Posts Tagged ‘photos’

Sacramento wrap up and stray observations

February 18th, 2020
Sacramento train station


My entire reason for visiting Sacramento was to make up for skipping it on my “Ameritrip” last year in which I traveled by rail from Chicago back home to San Francisco, stopping in a few cities along the way — Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno.

Originally I’d planned to make Sacramento a stop on the trip, but when I started planning it all out there was no way to squeeze another stop into the time I’d allocated.

To get to Sacramento and back I booked tickets on the Capitol Corridor, a train service run by a local joint powers authority, CalTrans, and operated by Amtrak. It’s part of the “Amtrak California” umbrella which also includes the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner routes.


Amtrak California trip to Sacramento


From San Francisco there’s the option of taking an Amtrak bus to Emeryville and boarding the train from there, but I decided to take BART to Lake Merritt and walk a few blocks to Jack London Square instead, repeating this process on the way back. Unfortunately the only true transfer point between Amtrak and BART is at Richmond, which is a very long BART ride away for many of us.

On the return trip the conductor announced Richmond as “your transfer point to BART, Bay Area we wish we were Rapid Transit.” Harsh but true.


Sacramento train station


The train station in Sacramento is a beautiful building from the 1920’s. It serves Amtrak as well as the local light rail and bus lines. Thankfully the station features modern bathrooms, and there’s a Starbucks next door if you need it.

As usual the boarding procedure varies wildly from one Amtrak station to another. Amtrak service is always polite but confusing, and their trains tend to be comfortable but worn out. I guess that’s just modern day America in a nutshell though.


Temple Coffee


My very first stop after leaving the train station was Temple Coffee Roasters, a chain local to Sacramento though their beans can be found elsewhere.

The line was almost out the door. It’s not the fastest place, though the employees are very friendly. I had an oat milk cappuccino. On a warmer afternoon I went to a different location for an iced latte. Both were excellent. That said, good coffee is not at all hard to find in Sacramento.




Right in the middle of downtown Sacramento near the capitol building is the brand new Downtown Commons, or “DoCo” complex. This fuses an existing shopping center with the new Sacramento Kings coliseum as well as a fancy hotel.

There’s quite a few places to eat and drink in the DoCo complex, presumably aimed at attendees of the basketball games and concerts held there.


Neil Hamburger at the Sacramento Comedy Spot


The entire reason I chose this particular weekend to visit Sacramento was to see Neil Hamburger perform again, this time at the Sacramento Comedy Spot. It’s not a big venue but it was packed; I was lucky to get in early enough to grab a seat.

Neil’s opening act was Major Entertainer, a musical comedian who sang songs about his wife’s former best friend as well as a song asking the audience to buy his t-shirts.

Neil Hamburger somehow got all the green dye out of his hair a few days after playing the Joker as his alter ego. He went through about an hour of material focused mostly on Aerosmith and KISS, the latter of which he claims is a band everyone has heard of, yet nobody knows their music (I think he might be on to something there.)

His longest and most rambling joke detailed how he was forced to spend 13 hours in LAX Terminal One when Southwest cancelled flights due to the 737 MAX disaster. He blamed it on the planes relying on defective computers that were returned to Best Buy. But the worst indignity was that he had to eat at the only restaurant open in the airport terminal, Rock & Brews, which is owned by KISS front-man Gene Simmons.

He ended the show singing his original song Little Love Cup.


There were a few things I didn’t get to do on this trip. Perhaps next time? In no particular order:

  • Tower Cafe: This oddball cafe is best known for brunch, and I’m told the wait list can get pretty long.
  • California State Railroad Museum: I vaguely remember visiting here as a kid, and would have definitely returned if I’d had the time on this trip.
  • Dive Bar: I’m told this isn’t a great bar, the only reason to go is to see the hourly mermaid performances in the giant fish tank above the bar. Performers dress up as mermaids and swim around with actual fish.
  • Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament: A beautiful old cathedral located across from the capitol building that offers tours, but was somehow never open when I was in the area.
  • The Bank: A modern food hall, but located inside of a classic old bank building.

Sacramento street art

February 18th, 2020

Like a lot of cities with abandoned buildings and big blank walls facing unused lots, in recent years Sacramento has turned to street art to make the city more inviting and these walls less prone to graffiti.

The difference between Sacramento and most cities however is that it has a much larger hole to climb out of. At the end of World War 2 there was a migration out of cities to nearby suburbs all around the country, but Sacramento also had to deal with the aftermath of its large Japanese population being sent to internment camps and the decline of the railroad industry.



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The downtown and midtown areas are a hotbed of all types of street art murals, in part because there’s just so many blank walls and abandoned buildings to choose from. Like most of the street art throughout Sacramento it’s a mix of pieces commissioned by building owners, murals painted as part of the Wide Open Walls festival, and completely guerrilla installations.

There’s so much street art in downtown in particular that I found a sign opposing it entirely, claiming that the murals were responsible for increasing local rents. I have no idea if that’s true, though it’s a complete 180 degree pivot from the way most people thought about street art just a couple decades ago.


Sacramento street art


You can’t talk about the downtown Sacramento street art without mentioning the Johnny Cash mural from Shepard Fairey. I’m not sure exactly where the mural is best seen from but you can get glimpses of it from all over downtown.

Fairey’s intention with this one was to honor Cash’s own cause of prison reform. I’m told the mural is fifteen stories tall and took about a week to complete.


R Street Historic District

Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art


While wandering over to the food tour of the R Street historic district I snapped photos of a number of murals. The tour guide pointed out a few others to us between food stops.

What makes this part of the city a little different is it was a hot spot for the local art scene due to the sheer number of abandoned warehouse spaces. Despite a recent wave of gentrification, artists have remained in the area. Some of the new construction intentionally includes blank walls used as canvases for commissioned murals.

I personally really enjoyed the mural with the girl trying to fit in with a bear family; it’s ostensibly about how people are treated in a society, though it could just as easily be a metaphor for a neighborhood of misfits.

R Street food tour from Local Roots

February 17th, 2020
R Street sign


When it comes to food we’re pretty spoiled in California, with fresh produce from local farms, seafood, and of course plenty of wine to go along with it. So I was a little miffed when all the restaurants were booked well in advance when I arrived in Sacramento on Friday, and were so massively understaffed on Saturday that I couldn’t even get seated at any restaurant bars.

It eventually dawned on me that this wasn’t normal: I’d simply arrived on Valentine’s Day and every restaurant worth dining at in town was squeezed for staff.

Fortunately I’d booked a food tour on Sunday, the R Street food tour from Local Roots. This more than made up for the previous two day’s dining disappointments.

The tour started at the WAL Public Market, a small shopping center in a warehouse building now used for live/work artist studios. The guide met us outside with horchata coffee for the group. I’d never had horchata with coffee in it before — it’s a little sweet but the flavors work well together.

We all went inside for a while to browse while our first meal was prepared. I’d skipped breakfast and was eager for some good food.


R Street Food Tour


Our first dishes were from a Japanese place including miso soup, sweet sushi-style rice, and both vegetable and seafood poke. All of this was amazing — the miso soup really hit the spot on a somewhat chilly afternoon, and one woman in the group who claimed she hated seafood had to admit the salmon poke was delicious.

From there we walked around the R Street area for a while to look at some of the street art, which I’ll get to in a later post. R Street itself was once a key part of the Transcontinental Railroad shipping empire, but due to a decline following World War 2 it became an unofficial arts district.

The next stop was a Mexican joint called Mas Taco Bar. We all shared a big bowl of guacamole and some fried tortillas to break up into chips along with whatever individual tacos we wanted. I had a salmon taco which came with a fresh tortilla, spicy aioli, and small slices of jalapeno. The service was a little slow, though the taco proved worth the wait.


R Street Food Tour


From there we backtracked a little to visit the Shady Lady, an upscale “speakeasy” in an old brick building. We ordered individual cocktails; I had a fancy margarita which doesn’t really fit the speakeasy theme but made sense in my mind after eating Mexican food.

We also split some appetizers, the only one of which I tried was fried green tomatoes. This version was a little crunchy on the outside with a sweet, gooey tomato center.

Our guide said this spot used to be a Wonder Bread factory, which I think I accidentally turned into a debate about modern food production. I mentioned learning at the Sacramento History Museum that sliced bread meant kids could safely make their own sandwiches for the first time.

One woman about my age with two kids said she liked the idea of telling them to make their own lunches, which somehow led to an argument about using using modern technology (GMOs, fertilizers, etc.) to feed the world vs. the long term impacts on sustaining healthy farmland. It was a very lively group on this tour.


R Street Food Tour


Finally we stopped for desert in the “Ice Blocks” area of R Street, which was once a produce packing district where trains were packed with fresh produce and ice for refrigeration. Today the area is all new construction.

The last stop was Creamy’s, a bakery in the Ice Blocks that serves tiny cheesecakes in small cupcake wrappers. These were too rich for my tastes, though the diminutive portions made it more palatable.

My recommendation: If you’re curious about the food scene in Sacramento but aren’t sure what to try, this tour is a great place to start. Local Roots has a few other food tours listed on their website if you’re looking for something different.

California State Capitol tour

February 16th, 2020
California State Capitol


Visiting the state capitol for the tour, I was immediately surprised by two things: one, the front of the building is largely covered up by scaffolding for a restoration project, and two, you can’t even enter through the original building at all.

The entrance is not only in the back “annex” of the building where all the offices are located, but in separate wings added in the early 2000’s to allow for more rigid security screenings. It’s not exactly like the TSA though I had to take off my watch and belt to make it through the metal detector.

I arrived slightly late for the official tour that hour, but since it’s a pretty causal and free tour I was allowed to join anyway. Several tours are offered during open hours nearly every day of the year; call ahead or ask at the information desk in the rotunda on the first floor for details.

As it turns out the government offices are all in the annex building, which dates back from the 1940’s and is unfortunately pretty drab. It feels like an upscale public school building at best. The plan is to tear down and replace this part of the building soon.


California State Capitol California State Capitol


The original building is largely a museum at this point, aside from the State Senate and State Assembly chambers. During my visit on the weekend both chambers were filled with students trying their hands at politics. I have to say a handful of the students sounded very professional.

According to the guide both rooms borrowed their color schemes from their UK counterparts — the red color scheme in the Senate is from the House of Lords, and the green color scheme in the Assembly is from the House of Commons.


California State Capitol


Speaking of connections to the old world, in the middle of the rotunda is a marble statue of Columbus begging Queen Isabella for funding.

The connection between Columbus’ voyage and California is thin at best, but the statue took on a good luck charm status when legislators would go up to the second floor and try to toss coins into the queen’s crown as a superstition for luck in getting bills passed. Today this practice has been forbidden thanks to damage to the statue, though they’re allowed to toss cotton balls instead.


California State Capitol


Due to Jerry Brown’s unprecedented split terms as governor, his original portrait was recently removed and is no longer displayed with the other portraits — a new one is in the works. The previous portrait is in a side hall that’s off limits when certain government functions are in session.

This original portrait by California artist Don Bachardy was considered controversial at the time as it broke with the conventions of how politicians were meant to be portrayed in art. At the same time it’s unmistakably Jerry Brown, and in the years since political portraits have become less homogeneous. For example the portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger almost looks like a movie poster.


California State Capitol


Unlike the tour I took last year of the superficially similar looking Colorado State Capitol building, there’s no viewing deck or even access up to the top of the rotunda.

According to the guide there is a walkway up some very narrow stairs for maintenance purposes, though the very top of the stairs were sealed off when the building was extensively retrofitted/rebuilt in the 1970’s.


California State Capitol


There’s plenty of other details big and small about the capitol building reveled on the tour — far too many to go into here — so I’ll end on a silly one.

Before he left office, Arnold Schwarzenegger purchased a life-sized bronze bear statue and placed it outside the governor’s office.

On one hand it’s a strange choice and I’m not sure Schwarzenegger is someone I’d consult for decorating advice in general, but on the other it fits the state’s bear motif which is referenced throughout the capitol building. I guess the fact that he left office nearly a decade ago and the bear statue is still there kind of speaks for itself.

My recommendation: It’s a free tour of a building with a lot of history so why not? You may even learn a little about how the state government works along the way.

Old Sacramento Waterfront and the underground

February 16th, 2020
Old Town Sacramento Old Town Sacramento Old Town Sacramento


The waterfront is where Sacramento began, although today it barely feels like a part of the city. It’s all but cut off from downtown Sacramento by an enormous freeway, and most of what you’ll find there are your pretty typical tourist trap stores — tacky jewelry, shirts with “funny” slogans you can buy anywhere, funnel cake vendors, etc.

If you know where to look though there is a lot of interesting history to see. Your best bet to learn more about the history of the area is either the California State Railroad Museum (which I didn’t visit on this trip) or the Sacramento History Museum.

I booked a spot on the Sacramento History Museum’s Underground Tour, which also includes free admission to the museum. Unfortunately for me most of the museum was closed for a refresh of the exhibits. And unfortunately for you, photography isn’t allowed in the underground portions of the tour so you’ll just have to either read my descriptions, or go on the tour yourself.

The Underground Tour was led by a guide who was very much in character as a deputy during the gold rush. As he explained Sacramento began as a series of tents next to the river, which regularly flooded. Later on wood buildings were erected, built tall enough that boats could float between them on the second floors when the area flooded.

Wood structures burn down of course, and nothing from that era stands today. It was all replaced by brick structures after a particularly destructive fire. Yet that didn’t work out well in the long run as the mining activities in the area just caused the floods to get more and more intense.

Eventually the residents decided to do three things: divert the American River around the city, give the railroads land along the Sacramento river in exchange for constructing levies, and manually jack up over 100 brick buildings by about 25 feet to match the new street level set by the levies. Oh, and they jacked the buildings up while people were still working in them, which meant getting in and out required climbing a series of ladders.

The tour goes under two buildings in what are now the basement levels. The second one has excavation sites where various materials have been found, including an early toothbrush, a set of weighted dice to cheat at gambling, and what’s believed to be an early painting of Abraham Lincoln.

Alleys in the area were never raised the entire height, but instead slope downward by about 12 feet. A brick patio in one of the above photos was also not brought up to the full height.

By far the most random and disgusting thing I learned on the tour was when the guide pulled out two corncobs — sans corn kernels — and asked “does anyone know what these are for?” As it turns out, they were used for wiping yourself after going to the bathroom. The worst part is you could wash them off in the river and reuse them — the same river where people were getting their drinking water.

My recommendation: Although most of old Sacramento is pretty sad these days, there’s a lot of history to uncover if you do your research and plan ahead. Do not go unprepared.

California Governor’s Mansion

February 16th, 2020
Governor's Mansion Governor's Mansion Governor's Mansion


For the weekend I decided to take the train up to Sacramento, staying in a bed and breakfast located in a creaky old 19th century Victorian home. As it turns out the Mansion Flats neighborhood is filled with buildings of similar age and architecture, including the California Governor’s Mansion.

Although the mansion was converted into a museum in the mid 1960’s it was recently closed and renovated to bring it up to modern building codes. Jerry Brown moved in it during his final term as governor.

It’s unclear what the future of the building will be; current governor Gavin Newsom decided not to move in. It’s currently closed to the public.

In the end I’m not sure exactly what the point of having an official governor’s mansion is if governors generally don’t want to live in it. It’s not even particularly close to the governor’s office.


Governor's Mansion at night


Walking by the mansion after dark I was surprised to find it was lit from below, giving it the look of a haunted house someone painted white in an attempt to drive the ghosts out.

With no living residents in the mansion, for now it seems the ghosts have won out.

The mysterious album from The Jejune Institute’s second chapter

February 9th, 2020
Sounds of Ascension cover


While cleaning my closet I happened to come across an unusual CD in a cardboard sleeve. It’s called The Sound of Ascension: Audio Kool-Aid From The 70’s Most Eccentric Cults & Communes. This is an artifact from the second chapter of The Jejune Institute saga.

The timing of this discovery is perfect as the TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere comes out next month, loosely based on the real (?) events of The Jejune Institute here in San Francisco.

In fact the name “Dispatches From Elsewhere” was the name of the pirate radio show that advertised (among other things) this album. The Jejune Institute’s second chapter essentially started when you brought a radio to Dolores Park and tuned in — turning on and dropping out were strictly optional.

As for this album only a couple of record stores sold it, and you had to ask for it at the register. I bought mine from Aquarius Records on Valencia.


Sounds of Ascension outer artwork Sounds of Ascension outer artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension inner artwork Sounds of Ascension CD label


The contents of the album listed on the packaging is pretty much what you’d expect from the title, starting with a track from The Manson Family. The full track listing and more details are listed on Discogs.

At the point where someone jumped through all the hoops to get this album, it’s almost comically obvious there would be a hidden track. For historical interest, I’ve ripped the hidden track and put it on Soundcloud. Listen below if you like.



The track is a walkabout following a young Eva Lucien and her mother Peggy through San Francisco’s Mission District. With them is a guest known as “Brightwell,” presumably the man making the field recording.

As explained in the liner notes Peggy Lucien was involved with various communes and cults in California, which is why she collected the audio on this album.

Let me delve into the details of the tour.

The walkabout begins on Chula Lane, a tiny alley between Church and Dolores streets. At the time the starting point was marked in the middle of the alley with two painted footprints surrounded by a compass — the first of many guerilla art installations on this tour.

The “fairy tree” Eva mentions is a palm tree on Dolores that has a bunch of holes in it, possibly due to rot. There were a bunch of tiny gold hand prints in the holes at the time to indicate fairies had been there.

Eva’s dad sounds like he’s voiced by Jeff Hull, the man behind Nonchalance (parent entity of The Jejune Institute.) The guy has a very distinctive voice.

One building mentioned in the track was a damaged and abandoned rectory next to an empty lot at the corner of 15th and Dolores. Once a church that burned down under mysterious circumstances, the whole thing was fenced off for at least a decade. A few years after The Jejune Institute closed the rectory building was restored and condos have gone up in the empty lot.

At the same corner there really were unusual hopscotch outlines painted on the sidewalks on either side of Dolores. Nonchalance dutifully repainted these on a regular basis.

The “green boxes” that gave Eva headaches are ordinary utility boxes. At the time they had fake but realistic warning stickers on them, alerting the public of “microwave harassment.”

As they walk down Albion Street, Eva whispers that things are getting smaller. At this point in the walk there were tiny doors, windows, and even a tiny gas meter glued on the side of the building that houses Kilowatt. Unfortunately these were removed by vandals or thieves pretty early on.

The final destination is Adobe Books. They’ve since moved, but at the time they were located on 16th Street. The door in the bookshelf Eva leads you to contained a small art installation, and the shelf itself had a book labeled “Interdimensional Hopscotch” that was chained to the shelf.

That’s the end of the recording, though there are a few other details I can recall.

There were other physical objects to go along with this chapter, many of which were advertised in the Dispatches From Elsewhere radio broadcast. There was a map of the area which included key points along this tour. I also acquired some wooden nickels (or “hobo coins”) from a newspaper stand at 16th and Valencia. These could be traded at the Paxton Gate curiosity shop for a small envelope containing plastic teeth.

Separately you could order a “box of Nonchalance” which came with the microwave harassment warning stickers as well as a wire fence sign explaining that all fences and walls would be “soon obsolete.”

There’s actually quite a bit more to all of this part of the chapter, which is very well documented on I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to dance with Bigfoot though I did meet several people who had the honor.

I did however get invited back to Eva’s fairy tree one final time for the fourth chapter of the story, which I’ve previously documented here.

Chinese New Year at the mall

January 28th, 2020
Chinese New Year at Westfield SF Centre


After doing some shopping at the Westfield SF Centre mall the other day I thought I’d go upstairs to the fourth and “top” floor of the Emporium half of the building and see what’s up there these days. As it turns out not much: most of it’s now a co-working space and only two restaurants remain.

Even the bar didn’t make it, which I guess isn’t surprising given the limited appeal of a bar inside a mall that closes at 8 PM.

Yet the mall is still dutifully decorating the antique dome. Currently it has red lanterns hanging from it for Chinese New Year, as seen in the above photo.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it decorated for Chinese New Year before, but then again I never go up there, and by the looks of it nobody else does either.

Embarcadero waterfront at night

January 12th, 2020

Over the past year or so I’ve taken to walking along the Embarcadero waterfront, if for no other reason than to stretch my legs after work. With the early sunsets this winter I’ve been experimenting with after dark photography with my new iPhone 11 Pro Max. Here’s a few I’ve taken along the waterfront.


Pier 7


Pier 7

This public pedestrian pier features a wooden walkway with classic light fixtures, and is a magnet for both wedding photos and people trying to catch fish in the bay. At night the electric glow of the lights gives it a completely different feel.

Believe it or not, the ye olde fashioned lights and wood deck were built in 1990. In a previous life it was a typical commercial pier with a concrete deck.

There’s an artifact in this photo I really don’t like — the green dots that appear below the lights at ground level. I suspect these are due to the lens material.


View from Pier 7


San Francisco Belle

Viewed from Pier 7, this paddlewheel ship looks like something from a Mark Twain novel.

Looks can be deceiving however as this ship was built as a floating casino in 1994, and was later moved to San Fransisco and repurposed for dinner cruises and corporate events.




View from The Exploratorium

As you can tell from the reflection in the upper left corner, I shot this one through a window. Specifically it’s looking back towards the city from The Exploratorium at night during an After Dark event.

This photo shows just how bright a thin layer of clouds can appear at night when lit from below by a relatively small urban area.





This soccer ball within a soccer ball sculpture was installed outside The Exploratorium in 2016. It’s one of those fixtures you can’t help but to notice at night when the LEDs inside it are glowing.

You don’t have to look closely to see the same ghostly green artifacts in this photo like I mentioned earlier regarding Pier 7. From a distance the artifacts look like part of the sculpture.


Bay Bridge


Bay Bridge and a yacht

The flashy Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge are all lit up as a brightly-lit yacht (at least I think it’s a yacht) glides toward the bridge.

The sky in the background almost looks like a painting. I suspect that’s Apple’s “night mode” quietly stitching together several photos into one. The end result is a little off, but somehow closer to human vision than an unprocessed photo.


Moon under Bay Bridge


Wolf Moon under the Bay Bridge

Last night was the “Wolf Moon” lunar eclipse in the southern hemisphere. We don’t get to see the eclipse, but the moonrise lights up the sky in the northern hemisphere for an hour or so with a bright orange glow.

The moon often looks larger to our eyes than it does in photos, though when near a human-scale structure like the Bay Bridge the difference is negligible.

Exploratorium’s Curious Contraptions exhibit

December 22nd, 2019
The Curious Contraptions in action. No audio due to copyrighted music played at the event


50 years ago the Exploratorium opened, a first of its kind museum aimed at teaching science to kids and teens with a 100% hands-on approach to learning. Six years ago the museum relocated from their original Palace of Fine Arts to a new space at Pier 15, adding the new 21 and over “After Dark” series on Thursday evenings.

If there’s one thing both kids and tipsy adults have in common, it’s a tendency to break stuff. Which makes it all the more impressive that many of the exhibits I remember seeing at the Exploratorium as a kid are not only still there, but still work today.

The current Curious Contraptions special exhibit of hand made automatons doesn’t quite have the same hands-on appeal, but it still feels like a natural fit for the Exploratorium, filling the gray area where science meets art.

These automatons are whimsical hand made mechanical contraptions that bring a small scene of some kind to life. Some are powered by electric motors, others need to be cranked by hand. Most are small, not much larger than a shoe box.

As you can see in the video at the top of the post these are all relatively new automatons, built in the last 60 years or so. That surprised me the most; I tend to think of cuckoo clocks or the 19th century coin operated dioramas like you’d find at Musée Mécanique.

Compared to their predecessors the artists building automatons today aren’t as interested in hiding the mechanics in a cabinet, and feature more abstract scenes. What hasn’t changed is the humor — there’s something inherently silly about a little contraption driven by a crank where a more serious story wouldn’t fit the medium. If these were books they’d be pop-up books, not novels.

The largest and in many ways most impressive automaton is the Exploratory Lunacycle from British cartoonist Rowland Emett, featured at the end of the above video. It’s like a psychedelic Jules Verne story brought to life.

Although it wasn’t technically part of the exhibit, I couldn’t help but to notice the Exploratorium’s transparent pinball machine was located nearby, itself an automaton of sorts with all the guts exposed.

Curious Contraptions runs through January 26th.