Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer from coast to coast.
I suppose some people still see Sacramento as a small rural farming kind of town. And that’s great! We should all be so lucky to have access to some of the country’s best produce just a short drive or bus ride away.
But those of us who were born and raised in this town know the truth: Infiltration is on the horizon. With so many super commuters and residents being priced out of the San Francisco Bay Area, a large percentage are looking and have already made the move to Sacramento. And while we might not have roadside seafood shacks or dramatic coastal bluffs, we do have an incredible amount of diversity along Freeport Boulevard. This roughly 10-mile crosstown highway turns into a river road along the Sacramento Delta into our farming communities.
Freeport Boulevard was a part of State Route 160, a highway with portions that cling to the Sacramento River where narrow bridges built in the 1940s give you an up-close and direct view of the sturgeon in the water. Not all of 160 is scenic, however, as it goes through some generic and hohum parts of the usual urban cookie-cutter landscape. Depending on the season, the road can be lined with California poppies and wild mustard, lush and green leaf canopies, a vibrant autumnal palette, or gridlock traffic.
Below I’ve compiled a food-centric day trip/staycation featuring interesting and delicious things to eat, drink, and do along Freeport Boulevard.
Marie’s might not look like much from the outside. It’s a unique juxtaposition: a simple, unassuming teal and cream building sandwiched between Cal Middle School and C.K. McClatchy High (my former schools, actually). Yet this doughnut shop can appear swarmed with teenagers at any given time during the day. No doubt Marie’s will be an unequivocal part of their childhoods, just as it has for generations before them. The original Marie’s is in North Highlands. Both the North Highlands and the Freeport location were both opened in 1958 by a man known simply as “Hugh.” The Land Park location has been owned by Sandy Hong and Mang Te since the early 1990s and the North Highlands location is now owned by Barbara Weinman.
Marie’s on Freeport is considerably more popular with an almost cult-like following. They have your standard doughnut classics: raised glazed, chocolate cake with sprinkles, raspberry-filled, maple bars, cinnamon rolls. They also offer some unique variations: mountainous whipped cream sandwiched between a sliced glazed doughnut and square glazed with apple filling. And if you’re there during the right time (most likely at night), you can watch the bakers rolling out dough and deep-frying it. You might also grab a warm and fresh-out-of-the-fryer maple-glazed buttermilk bar. The inside is still hot and gooey, and the glaze sticks to your fingers because it hasn’t had time to firm up. (2950 Freeport Blvd)
2018 marked the 100th-year celebration of the park which immortalized its founder, Willam Land. Land, like many during his time, was born on the East Coast and moved out West during the Gold Rush. But unlike so many others, he actually found fortune. He didn’t hit gold in them thar hills of the Sierras, but he did work as a bellhop and porter in a Sacramento hotel until he had enough money to buy the hotel. After losing his son, who was just under a year old, and then his wife soon after, Land poured himself into his work and dedicated his life to improving the city of Sacramento well after his death. When he died, he left a sum of $250,000 so that a large green space would be built for public use. This was back when many of the green spaces in the city were private and reserved for the affluent.
William Land Park is 166 developed acres of green space with mature trees, including many eucalyptus. It also contains the Sacramento Zoo, Funderland Amusement Park, Fairytale Town, William A. Carroll Amphitheatre (where they hold the annual Shakespeare Festival) and two bird ponds with fountains. Land Park and South Land Park are highly desirable communities that have grown out of and around the park. Both neighborhoods contain some historic homes that have proven to be architecturally significant: Craftsman bungalows, Colonial revivals, brick Tudor cottages and Eichler homes built in the 1950s. It’s also a few blocks away from one of Sacramento’s best local ice cream parlors and a cinnamon roll haven inside a gas station. (3800 W Land Park Dr)
Masashi Ted Oto was born in Walnut Grove, a small farming town along the Sacramento Delta. But in 1942 (when he was 15 years old), he and his family were forced to leave their home and were admitted into the Gila River War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp. Three years later, he joined the army. After, he got married, went to butchery school, came back to California, and opened a modest meat shop in South Sacramento in 1959. Eventually he outgrew the space and made several moves in the next twenty-some years, a majority of those spent at the corner of Freeport Boulevard and 35th Avenue, across the street from the Executive Airport. He expanded his shop into a grocery store, started to focus on selling Japanese products (this was the first place I had ever seen mochi ice cream in 1999) and in 2007 built his own store at the age of 80. Nine years later he would pass away, leaving the store to his two sons, two daughters, and wife, who still continue to run the business.
Oto’s has an insanely fresh seafood selection, including sashimi and takeout poke. They have daily lunch bento boxes in the cold section, some containing fried tilapia, onigiri (rice balls), teriyaki chicken, and katsu. They have all of the Japanese dried goods you could possibly imagine, a large sake and Japanese beer selection, fresh produce, a dizzying array of soba noodles, and there’s even a tiny Daiso inside the store. (4990 Freeport Blvd)
YD Tofu House is nearly impossible to reach. It’s tucked into a tiny retail plaza, on the corner of an insanely busy intersection, where the limited parking dukes it out with the patrons of a Japanese restaurant, fish and chip outlet, and a laundromat. And yet, there are always diners inside chomping down on their delicious KFC (Korean fried chicken). Probably because this is the only Korean restaurant in all of South Sacramento.
Here you will find bibimbap served in the traditional stone dolsot, galbi, and bulgogi. All of it brought to your table wildly sizzling and steaming. But it’s not second degree burns you should watch out for. It’s the banchan. The more you order, the more banchan comes to your table. And you will overorder. And when you’re tucking into that deliciously crunchy Korean fried chicken with its sweet and spicy red sauce clinging to the nooks and crannies of the breading, the banchan will keep coming still. Until you’re surrounded by 30 bowls of various pickles, dried and stir-fried anchovies with peanuts, and seaweed salad. The banchan will then be your only friend. (5609 Freeport Blvd)
Celebrities, dignitaries, and millionaires fly into this airport when visiting our fair city. So you truly haven’t “made it” until you’ve gone straight from the executive airport tarmac to your private car. “Executive Airport was originally known as Sutterville Aerodrome when it opened in 1930,” the official Sacramento County website reads. “The city-owned facility steadily expanded and, by 1941, construction was underway to pave and extend the airport’s three runways.” The army took over the airport during World War II. The terminal building was constructed in 1955 andl is open to the public since you have to go through it in order to reach Aviator’s, the airport’s restaurant. Here you can peruse mid-century modern interior architecture (and also use the restroom).
Soon after you pass the Sacramento Executive Airport, the road becomes more rural and less traffic-ridden. You’ll pass the Freeport Water Tower, a 150-foot tower that used to read “Welcome to the City of Trees,” until certain politicians pushed for the slogan “America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" (not realizing that everything we consume is “farm to fork,” even when it’s Big Ag). You’re now entering the town of Freeport: Freeport Boulevard turns into River Road, and here you’ll start to breeze through canopies of oak trees, bait shops, old markets, and the occasional Victorian house. (6151 Freeport Blvd)
This is the first farm you reach on River Road, although it’s number 10 on the Delta Grown Farm and Winery Map, owned and operated by Ron Kelley and his wife Ella. Kelley, who’s lived in this area his entire life, is a black farmer focusing his 25 acres on U-Pick ingredients from the African diaspora: black eyed peas, purple hull beans, and purple okra. His family moved to Courtland when he was just a child because his father was also in agriculture. When Kelley was a teenager, he joined Future Farmers of America, went to college, and eventually became an agricultural production consultant.
Even though this is pear, grape, and apple country, his farm also produces green beans, tomatoes, yellow watermelon, peppers, greens, and squash (depending on the season). This doesn’t have to be your last stop. With the Delta Grown Farm and Winery Map in your hand (or on your phone), you can cruise through the Delta and visit various other farms, wineries, and orchards to your heart’s content. (1120 Scribner Rd)