Itinerant Fan

Golden 1 Center

It’s easy to appreciate Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center for what it is: a gleaming sports and entertainment center in the heart of the downtown core, and just blocks from the California State Capitol; technologically advanced, fan friendly and full of modern amenities.

But then you take into account what Sacramento went through to get to this point, and you realize how important the new arena is to the community.

The city spent years trying to figure out how to replace the outdated Sleep Train Arena (nee Arco Arena), and twice came to the belief that the hometown Kings, for years their only professional sports franchise, had one foot already out the door on its way to another market. Only some grassroots intervention, as well as the support of former NBA commissioner David Stern, kept the team around — so it’s no wonder the new arena’s address bears Stern’s name.

Indeed, we made a visit to the new palace during the Kings’ inaugural season along with a Sacramento native, Valley Editor, who remarked as we walked in, “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that this building is actually here.”

It’s a viewpoint surely shared by many Kings fans as they get used to the amenities offered at Golden 1 Center, which is a neat place to visit for locals and visitors alike.

  •   The Approach

    Golden 1 Center is the centerpiece of an ongoing effort by the city of Sacramento to rejuvenate its downtown area, which has some lively blocks filled with restaurants and nightlife and others that are in need of renovation. The arena site itself is part of a former mall that had fallen on hard times and is still standing, though closed, as the surrounding area becomes part of a larger redevelopment effort (a few successful businesses, such as a Macy’s and a 24 Hour Fitness, remain). 

    Because of its location, the arena is easy to get to. Interstate 5, the main north-south artery through the city, runs a few blocks to the west — just exit on J Street and travel east to reach the building.

    Parking, though, is another matter. You’ll have to depend on a network of privately owned garages scattered throughout the surrounding area. The arena encourages purchasing parking passes in advance; click here to access the city’s SacPark website.

    Sacramento’s light rail, known as RT after its operating agency, Regional Transit, operates lines extending to outlying parts of the city, as well as suburbs such as Rancho Cordova and Folsom. The closest stop to the arena is at 7th and K streets, just across the street, though you may need to use a different station depending on your direction of travel. You can view an RT light rail map here.

    At any rate, the light rail system didn’t go to Sleep Train Arena, so chalk up public transit as just one of the advantages the new arena holds over the old one.

  •   The Build-Up

    If you get the chance to walk around and explore, downtown Sacramento does have plenty to offer. It is largely true that the area is typically at its liveliest during business hours, as the tens of thousands of state government workers pour into the city, but one of the aims of the arena is to change all that.

    As such, new restaurants and bars are opening up along the surrounding blocks, joining a handful of longtime establishments to provide hoops fans, concertgoers and the like with a number of pregame options. 

    For those willing to walk a little bit, try the 15th/16th Street corridor in Midtown, along which are several restaurants well-known to locals (Mikuni Sushi, Cafeteria 15LHot Italian Pizza and Burgers and Brew are a few of the spots worth mentioning).

    Or, if you’d like to explore Sacramento’s place in history as the epicenter of the mid-1800s Gold Rush, go past the arena and the remnants of the old mall and walk through the pedestrian tunnel underneath I-5 to Old Sacramento, home of several historical buildings as well as a few restaurants and bars. Click here for a guide to Old Sacramento restaurants.

  •   The Ambiance

    Wedged into its surroundings, Golden 1 Center has only two entrances — via Stern Walk, along 7th Street, and at the corner of 5th and L streets. By far the more popular one, at least based on our visit, is the former, as it’s closer to light-rail stops and foot traffic from downtown/midtown tends to naturally funnel into that area. It’s also where the Kings team store and front office entrance is located.

    Strangely, though, if you go in this way, you’ll get your ticket scanned and then will be made to walk a quarter-lap around the arena’s perimeter to what is essentially the main entrance, facing a large plaza with several brightly lit billboards and an interesting piece of public art. Once you actually go inside, you’ll enter an open lobby area and get a nice view of the seating bowl and the court.

    This type of configuration is becoming popular with newer arenas (see: Brooklyn’s Barclays Center) and allows for natural gathering points, which Golden 1 Center takes advantage of by placing a large bar on the upper concourse for fans to congregate and watch the game from, if they so desire. In fact, during the game we noticed the bar area full of patrons, while pockets of seats in the upper deck went conspicuously unoccupied. There’s something to be said for intermingling with your fellow fans, alcoholic beverage in hand, and watching the game in a communal atmosphere, and here it was a popular option.

    If you do choose to sit down, you’ll get a great view of the game, supplemented by the giant, curved-screen videoboard that hangs over the court. The arena is optimally configured for basketball so it doesn’t feel big, or high up if you’re sitting in the uppermost rows.

    During a break in the action, look up at the rafters for reminders of the Kings’ franchise history, which extends far beyond its years in Sacramento, as well as a tribute banner for the old Arco Arena and another banner recognizing the city’s only professional championship, won by the defunct Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA.

    But to get a glimpse of Sacramento’s true pride and joy, check out your food options. Located near the fertile Central Valley, where just about any crop imaginable is grown, the city is big on supporting local restaurants that preach a farm-to-fork philosophy. So if you’ve never visited Sacramento before, you likely won’t recognize any of the restaurants that operate concession stands at Golden 1 Center — and that’s a good thing. You can survey your options here, but check out the Cafe Bernardo (burgers/fries), Paragary’s (pizza/Italian) or Centro (Mexican) stands for fare that’s popular with locals (all three are owned by the same restaurant group).

The Particulars

Home Teams
Sacramento Kings

500 David J. Stern Walk
Sacramento, CA 95814

Year Opened


Upcoming Events
All times local
Ariana Grande
Friday, May 3, 2019
7:30 pm
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Carrie Underwood with Maddie & Tae and Runaway June
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
7:00 pm
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New Kids on the Block with Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty by Nature, Debbie Gibson, and Tiffany
Thursday, May 30, 2019
7:30 pm
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Tuesday, June 11, 2019
4:45 pm
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Jennifer Lopez (Rescheduled from June 16, 2019)
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
8:00 pm
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View Seating Chart »