When in Sacramento, don’t miss the Crocker

On the road: The Crocker Art Museum is a great way to spend a few hours or more while in the state capital


SACRAMENTO — I’ve always loved the Crocker Art Museum. Even the act of getting there. After I exit the confusing downtown tangle of freeways leading to the museum — yep, I’m still a little mystified by Sacramento traffic after all these years — I’m able to slip into the relaxed ambiance of the parklike setting. Seven years ago, the Crocker embarked on an ambitious expansion campaign, connecting a sleek modern building to the original 1871 mansion, and the result is a sophisticated blend of old and new that tripled the size of the museum.

Old and new: Sacramento’s Crocker Museum includes a strong collection of contemporary art. Photo / The Munro Review

On a recent drive through I reconnected with the museum, which I hadn’t visited in several years. I highly recommend dropping in the next time you’re in Sacramento. Give yourself a few hours to experience this high-caliber institution.

Here are five tips:

1. Don’t miss the strong special exhibitions. You’ll have to visit soon to catch “Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose,” which runs through Sept. 17. This exhibition highlights works by artists who have been prominently featured in the contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose. There are 51 works in the show by such artists as Beth Cavener, Mark Ryden, Olek and Tara McPherson.

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In the heart of gold country

On the road: At the Angels Camp Museum, you get a taste of the tough life of a gold miner

ANGELS CAMP — There are lots of reasons I’m glad I wasn’t living in the late 19th century: indoor plumbing, high-index prescription glasses, the New York Times on my phone.

But on this sunny Sunday afternoon in Gold Rush country, thanks to the first-rate Angels Camp Museum, I’m particularly thankful that I wasn’t around to work in a gold mine. It sounds like being a gold miner was a pretty awful job.

Photograph of a bottle
Soda collection: a vintage bottle on display at the Angels Camp Museum. Photos / Donald Munro

Driving through Angels Camp (120 miles from Fresno), with its Spaghetti Western historic buildings and nostalgically named Bret Harte High School, it’s easy to overlook the gritty and dangerous reason people started living here in the first place. You’d never know that underneath the smoothly paved Highway 49 running through town, whose placid surface would likely astonish old-time carriage passengers used to bouncing along bumpy dirt roads, a vertical shaft plunging 1,000 feet into the ground still exists.

Miners would slowly ride in cages down that shaft, stopping at various tunnels and caverns burrowed deep beneath the surface. Some set off explosives. Others hacked out great quantities of rock. The unluckiest (and most poorly paid) toiled underground crushing that rock, separating out the part they knew wouldn’t contain gold, then shoveling it back into tunnels so it wouldn’t have to be hauled to the surface.

As I stand in the museum’s surprisingly large building devoted to mining and ranching, crammed with vintage equipment and a mechanical scale-model depiction of a local stamp mill, I consider for a moment my own perceptions of Gold Rush-era life.

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