Each night for more than 50 years, hundreds of people gather on a pier in Key West to watch the sunset together, sipping Rum Runners and munching on conch fritters. At the Albuquerque
International Balloon Fiesta, visitors rise before sunrise to watch the colorful launch of dozens of hot air balloons. I've been to both, and have also hiked the Appalachian Trail, studied the stars in Sedona, sipped bourbon in Kentucky, rode horses up a mountain in Jackson Hole and nibbled on alligator bites while swaying to the music of B.B. King at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Old Sacramento will be without two of their biggest events this year: The Music Festival and Gold Rush Days. At the same time, city leaders want to make Sacramento a destination city. For the past 25 years, my lifelong girlfriends and I have been traveling across America one weekend a year to various U.S. cities similar in size to Sacramento. Nashville. Savannah. Charleston. Lexington. Nantucket. What drew us to our destinations? They were filled with art, music, culture, history, architecture, signature food dishes, a charming shopping district and either festivals or concerts that attracted visitors from around the United States.
Wouldn't you like Sacramento to be like these destinations? We can easily start building a unique attraction right now. Some suggestions from my travels.
*Start with the waterfront. We have a riverfront with open access on both the Sacramento and West Sacramento sides. The Key West Sunset Celebration takes place every night since the 1960s. How about doing it every Thursday night during the summer in Old Sacramento? Turn it into a street fair with local musicians, artists, performers, food and drink vendors and a nighttime Farmers Market like the one in San Luis Obispo. Chase the Sun every Thursday to kick off the weekend. Don't wait for a once-a-year event to bring visitors to the riverfront. Make it a weekly destination.
* Key West has its Rum Runners and New Orleans is known for its gumbo and jambalaya. Sacramento needs to create a signature dish and craft cocktail using the bounty from our local harvest. Something to showcase our Farm to Fork culture, from blackberries and melons that thrive in our hot summers to corn, tomatoes and sunflowers that grow in the rich fields. Highlight a few of our craft breweries every week.
*At Austin City Limits, dozens of lighted pedicabs shuttled people back and forth between venues. Pedicabs can transport people from Old Sac to The Barn in West Sac for cocktails, local food vendors and more music venues. Have boaters dock for the fun.
* Utilize our historic facilities. I attended a beautiful acapella candlelit concert at night in an historic church in Savannah. We have the Eagle Theater, California's first theater, built in 1849. Have local high school, youth, church and regional choirs sing there by candlelight each week. Imagine the acoustics and imagery. And honoring history.
* Fill the streets with performers and artists. From bands to combos to string quartets to soloists, let's give Sacramento's musicians an opportunity to showcase themselves. (Have them audition) Performance artists from painters, magicians, crafters, etc. Envision walking through Old Sac entertained by colorful performers like you would see on Bourbon Street or Venice Beach.
* Urge local businesses to be creative to attract customers. The Firehouse and Frank Fat's could do street service to-go offerings or have fun with a pop up restaurant street side where you can sit and watch the fun.
Sacramento has glorious summers that start with hot afternoons then cool off with gentle, refreshing Delta breezes blowing in. Imagine leaving work, walking along a vibrant, colorful waterfront with friends enjoying a beautiful warm summer night while grabbing a local bite to eat, sipping a locally-inspired craft cocktail while listening to street music as the sun goes down. Sacramento Summer Fest. Chasing the Sun.
Sacramento is in a renaissance of growth. It needs to continue to attract others from the outside with an event that glorifies and promotes the bounty of our region and unique Gold Rush history and spirit. This is a start, and it's an easy one. Take the best ideas from America's thriving small cities, toss in your own and turn them into something unique for Sacramento you would want to go to. And maybe start turning our city into a destination at the same time.