer dry and balancing the budget at the expense of college students. Don’t you want to see where all the bloodletting takes place?

You can, and amazingly, the state of California won’t charge you to do it. Free tours of the Capitol depart every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week, from the basement rotunda.

Even if you visited the building as a youngster, you were probably too busy passing notes and picking gum from your hair to remember the really cool stuff. Like how the capital city’s rich history of bribery extends back to 1854, when city leaders lured legislators from Benicia to Sacramento by promising free use of their courthouse, a refund on moving expenses, and land on which to build a permanent Capitol building. Sit in the opulent Senate and Assembly chambers, designed with colors from Britain’s two houses of Parliament. See the sparkling, full-scale renovation and structural reinforcement that your parents and grandparents paid $68 million for in the 1970s. Study the abstract painting of former governor Jerry Brown—a colorful, modernist contrast to the formal portraits of other past governors that hang throughout the building. (No word yet on when Gray Davis will break from filming Yahoo commercials to sit for his portrait.)

Attendance was up 11 percent last year, to about 1 million visitors, although tour operators wouldn’t attribute the increase to our new celebrity-status governor. Either way, hurry up and tour the building before lawmakers impose a $5 admission fee to help repay the Economic Recovery Bond.

After the tour, meander through the pretty Capitol gardens, which extend for four blocks east of the Capitol, until you reach the Capitol Garage Coffee Company at 15th and L Streets. Yes, it really was a garage (notice the cement floor and exposed ductwork), and no, coffee isn’t the only thing served. Tasty choices around $4 include a veggie quiche, small pizzas, burritos and calzones. If you time your arrival just right—around 6 p.m.—you can take advantage of the happy-hour pint specials ($2 for watered-down domestics and $3.25 for microbrews) and avoid the cover charge for what usually proves to be great local music. The Capitol Garage has seating, er, standing for about 150 and hosts an excellent cross section of electronica, indie rock, emo and pop bands.

The day’s damage

Photo By Jill Wagner

Capitol tour: free
Food: $4 to $6
Optional Pabst Blue Ribbon pint: $2
Total: $6 to $8

Sunday: Kitsch and culture

If you think art is the domain of rich and cultured types, you’re probably reluctant to spend money visiting an art museum. Which means the best time to visit the Crocker Art Museum at O and Third Streets is Sunday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., when admission is free. The museum is a fancy mansion once owned by E.B. Crocker, a state Supreme Court judge and lawyer who was obviously both rich and cultured. (He actually bought 700 pieces of art in Europe in one three-year period.) The Crocker is ideal for a cultural rookie because it’s got what any easily distracted person needs: variety. The permanent exhibit contains European and American paintings and drawings from the last 400 years, photographs, East Asian ceramics, Victorian tea sets and paintings depicting early California history. You’ll see works from people you’ve heard of—Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Albrecht Dürer—and cool stuff from those you haven’t, like ceramic sculptor Robert Arneson and CSUS alumnus Wayne Thiebaud, famous for his iconographic and colorful renderings of food. Even if the art turns out to be a bore, the cool, tree-shrouded mansion is a pleasant place to spend a hot Sacramento afternoon.

Counteract your overdose of culture with a shot of kitsch in Old Sacramento, just a few blocks north. Refuel at the Spud Shack at Second and I Streets, where freshly cut potato wedges are served with your choice of “international” toppings or sides, such as feta cheese, tomatoes and olives (Greece); curry sauce (England) or Thousand Island dressing (France). The garlic-coated Italian taters sprinkled with Parmesan cheese will leave you full, and unable to kiss anyone, for at least 24 hours. Spend the next few hours strolling around this people-watching paradise. After your spuds digest, get a cone of Gunther’s ice cream and trawl for cheesy trinkets in any of the ubiquitous “general stores.” Our recommendation for your last few bucks: How about a giant souvenir pencil and a postcard, so you can let your family know you’re adjusting just fine to life on your own?

The day’s damage

Museum admission: free
A half-order of spuds, split with a friend: $2.25
One soda: $1.50
Souvenir “Old Sac” pencil: $3.49
Postcard: 25 cents
Gunther’s ice cream single-scoop cone: $1.50
Total: $8.99