The 'Lady Bird' Guide to Everything Great About Sacramento

As the Academy Awards approach on March 4, there’s one name you might hear quite a few times on Hollywood’s biggest night. No, it’s not an actress or actor. It’s Sacramento, California, the location and real-life set of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird — and also my hometown. 

I was born and raised in Sacramento, spending a majority of my life in the suburbs (specifically Carmichael) — but I also spent a majority of those years yearning to get out. I craved culture and big-city lights, job opportunities, and new people and personalities. Things I was certain the Sacramento area couldn’t provide.

One day, I made the jump and moved to Los Angeles. But as soon as I made my way down south to find all of those things I wanted, I was hit with an inescapable truth: Sacramento had offered me these opportunities all along. It was a true “you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” wakeup call and each time I found myself back home visiting family, I began to soak in all that Sacramento had to offer. I appreciated and acknowledged the culture, the diversity, and the community that it represented.

Greta Gerwig seemed to have realized this too and, like me, it wasn’t until she left that the beauty was so apparent to her. So, she did what the rest of us couldn’t and created a cinematic love letter to her hometown in Lady Bird. The beautifully filmed, Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated coming-of-age tale — and Greta’s first film as a director — features the often overlooked city and takes viewers on an incredibly accurate journey of growing up there. 

But it’s not just the story that Greta got right. She also pays such great attention to detail in portraying the landscape, the people, and the places of Sacramento that it almost warrants giving the city a supporting actor nod. Here’s how she did just that — and why the city is so much more than its Lady Bird-given nickname, “The Midwest of California.”

Location & Landscape

Two girls hug along river in front of Sacramento Tower Bridge at sunset.
Courtesy of A24 / YouTube

The standout location in Lady Bird isn’t a specific destination on the map but the scenery of Sacramento itself. Known previously as the “City of Trees,” the capital city is full of foliage and beautiful landscapes, something that locals and out-of-towners just can’t seem to get enough of (seriously, check Sacramento’s Instagram geotag — it’s all scenic shots). 

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson seems to love this landscape just as much as we do. At the end of the film, she leaves her mother a voicemail about the feeling of driving through the city for the first time — over the bridges and through the East Sacramento streets — struggling to find the words to describe the calm, comforting experience.  

She couldn't be more right about that feeling as the city is stunning. Spending just one fall day driving around is enough to make you fall in love. If you’re visiting, take a page out of Greta’s book and spend the day walking the city, exploring all the beautiful views it has to offer. The Fabulous Forties are perfect for an afternoon stroll and you’ll likely get a glimpse of the blue house where Lady Bird tried to hide her embarrassment of being from the “wrong side of the tracks” (those tracks do exist, by the way).

Take advantage of the outdoors by biking or rafting along the American River, walk through the iconic McKinley Park Rose Garden where Lady Bird confesses her love to her first boyfriend, or watch the sun go down in Old Sacramento, with a view of picturesque pink skies and the Tower Bridge in the background. 

The People of Sacramento

Teen girl speaking in front of catholic school in Sacramento, CA.
Courtesy of A24 / YouTube

A love letter to Sacramento wouldn’t be complete without the people that give the city its colorful personality — an element that wasn’t lost on Greta Gerwig. The Sacramento native gives you a preview of those people and made sure her cast nailed their impressions, even down to the accents.

These aren’t just actors in a story, either. Gerwig gives a glimpse into the diversity of the city and the “characters” that make up the community by including well-known haunts and the people who frequent them. There is the owner of American Market & Deli who makes an appearance, the shoppers of Thrift Town (included in one of the movie’s most important scenes), and the teachers at Lady Bird’s high school. Not to mention all the character types that represent the incredible people you’ll meet while walking the streets of downtown Sacramento.

Experience a warm welcome first-hand with a stroll along the Second Saturday Artwalk in Downtown Sac or by checking out a new band at Ace of Spades. Buy tickets to a Sacramento Kings game and you’re sure to hear stories of the 2001-2002 playoffs that broke our hearts, or keep it low-key like Lady Bird herself at the local coffee shop (try Temple on K Street). The city’s personality will come out through in the people you meet and the places you go. 

The Places You’ll Go

Two girls walking in parking lot to Thrift Town store in Sacramento, CA.
Courtesy of A24 / YouTube

Though the city has changed quite a bit since 2002 (when Lady Bird takes place), one thing remains the same. Sacramento, as a whole, is humble and dedicated to its roots, another detail Greta paid careful tribute to in the film. She enhances the storyline with charming cinematography of the city, highlighting landmarks and businesses that are still frequented today. Some of the highlights include Club Raven, an old East Sacramento dive bar and the iconic Tower Theatre.

However, to acknowledge the past you also have to acknowledge where the city stands today. In October 2014, Sacramento broke ground on a new arena for their NBA team, and with that came an exciting new era for the city. Suddenly, new bars and restaurants popped up — Thrillist recently called it the “Best Up-and-Coming Food City” in the U.S. – giving the Bay Area food scene a run for its money.

If you want the full, modern-day Lady Bird food experience, start your day with a tasty brunch at Tower Café where you’ll get a view of Tower Theatre, which was featured in the film.

 Make sure you add Sacramento newcomers Canon and Pushkin’s to the list. You’ll also want to try ever-popular Ella Dining Room & Bar or local favorite Mulvaney’s B&L. Last but not least, finish off your food frenzy with a cone at Gunther’s, which also shows up in the movie. 

Girl sitting on lawn in front of traditional mansion inSacramento neighborhood.
Courtesy of A24 / YouTube

Greta Gerwig got so many of these details right when it came to Sacramento, so it’s no surprise that seeing the film was an emotional experience for residents. She may have meant for Lady Bird to be a universal “coming of age” tale, but for all of us that grew up in Sacramento, the film represents something so much bigger: An ode to the heart of California, giving residents pride in finally seeing our city get the credit it has long deserved.

Whether or not Lady Bird takes home any Oscars on March 4, Sacramento has already won.

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