All Photos by Ellen Baker

Tucked along the Sacramento River lies Garden Highway, a hidden road of splendor with not-so-hidden gems along the river shore. As a child, driving home from the Sacramento Airport would sometimes involve a leisurely stroll down Garden Highway. I remember thinking about the name and envisioning apple orchards on the horizon and banana trees hanging above us. As an adult, I can now recognize clearly (or, not as clearly) and see Garden Highway for what it really is: perhaps not a Garden of Eden, but a beautiful stroll along Sacramento’s waterway with good quality food, drink and recreation. Aside from a fantastic motorcycle ride, this adventure can also be done on bicycle or in a car (or Uber/Lyft/taxi if you plan on getting “off yer trolley”). A great choice for after-work eats, summer night hangouts or early morning jaunts, Garden Highway promotes fantastic river views without overpopulation. Below are a selection of the (mostly boozy) places to visit along the highway.

Rafting the flooded park

Discovery Park (1600 Garden Hwy.)

Beginning from North Sacramento, Discovery Park transcends its reputation as a sanctuary for the homeless and exists as a fantastic daytime destination. Throw a hammock up over the river, bring a blanket with some snacks, ride your bike over the Jibboom Bridge (which is currently closed for renovations but re-opens May 31) or if it’s flooded, grab a raft and float through the park. The potential for Discovery Park is vast, yet it currently holds only a handful of festivals per year.

Crawdads on the River (1375 Garden Hwy.)

Moving west, we arrive at Crawdads. By far one of the most lavish stops along the way, Crawdads is a restaurant that features fresh fish, expensive wine and fantastic views of the river.

Virgin Sturgeon (1577 Garden Hwy.)

With perhaps the best pours in all of Sacramento, Virgin Sturgeon prides itself on down-to-earth service and close-knit family vibes. As one of my favorite stops on the highway, I suggest grabbing your drink of choice and heading down to the dock to watch the sunset. If booze isn’t your thing, stop in for brunch on the weekend, sit outside and enjoy the warm spring breeze on your organic potatoes.

The dock at Virgin Sturgeon

Sandy Cove (2005 Garden Hwy.)

A pup’s haven, a human haven, as long as the crowds are low. As the largest sandy beach that I know of near downtown Sacramento, Sand Cove Park Beach provides space for fishing, swimming, sandy yoga, and it’s one hell of a spot for a cup of morning joe. Oftentimes you will find a tent belonging to a family, who, for the past week has called Sandy Cove their home. I have never encountered issues with people there, but it has made me think about what I can personally do to help solve Sacramento’s homeless issue … “Good or bad, hard to say” (great Ted Talk, look it up).

Swabbies on the River (5871 Garden Hwy.)

Swabbies boasts famous tacos, a dock for boats and jet skis, live music on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and endless picnic tables to host large groups. Almost always, you will find at least three motorcycles here, and more than likely a handful of RVs that seem to have been posted there for months. Go to Swabbies if you’re ready to mingle or drink; stay at Crawdads if you’re feeling bougie.

Teal Bend Golf Club (7200 Garden Hwy.)

With blackberry bushes surrounding the course, snacks are available for those of us who tend to lose focus while the rest of the team wraps up the game. Good cart deals are available on the weekdays, and turkeys tend to find their way onto the greens. Depending on your outlook on turkeys, this can be good or bad. Finish off the day on the 18th hole with a tee over a pond onto the green.

Continuing the journey down Garden Highway leads you to a dirt road and the small town of Nicolaus. Here you have the option to jump on Highway 99 toward Yuba City or jump on El Centro Road to head home. The farmlands that run parallel to the highway create a sense of country living only minutes from the city; this can be valuable after a long day in the office with traffic noise and lingering deadlines. Watch for drunk drivers on your way home and call a ride to save a life. Enjoy a bite to eat, a glass of wine, a walk on the beach and try to find a moment to fully embrace our charming Sacramento River.

**This piece first appeared in print on page 9 of issue #266 (May 21 – June 4, 2018)**

    Ellen Baker

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