Woodland, California: Strolling Through History

Modern shops and restaurants await behind 100-year-old facades in charming, historic Woodland, CA.

A field of sunflowers in Woodland, California, image
A field of sunflowers in Woodland, California.
AlessandraRC / Shutterstock

When Woodland's historic State Theatre reopened on the city's Main Street in 2017, local preservationists finally saw their years of dogged effort realized. It was a great accomplishment, even in a city that's a bastion of historic preservation, and one of the most successful places in the Sacramento Metropolitan Area (and beyond) at intertwining its past with the present. In fact, Woodland's entire downtown—on the National Register of Historic Places and boasting Victorian brick structures and a Renaissance-Revival courthouse—is undergoing a revitalization of epic proportions, all while keeping its architectural bones intact.

History in the Making

The State Theatre shut down in 2010 and sat empty for several years before a group of local developers decided to take it on. Rather than tearing down the 1937 Streamline Modern–style theater and re-building from the ground up, the developers worked in cooperation with the local community to create something that would be architecturally in tune with its surrounds. This included renovating elements of its original auditorium, recreating a ceiling mural through the help of old photographs, and adding a 60-foot-tall movie screen—one of the largest in Northern California—to modernize the space. They also expanded the venue, transforming the State into a 10-screen multiplex equipped with luxury seats and electric recliners, as well as a cafe serving sandwiches, pizza, beer, and wine, all of which guests can bring to their seats. It's a wonderful example of adaptive reuse and exactly the type of project the city thrives on.

Perhaps this is why despite its long-vacant storefronts, Woodland has remained a picture-perfect community. The city's quiet, low-slung downtown is classic Americana, with buildings still sporting their original century-old facades. Surrounding tree-lined, historic neighborhoods entice with an appealing mix of vintage architectural styles, from turreted Queen Anne Victorians to charming craftsman bungalows.

Each September, Woodland celebrates this well-preserved structural diversity with its annual Stroll Through History. The day-long series of events includes a bevy of walking tours, such as one highlighting downtown's recently uncovered Victorian iron storefronts. Another showcases the rich past of residential First Street, known for its wide array of restored homes, including the Italianate-style Gable Mansion, now a California Historical Landmark. It's easy to see how the unwavering devotion of local residents to maintaining the city's cultural heritage, while eagerly embracing its future, is creating one of Northern California's top small-town destinations. 

What's Old Is New Again

Although Woodland's Daily Democrat Building still houses the city's foremost newspaper, its former press room is now home to Blue Note Brewing Company, a spacious spot with shared tables and eight handcrafted beers on tap. While Blue Note hosts occasional events like Sunday Sessions, an afternoon weekend jam replete with live tunes and a food truck, the brewery encourages BYO food as well.  

The family-run House of Shah dishes out traditional Afghan cuisine (think savory samosas and tandoori chicken kabobs) amid a setting of chic urban décor. There's also Morgan's Mill, a coffee and wine cafe inside downtown's historic Globe Rice Mill building. Customers are rave about the bevy of breakfast waffle options like the Goat, a thick waffle topped with honey-drizzled goat cheese, apples, and walnuts. The brick-walled space also features a light-strung patio perfect for whiling away an evening with old (or new) friends.