Stopping Traffic: Touring the Best of Sacramento on a Pedal-Powered Bus
By Lauren Norton
This weekend I got a sneak preview of the latest venture from the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. The Boutiques and Bubbly Bike Bus Tour gives locals and visitors a chance to discover local businesses using a very unique mode of transportation.
You might have already seen a bike bus in action; they typically involve about a dozen riders pedaling what looks like a bar on wheels around Midtown. The first “Beer Bikes” appeared in Amsterdam (where else?!) about a decade ago, and have been slowly navigating ABC laws in various cities across America. Sacramento’s newest addition to the market, the Off The Chain Bike Tour Company, is looking to expand the appeal of the bike bus by transporting groups seeking more than your average pub crawl. By teaming up with Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Off the Chain, will take riders everywhere from museums and designer boutiques to olive oil purveyors and confectionary shops.
We started our tour at Capitol Garage with breakfast mimosas and jalapeno biscuits with egg and bacon (delish!). After signing the necessary waivers, we boarded our vehicle and began the trek to Old Sacramento. While the bike bus is very stylish and comfortable, it is surprisingly hard work getting from A to B. After a couple of minutes everyone was glowing and peeling off their sweaters as we maneuvered our way down Capitol Avenue. Our guide, the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Good Times,” Jason Blessinger, made a half-hearted attempt to distract us from the difficulty of the task with “stop light trivia,” where he asked us such humdingers as “What’s the average price of a Coach handbag” and “Guess the age of the driver.” Mostly we were entertained by the personalities in our group and a playlist of Pop 40 from 2009. I now know it takes roughly the length of “Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me” to pedal a bus 8 blocks.
We turned a lot of heads as we came to a stop outside Mea Vita in Old Sac. Jason passed out a number of novelty sized bills to the group in various denominations. I still don’t know why he did this, as the bills didn’t seem to be redeemable for anything, and it seemed cruel that some folks in our group only got twenties while others scored (albeit worthless) Benjamins. Mea Vita had some great sales happening and the ladies in the group scored some 50% off scarves while the men stood outside holding their jackets. A short stroll down the boardwalk brought us to Chef’s Olive Mix, my personal highlight of the tour. We tasted balsamic drizzled strawberries and rustic bread dripping with ultra premium olive oil. Like a lot of Midtowners, I am guilty of thinking that Old Sac is a tourist trap overrun with small children panning for gold, so I never venture down there. Now I’ll be visiting Chef’s Olive Mix and their 64 varietals on the regular.
Next up was the Crocker Art Museum Gift Shop, where I have spent large sums of money in the past so I raced upstairs to see “Our America”–a current exhibition that explores the idea of America as a nation of immigrants. It’s a fun, vibrant, and political collection and I was delighted to see so many families interacting with the paintings, screenprints, and sculptures. Not surprisingly we lost two of our riders at the Crocker, and I was tempted to stay to take in the Japanese Photographic exhibit on loan from SFMOMA. I will just have to return before it closes February 1!
We finished our tour at Downtown and Vine on K Street. I’ll admit there were moments on K Street, as we passed the bail bond shops and the homeless men and women on the sidewalk, that it felt absurd to be riding a 12 person novelty bicycle. It was a reminder of how quickly downtown is changing, and of the great disparity between how these spaces are experienced by people of varying means. I believe it is a strength of our city that creative entrepreneurs like Michael Thiemann of Mother and Kate Chomko of Downtown and Vine open gourmet food and wine establishments so centrally, when others set up shop in “safer” neighborhoods in the suburbs.
Kate Chomko was a charming host who treated us to another mimosa, tasty local nibbles, and her story with Downtown and Vine. I was so impressed with her shop that I signed up for a Pino Noir Tutorial on December 19th–you should join me!
With a little tinkering, I believe the Downtown Sacramento Partnership is onto a winner with the Boutiques and Bubbly Tour. The selection of stops is thoughtfully curated and as a tour member you feel like a VIP everywhere you go. The time spent on the bike itself however could be better utilized as a way to experience Sacramento culture. I would love to hear music by our amazing local bands, (Sunmonks, Cold Eskimo, Sea of Bees, Cake, the list goes on), as an upbeat accompaniment to the journey. Locally based trivia would also help explain the sights you’re passing–surely everyone loves a good Guvernator anecdote?
For more information, visit: http://downtownsac.org/