Orange County; endless summer lives on in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and south to San Clemente

Corona Del Mar State Beach and Newport Harbor entrance.

Forty miles of sunny beaches and coves, exotic cars, entertainment, sporting and dining options galore and a lovely Mediterranean climate make California’s Riviera (the Orange County coast) a favorite of vacationers!

Orange County, famed for its agricultural history, is home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team and Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team and many cultural attractions – but it’s the beachfront towns which appeal to us. After a dozen years visiting in late spring, here are our favorites, from north to south:

Huntington Beach: Surf City USA features a string of three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach, and Bolsa Chica state beach, all popular for surfing, volleyball and firings making for campfires at night. Just east of Hwy. 1 are Bolsa Chica’s 1449 acres of wetlands – the largest saltwater marsh between the Tijuana River Estuary and Monterey Bay. Featuring 300 species of birds sighted in the last 10 years and 80 species of fish, this stunning parkland features 5 miles of hiking trails above the waterways. Huntington Beach features an 8 mile long bike trail, running south into Newport beach – ideal for cruising and admiring the beach scene.

Balboa Island Ferry connects Balboa Peninsula with Balboa Island in Newport Beach.

The city’s Main Street also features the Surfing Walk of Fame, and the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, with option to camp right on the beach in several locations.

Newport Beach: just south is Newport Beach, possibly the most upscale of these ocean-front cities. Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small boat harbor and includes two piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, along sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths.

Be sure to take the three-car Balboa Island ferry (pedestrians and bikes welcomed) between Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, a quaint community of charming homes, cottages, boutiques and restaurants. On the peninsula side of the ferry, take the time to tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion, gabled and cupola-topped and home to harbor tours, boat excursions, whale watching and Santa Catalina Island cruises (The town of Avalon is only 26 miles and 75 minutes via ferry to Santa Catalina Island). A favorite, funky restaurant just right for families is the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay.

The Beachcomber Restaurant and Crystal Cove cabins (refurbished and for rent) are part of Crystal Cove State Park.

Headed South, explore the three-mile expanse of ocean-front Crystal Cove State Park. With miles of pristine beaches, rocky coves and tide pools and the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, scene of several dozen movies and television shows. The old town provided a tropical setting for Beaches, Son of Tarzan, Treasure Island, films featuring Bogart and Bacall, Barrymore, and Herbie the Love Bug. About 20 of the 40 old cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $200-$250 range; it’s also home to Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets!

Laguna Beach is the next city south, offering more rugged coastline, sandy beaches and attractions such as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Main Beach offers volleyball and basketball courts, a grassy kid’s play area and a quaint downtown right across the street. A favorite restaurant is Nick’s in Laguna – sample the asparagus fries!

The brig Pilsgrim is part ot the Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor.

Dana Point and Harbor: Richard Henry Dana, who wrote the 1840s ‘Two Years Before the Mast’, noted the grandeur of the California coast and called it “the only romantic spot on the coast”. Just south is Doheney State Beach, a very popular State Park with Campground, public beaches and walking access to Dana Point Harbor. The harbor offers 2500 slips and is home to the Ocean Institute. The Institute features a replica of the Pilgrim, the brig on which Dana sailed, and the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center with the Spirit of Dana Point, a traditionally-built replica of a 1770s privateer used during the American Revolution.

Mission San Jaun Capistrano's courtyard garden takes one back to 1776.

Just east of Dana Point is beautiful San Juan Capistrano.  It’s built around Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1776 (tour through the old mission courtyard with flora dating back some 200 years). Just across the rail tracks from the mission is the Los Rios Historic District, with 31 homes dating to 1794, a truly magical and historical walking experience. The oldest residential neighborhood in California, three of the original 30 mission adobes still remain including one that is home to the 10th generation of the family that built it 200 years ago.

San Clemente: Years ago we found beachfront San Clemente by accident; its pier, anchored by Fisherman’s Restaurant, is one of our must-stops. Beautiful scenery, a meandering bike path, the Amtrak Surfliner paralleling the beach, a great restaurant and jaw-dropping sunsets make a hard combination to overlook. San Clemente was also President Richard Nixon’s “western White House”. Up the bluff in San Clemente’s quaint shopping district on Del Mar are boutiques, restaurants and the old Cabrillo Playhouse, featuring community theater always a delight.

What’s nearby: Just east of Newport Beach is the Upper Newport Beach Estuary, with walking trails and a variety of wildlife and bird-watching opportunities!  Other attractions include Anaheim’s Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (baseball) Stadium, the Honda Center, home of Anaheim Mighty Ducks (hockey) and Santa Catalina Island, a 26 mile ferry boat ride from Newport Beach.

San Clemente Pier, with Fisherman's Restaurant; the San Clemente Bike Trail runs both north and south of this location.

Cycling, running/walking: An 8 mile beach-front trail extends the length of Huntington Beach, connecting to a variety of trail and quiet street rides in Newport Beach, with ferry from the Newport Beach Peninsula over to Balboa Island.  From the border of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, cyclists, walkers and runners can also head east up the Santa Ana River Trail for over 25 miles, through urban, suburban and wild LA. The San Clemente Bike Trail (narrow, dirt, mountain bikes suggested) is another favorite, following the beaches and bluffs below San Clemente.

How to get there: Go south on I-5 to the LA area, then follow I-605 south, then I-405 to Newport Beach; it’s about 385 miles and six hours from Stockton.

For more insight: Orange County Visitors Association, visittheoc.com,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Southern California | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fort Tejon State Historical Park; historical and scenic stop on I-5

How many times have you cruised I-5 to Southern California, climbed the Grapevine and passed the Fort Tejon turn off? But, have you ever stopped to admire the old fort?

Fort Tejon's restored adobe buildings look out on old parade ground.

The fort is located near the top of the Grapevine, just west of I-5. It was the main route between Southern California and the great California Central Valley. It was established in 1854 to protect both Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation and white settlers and their cattle from raids from Paiutes and other Indian tribes from the south eastern deserts. It was garrisoned in August, 1854 and abandoned in September, 1864.

Today the fort features restored Adobe buildings from the original fort and a museum featuring exhibits on the local history and army life of the times. It’s located in a pretty valley with many stately, 400-year-old valley oak trees.

Park details: the park is located on I-5, about 70 miles from Los Angeles, near the top of Grapevine Canyon; take the Ft. Tejon exit. It’s about 310 miles, five hours south of Stockton. The park is open sunrise to sunset, with interpretive center open 9 to 4 daily. The historical Park also features a campground.

Docents dressed as 1860's army soldiers stand ready to answer questions on army life (CA State Parks photo)

For more information: www.parks.ca.gov/? page_id=585, or call (661) 248-6692.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Southern California | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fort Ord National Monument; spectacular reuse of the old World War I and II Army base!

Oaks adorned with California lace lichen are found throughout the national monument.

If you are a hiker, bicyclist, mountain biker or camper, one of your best destinations within two hours of San Joaquin County is the Fort Ord National Monument, located between Salinas and Monterey, CA. And with those two nearby towns – you have a host of additional options to make your trip an overnighter, or longer!

The Fort Ord National Monument offers world-class recreation for residents and visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former Fort Ord offer 86 miles of trail on approximately 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the shady winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral.

Cyclist descends on Ft. Ord singletrack through shady oaks and manzanita.

The national monument’s spectacular backcountry is noted for its beauty and rich biodiversity – offering one of the largest remaining expanses of maritime chaparral with wild lilac, manzanitas and chamise supporting diverse plant and animal species.

Your visit might coincide with those of black-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats, golden eagles, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, California quail and mountain lions.  Watch out for rattlesnakes and poison oak, as well!

The Fort dates back to 1917 when the U.S. Army purchased land near Monterey Bay as a training base for field artillery and cavalry troops (the old horsebarn for Army horses is now an equestrian center for the local community). Named Camp Ord it was re-designated in 1940  Fort Ord and made home for the 7th Infantry Division.

Wildflowers of many hues recently blanketed the hills of the Fort Ord National Monument.

For the following 50 years it served as a primary facility for basic training in the US Army and, at one time, was home to 50,000 troops. During the Vietnam War it served as a major training center and deployment staging ground – as many as 1.5 million American troops trained at the old fort. It was slated for closure in 1990, and decommissioned in 1994.

On a recent outing, we camped in the Monterey County campgrounds that surround Laguna Seca Raceway (bordering the monument); from there, we could bike out the back of Laguna Seca, on nicely paved Barloy Canyon Road for miles into the Ft. Ord Monument’s backcountry.

Within the monument, we had a choice of both paved cycling routes and miles of scenic singletrack that wound through stately oaks covered with California lace lichen; and onto hills layered with carpets of lupine and many other wildflowers. Be forewarned, you better like hills, for the monument offers scores of hills, valleys and ridges with spectacular views!

Two road bikers ascend the paved, car-free Barloy Canyon Road in Fort Ord National Monument.

Another option for a cycling or hiking day-trip, make for the Badger Hills trailhead, right off Hwy. 68; from there, follow Guidotti Road up to Skyline Road for a wide variety of trails and stunning scenery with views of the entire monument and the mighty Pacific just to the west.

Old army roads are now fire roads, and interspersed with scenic singletrack trails leading into wonderous forests of oak and lichen, manzanita and with wildflowers carpeting the hills.  Occasionally you’ll find evidence of the former war-time use with sandy fire trails named Machine Gun Flat, or Engineer’s Canyon – elsewhere the fort’s old history is hard to spot.

On the west side of the monument, a portion of the 1200 mile Juan Baustista De Anza National Historic Trail roughly parallels Hwy. 68. In 1775-76, Bautista de Anza set off from Nogales, Mexico with 240 friars and soldiers, 695 horses and mules and 385 Longhorn cattle, ending in San Francisco and starting the horse and cattle business in California.

The photos were taken in the last week, as I was performing course marshal and first-aid service at the Sea Otter Classic as part of a 50+ member National Ski Patrol first-aid contingent.  I also attempted the 22 mile Mountain Tour at the Sea Otter Classic, proving to myself that my skills and conditioning were a bit sub-par; but, I garnered about 12 miles of riding in beautiful country before opting to cut my adventure short.

Seeking a hill workout? Here mountain bikers labor up steep, scenic Skyline Road.

If you are a cyclist and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, the huge and very cool Sea Otter Bike Classic takes over Laguna Seca Raceway, utilizing adjoining Ft. Ord backcountry trails (April 13-16, 2017; see: seaotterclassic.com).

Ft. Ord offers some of the best scenery for hiking, cycling and sight-seeing in California; plan a day trip or longer. It’s easy to extend your stay by exploring Salinas and the Steinbeck Center, or the stunning coast along Monterey and Pacific Grove. If you arrive early or mid-day, across Hwy. 68 from the Badger Hills trailhead is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café. At the end of the day, a cocktail and fish and chips tastes ever so good on the Monterey Pier!

What’s nearby: Salinas is just north of the monument, featuring the National John Steinbeck Center (the Steinbeck Festival is May 6-8, for detail: Steinbeck.com) as well as a host of nice motels and restaurants (cheaper than options in Monterey).  Monterey is just a few miles west of Fort Ord, with Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, restaurants on the water and wonderful biking/walking trails right along the Pacific, extending north to the new Fort Ord Dunes State Park with spectacular views along the Pacific.

Camping: Campers can find nice campgrounds (with free showers!) surrounding Laguna Seca Raceway; contact Monterey County Parks, (888) 588-2267; at Fort Ord Dunes State Park, a campground is in the works for future campers, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28340. Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, is another fine camping and exploration option, about an hour from Fort Ord.

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on the highway; continue on Hwy. 68 for a few more miles if you are bound for Laguna Seca.  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

For more insight: Ft. Ord National Monument: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/nlcs/Fort_Ord_NM/recreation.html. For a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Notes on my first organized mountain bike tour; up close and personal with Manzanita!

At this year’s huge Sea Otter Bike classic, I determined to take my trusty Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike, and tackle the 22-mile mountain bike tour in the scenic and hilly Fort Ord National Monument.

400 riders lineup for the start of the mountain bike tour, 22 miles in Fort Ord backcountry

In past years (serving as first-aider with the National Ski Patrol contingent) I had seen many of the 86 miles of lovely fire roads and single track trails in the National Monument. They looked pleasant, some steep, and a few more than gnarly. But I figured I could start at the back of the pack and take it easy – the event was a tour, not a timed ride.

So, at 7:50 am, I started back of the pack, on the Laguna Seca racetrack, with about 400 other tourers. I noticed before we started that most riders were 20 to 50 years younger than me, and most riders had full suspension bikes. Interesting, I thought.

My ten year-old Wahoo was a hard-tail, not as sprightly on rough mountain trails. But, in the 1st mile and a half, I passed about 100 folks as we peddled around the Laguna Seca track and then headed for the back country. We left the track and continued on paved Barloy Canyon Road. Then, we turned onto a steep hill, graveled and a 16° fire trail – that caused me problems with both traction and personal energy, and I had to walk a portion of it.

Biker on singletrack winds through oak forest covered with California lace lichen.

I was also nagged by a few failings on my part, prior to the start. In scrambling earlier in the morning, helping to organize 20 ski patrol first-aiders, I managed to forget my gloves, water bottle and backcountry map. Ouch.

As we crested the 16° fire road, a long, half-mile steep down grade faced us on Skyline Road. Most of the riders went lickety-split down the grade – with me cautiously staying to the right and applying steady brake pressure. I found a graveled stretch particularly treacherous, fearing a fall with no gloves to protect my hands.

But I managed with no mishaps and at the bottom, the fire road became a single track through thick Manzanita, continuing steeply downward. Shortly, I managed to get my front tire into a rut caused by recent rains, lost my balance and crashed into manzanita to my left. The fall itself did no damage but to my psyche but I managed to open a pretty good wound on my left knee from grazing one of the bike pedals.

After rains throughout March and early April, the Fort Ord hills were alive with wildflowers!

I won’t bother you with all the details. But I found the combination of advancing age, being in only moderately decent shape, very little experience on a mountain bike and none on singletrack trails was not a good recipe for success. I managed to navigate about 8 miles of the course, now almost at the very back of the large field of riders.

I had also taken a couple of additional near-falls, and (with necessitated panic dismounts) had managed to cut the back of my other leg on the other pedal. I stopped at a marshal point with paramedics and asked if I could borrow a 4X4 to clean off the blood. One of them mentioned a potential shortcut to the water/snack station.

Hmmm, I thought.

Initially I thought, no, I am no quitter, and soldiered on. But, a half-mile later, starting up another narrow, steep and woodsy singletrack I reconsidered that choice, and went back to the paved road. Without a good map of the back country, I went left when I should’ve gone right.

Suffice it to say, by the time I realized my error I was pooped, moderately dehydrated and realized that if I continued along the paved road, a 2 mile-long uphill would get me back to Laguna Seca Raceway. I made that choice, labored up that hill and completed what amounted to about a 10 mile, partial mountain tour.

Selfie, me as a Ski Patrol first-aider on the Skyline Road in Fort Ord - I should probably stick to first-aid, rather than riding!

I’ll be smarter next time – don’t attempt a ride like this without experience, plan to be in better shape, perhaps acquire a full-suspension bike and don’t leave your water and map behind! I guess that’s a good lesson for several hours in most spectacular backcountry! Older, wiser!

For a great map of Fort Ord backcountry, click here for a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

How to get to Fort Ord National Monument: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on Hwy 68; and across the street is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café).  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

Watch for my full feature on exploring the Fort Ord National Monument, later in the week and in the Thursday Record newspaper.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Arizona dreamin’…Burma Shave makes comeback on historic Route 66!

‘Get your kicks on Route 66’ as it meanders through quaint, forgotten towns

In 1962, my mother piled my two younger brothers and 14 year-old me into the back of a ‘61 Ford station wagon, towing a tiny Nimrod tent trailer, bound from Ohio to California and back. My plumbing-contractor father planned to fly into LA and meet up, several weeks later.

Shops in Williams, AZ, are dedicated to the old Mother Road.

Our trip took us to Chicago, then then onto the country’s “superhighway”, Route 66, which, beginning in 1924, linked a series of state and local highways on a fairly direct route through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into California, ending at the Pacific in Santa Monica.

“Get your kicks on Route 66” went the lyrics of the King Cole Trio in 1946. It celebrated a meandering 2,400 mile highway that dramatically increased tourism and travel to the west. With increasing families headed west on Route 66, “the Mother Road”, California, with less than 6 million people in 1930 mushroomed to over 20 million by 1970; Arizona boomed from  435,000 people to 1.78 million.

In 1962, virtually every stretch of Rt. 66 was a busy two lane, winding road, cutting right through the heart of the towns in route, taking advantage of the town’s’ gas stations, restaurants and motels. Once into western Oklahoma and further west, there would often be vast stretches with almost no towns or services. In 1961, folks had to be very hearty travelers, particularly a mother with three rambunctious boys.

Old Burma Shave signs line Route 66, with their old advertising jingles.

It’s funny the memories that stand out. I clearly remember wide expanses of the west, tiny towns and the series of Burma Shave signs which adorned much of the highway. My mother detoured north from Williams, AZ, to the rim of the Grand Canyon, where during the heat of the summer, I was said to have pronounced “it’s just a big hole in the ground” as we three boys resisted exiting the car to peer into that grand abyss. Camping on the edge of Lake Mead, we could pour chunky Skippy peanut butter onto our bread.

A month ago, returning from a trip to Phoenix for baseball spring training, we planned to camp a few days at the Grand Canyon. When it snowed the night before on our trailer in Williams, we revised our plan to explore the westernmost stretch of old Route 66 through Arizona. Would it look much like I remembered, I wondered?

We began in Williams; gateway to the Grand Canyon, it maintains a strong economic advantage over other Arizona towns along the old highway. Along its Business I-40 link (which once carried Route 66 through the city), a string of motels leads into the old downtown, still home to the Grand Canyon Railroad, motels and a lively old Main Street.

Abandoned truckstop in Ash Fork features trees growing through cracked concrete.

In the downtown area, five blocks focus on businesses themed to Route 66 – restaurants, shops offering 66 memorabilia, antiques, brewpub and more. Even on a cold, snowy morning in early March, tourists cruised the street, stopping to take pictures in the morning chill. Williams was the last town to be bypassed by the completed I-40 in 1984.  The Mother Road was soon decommissioned.

Just 19 miles west, we exit I-40 (which overlaid the old road in this area) at Ash Fork, with an abandoned truckstop complete with 1970′s pumps and trees growing through cracks in the pump aprons. Behind the old truckstop sign, the interstate looms just a 1/4 mile away, carrying thousands of cars and trucks daily past the dusty, discarded town.

Ash Fork offers a few businesses attempting to cater to Route 66 tourism such as the Oasis Cafe and Lounge; more prevalent are the abandoned businesses, the old truck stop, the Star Motel (up for sale) – shuttered when consistent traffic disappeared due to the freeway bypassing the town.

"The Eagle has landed": old van in Ash Fork is representative of tongue-in-cheek humor found on the route.

Parked beside the old truck stop and a nondescript, non-Route 66-themed bar is an early 90s Chevy van festooned with several hundred plastic Eagle heads and talons, emblazoned “the Eagle Has Landed”. I ask a local (who does not want to give me his name) what ‘s the story, and he responds, “we haven’t seen the owner for about three weeks – he’s kind of a crazy fella, way over the top with screamin’ eagles!”.

We follow the old stretch of Route 66 parallel to I-40, from Ash Fork to Seligman. It’s wide-open country, coursing through the arid high plains. We pass six vehicles on the 20-mile stretch, punctuated by pines, cattle and a series of re-created Burma Shave signs:

You can drive
A mile a minute
But there is no
Future in it
Burma-Shave

Further along the timeworn road:

If hugging of highways
Is your sport
Trade in your car
For a Davenport
Burma Shave

The Aztec Motel in Seligman features a mural of Marilyn Monroe brightening the restaurant portion.

Just about as I remember them, newly placed by the Route 66 Association! The next town west, Seligman, is perhaps king of kitsch in Arizona Route 66 towns.  The Burger Palace, Marylyn Monroe’s portrait painted on the Aztec Motel, the Route 66 Gift Shop. Of note, a yellow 59 Edsel taxi, the De Soto Lounge, with a 55 De Soto perched on the roof, another business adorned with a 62 Mercury Comet, matching the first car my father gave me to commute to college in 1965.

The lively Copper Cart/Route 66 Motoporium hosts college kids in the middle of the old highway, taking selfies!  While Susan shopped, I toured through several streets lined with tiny, dilapidated houses, some abandoned and some occupied by hangers-on. An old wooden rail car on one street was home to a failed butchershop – evidence of townsfolk’s ability to reuse and recycle old things.

Between Seligman and Kingman lies a string of towns wind-blown and forlorn: Nelson, Peach Springs, Truxton, Valentine and Hackberry. Peach Springs is home to the Hualapai Indian reservation and gateway to the glass floor overlook on the Grand Canyon. We pass a worn Grand Canyon Caverns (one of the first roadside attractions on the highway), remembering much busier days.

The road passes Kingman, faded Oatman and continues on to bigger towns like Needles as one enters California and it’s remnants of the old “Mother Road”, eventually ending in Santa Monica at the Pacific.

Plan a trip to get your kicks on Route 66!

The Cooper Cart and Route 66 Motoporium draw a crowd in Seligman.

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66: www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/; Arizona, www.aztr66.com; California, www.route66ca.org.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ft. Ord National Monument is a biking, hiking Mecca, two hours from San Joaquin County!

Typical view of the Ft. Ord backcountry!

If you are a hiker, bicyclist or mountain biker, one of your best destinations within two hours of San Joaquin County is the Ft. Ord National Monument, located between Salinas and Monterey, CA. See the monument’s web site, http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/nlcs/Fort_Ord_NM/recreation.html.

The national monument offers world-class recreation for residents and visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former Fort Ord offer 86 miles of trail on approximately 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the generous winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral.

Cyclists will find single-track trails roving through plenty of shady Ft. Ord groves of trees covered with CA Lace Lichen!

And, if you are a cyclist (the monument offers both paved roads, lots of fire roads and single track, for any type cyclist), and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, this Thursday through Sunday, April 14-17 is the huge and very cool Sea Otter Bike Classic, at Laguna Seca Raceway, adjoining the national monument (see www.seaotterclassic.com for all the details).

This weekend, you can cycle the trails in Ft. Ord’s stunning backcountry and see several thousand cyclists – from world-class pros to serious amateurs – race on some of these scenic trails.  The Ft. Ord trails remain open to casual hikers and cyclists – merely watch for traffic.

I have attached a few photos I took on Sunday, as I was there scouting for course marshal and first-aid points (I work the Sea Otter event as part of a 50+ member National Ski Patrol first-aid contingent).  Believe me, some of the best scenery for hiking and cycling, just two hours from Stockton!

Click here for a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on Hwy 68; and across the street is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café).  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

 

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Downtown Stockton; this Sunday, history comes to life in classy downtown walking tour!

This Sunday, valley residents have the opportunity to take a free downtown Stockton historic walking tour (details below), wrapped around the classic movie “The African Queen”, showing at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre. Following the movie, take an “insider tour” of the old movie house.

Downtown Stockton Alliance guide Manuel Laguna shows off the Hotel Stockton lobby to tour group from Stockton Beautiful.

The tour will start at the south/Weber Avenue entrance to the 1910 Hotel Stockton at Noon, and traverse about four city blocks of Stockton’s most magnificent history, arriving at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre in time for lobby entertainment, the Mighty Morton Organ Concert and classic movie showing of The African Queen at 2 PM.  The “insider tour” of the 1930′s art deco theatre will begin at movie’s end.

The Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre opened in 1930; 20,000 people lined up to get a look and to see the movie “Up the River” starring Spencer Tracy. A grand showplace with over 2,000 seats, it was home to musical acts, vaudeville and movies, active until the 1970s – and nearly torn down to be replaced by a parking lot.

The Fox reopened again in the mid-1990s, and 11 years ago, received an $8.5 million restoration by the City of Stockton. A large donation from A. G. Spanos Company allowed Spanos to rename it the Bob Hope Theatre.

A downtown tour can also include a visit to Weber Point, where you’ll find the footprint outline of Captain Weber’s home on the point named for him, as well as a monument that outlines Weber’s early history as founder of our city.

What to take: Good walking shoes, camera!

Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre tour guide Kelly Howard offers an "insider's tour" of the 1930's Art Deco theatre to eager tourists.

Where to park: The Stewart-Eberhardt Parking Garage is just south of Weber, and can be entered from either Center or El Dorado Streets.  From there, it’s just a block walk to the Hotel Stockton and the B&M Building.

More info: For Sunday’s tour, RSVP to 209-470-8923 and plan to meet at the Hotel Stockton’s south entrance on Weber Avenue at Noon.  The tour will reach the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre around 1:00 PM for the Stockton Portsmen Barbershop Chorus; at 1:30, the organ concert begins and the movie follows; the “insider tour” of the Fox Theatre will begin right after the movie, about 4 PM.  The two tours are free, while the classic African Queen, starting at 2 PM, is $8 for adults, $4 for kids and students.

For future downtown Stockton historic walking tours, contact the Downtown Stockton Alliance, www.downtownstockton.org, Manuel Laguna, mlaguna@downtownstockton.org, 209.464.5246; for a tour of the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, contact Friends of the Fox Theatre, Kelly Howard, Kellyhoward23@gmail.com, 209.858.9114.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Downtown Stockton; history comes to life in classy downtown walking tour!

Sometimes your most interesting travel destination can exist right in your backyard. This Sunday, valley residents have the opportunity to take a free downtown Stockton historic walking tour (details below), wrapped around the classic movie “The African Queen”, showing at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre. Following the movie, take an “insider tour” of the old movie house.

1890's Stockton 4th of July Parade on Weber Ave. shows the Capitol Hotel (now the Mansion House) and Tretheway Buildings on right.

Gold was discovered in Coloma in 1848 and the Sierra foothills experienced a surge of immigration unlike the world had ever seen. These “49ers” streamed from around the country and the globe, quadrupling California’s population in the following 10 years.

Stockton became the port of entry for the Mother Lode mines, with thousands of miners and their supplies arriving by ship, horse and wagon train.  The town that Captain Weber so meticulously laid out in the 1840s grew rapidly, to become one of the largest cities and downtowns in the state, rivaled in the north only by San Francisco and Sacramento.

Stockton, center of a growing agricultural empire, swelled as ag suppliers, implement makers, banks and retailers expanded; its downtown blossomed, becoming one of the state’s most attractive and largest downtown commercial centers, adjoining a bustling port open to the world’s sailing ships.

Stockton in 1930s, looking west past Courthouse dome, Hotel Stockton and up the Deepwater Channel.

Stockton was the first city in California not named in Spanish (named for Capt. Weber’s friend, Commodore Stockton), and was California’s first planned community due to the foresight of Weber. It was one of the first in the West to use natural gas for heat and lights and one of the first to incorporate electric trollies, which traveled north and south direct to downtown, location of most of the jobs. Its growth spurred hotels and theaters, and soon the downtown had a score of each and a lively entertainment district with a host of restaurants and night spots!

Downtown Alliance Guide Manuel Laguna shares Hotel Stockton lobby and historic insight with group from Stockton Beautiful.

We began a pleasant recent walking tour (similar to what Sunday guests will experience) at the B&M Building, (Bridenbach and McCormick), circa 1865, once the Philadelphia House, then the Hotel de Mexico.  Sandwiched between the downtown Cineplex and the old Hotel Stockton, the building is a beauty, now home to both the Visit Stockton and Downtown Stockton Alliance organizations.

Just 30 feet south, we walked through the Hotel Stockton; built in Spanish Mission Revival style, it was built over Weber’s Hole (once home to hot water baths before the hotel opened in 1910 as a first class travelers’ hotel).  It was renovated in 2005 by the city, is now home to downtown apartment dwellers and the new French 25 Restaurant, a fine place for a respite on your own tour.

Laguna shares story of the Tretheway Building; a portion of its ornate facade crashed to the sidewalk in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake!

From the Hotel Stockton, we toured east on Weber to the Mansion House, built in 1873, now with apartments above and shops like Casa Flores and Ulmer Photography at street level. Next-door, the Tretheway Building (the former Argonaut Hotel) was built in 1892 in Victorian – Romanesque Revival style. This handsome building once had a much taller false front – until part of it came crashing down in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake!

We turned south on San Joaquin, passing the new County Administration Building, designed to fit into downtown’s historic fabric.  Next door, the Bank of Stockton, built in 1908, was Stockton’s first skyscraper, offering a new invention – elevators servicing its seven towering floors.

A block east is the grand 10-story Cort Tower, opened as the Commercial and Savings Bank in 1915 and enlarged after a fire in 1924. Renovated 25-some years ago by Grupe Company, and further modernized by Dan Cort, it is now one of the more popular office buildings in the downtown area.

Diagonally across from the Bank of Stockton is the California Building, opened in 1917 for the new Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank, designed by George Kelham, a prominent San Francisco architect who designed the St. Francis Hotel and the San Francisco Public Library.

Fox/Bob Hope Theatre guide Kelly Howard leads an "insiders tour" of the venerable 1930's theatre.

Our tour then took in the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, opened in 1930; 20,000 people lined up to get a look and to see the movie “Up the River” starring Spencer Tracy. A grand showplace with over 2,000 seats, it was home to musical acts, vaudeville and movies, active until the 1970s – and nearly torn down to be replaced by a parking lot.

The Fox reopened again in the mid-1990s, and 11 years ago, received an $8.5 million restoration by the City of Stockton. A large donation from A. G. Spanos Company allowed Spanos to rename it the Bob Hope Theatre.

A downtown tour can also include a visit to Weber Point, where you’ll find the footprint outline of Captain Weber’s home on the point named for him, as well as a monument that outlines Weber’s early history as founder of our city.

What to take: Good walking shoes, camera!

Where to park: The Stewart-Eberhardt Parking Garage is just south of Weber, and can be entered from either Center or El Dorado Streets.  From there, it’s just a block walk to the Hotel Stockton and the B&M Building.

More info: For Sunday’s tour, RSVP to 209-470-8923 and plan to meet at the Hotel Stockton’s south entrance on Weber Avenue at Noon.  The tour will reach the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre around 1:00 PM for the Stockton Portsmen Barbershop Chorus; at 1:30, the organ concert begins and the movie follows; the “insider tour” of the Fox Theatre will begin right after the movie, about 4 PM.  The two tours are free, while the classic African Queen, starting at 2 PM, is $8 for adults, $4 for kids and students.

The 1908 Bank of Stockton Building was the city's first skyscraper, offering elevator access to its towering seven stories!

For future downtown Stockton historic walking tours, contact the Downtown Stockton Alliance, www.downtownstockton.org, Manuel Laguna, mlaguna@downtownstockton.org, 209.464.5246; for a tour of the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, contact Friends of the Fox Theatre, Kelly Howard, Kellyhoward23@gmail.com, 209.858.9114.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild, scenic and historic state parks, close to San Joaquin County, perfect for spring outings!

Mt. Diablo, Calaveras Big Trees, Columbia Historic Park, Railtown 1897 Park - close to Stockton, stunning in spring!

Mt. Diablo's flank, looking west from Northgate Road.

With the advent of spring, several glorious state parks close to San Joaquin county back in. Spring, with recent rain and breezes clearing the air, make a fine time to tour to places such as Mount Diablo State Park to our west and Calaveras Big Trees State Park to the east. If you’re into historic state parks, both Columbia Historic Park and Railtown 1897 are just an hour away in the Sierra foothills.

Mt. Diablo is a favorite, just 60 miles away – part of the fun is the scenic and wild East Bay that you’ll discover getting there. You’ll cross our scenic Delta on Hwy. 4, turn south to Byron and then west again towards Mt. Diablo. In route is Round Valley Regional Park, where you can hike or ride mountain bikes amidst creeks running strong, wildflowers and views of Mt. Diablo around each corner.

Wind Caves on Mt. Diablo are a kid’s climbing paradise!

You’re liable to see California ground squirrels, dear, desert cottontails, the San Joaquin red fox, pocket mouse, coyotes – even reclusive mountain lions in this beautiful country. Golden eagles and burrowing owls can also be spotted.

For best views, pick a day following a spring rain or strong breezes.  While Mt. Diablo is only 3,849 feet tall, it towers in the coastal range and views on clear days can extend for 200 miles, west past the Golden Gate to the Farallon Islands, north to Mt. Lassen and deep into the Sierra to the east.

In Mount Diablo, stop along the South Gate Rd. and explore Rock City. Otherworldly features include the Wind Caves, Elephant Rock, Artist Point and Fossil Ridge. Explorers will find Native American grinding rocks located near the Grotto, a fine place for a scenic picnic. The park offers three campgrounds (Juniper, at 3,000 feet, offers spectacular vistas and star gazing), numerous picnic areas and over 150 miles of hiking trails.

Continue on to the top of the twin Mt. Diablo peaks. The Summit Visitor Center is open daily, 10 AM to 4 PM, located in a 1930s historic stone building atop Diablo’s highest peak. An observation deck offers telescopes and explanations of some of the finest views in the west. From the top, rocky trails fan out in all directions, offering stunning vistas over 360 degrees.

Sledders amongst Calaveras Big Tree’s Giant Sequoias, taken just weeks ago!

Setting sights on nearby Sierra foothills attractions, Calaveras Big Trees, Columbia State Historic Park and Railtown 1897 Park are each just a bit more than an hour from Stockton. Each offers special allure and is surrounded by the green and scenic Sierra foothills, gorgeous in the spring.

Calaveras Big Trees features colossal stands of Giant Sequoias, while living history is the draw at both Columbia and  Railtown 1897 parks. Calaveras Big Trees presents a well-preserved example of mid-elevation forest in the western Sierra, dominated by Giant Sequoias and surrounded by Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar and White Fir.

Spring comes alive with Pacific Dogwood’s white blossoms, Crimson Columbine, Hartweg’s Iris, Monkey Flowers, Leopard Lily, Lupine and Wild Hyacinth. With the park situated at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 feet, spring can be late in coming. Just a month ago, we treated our five-year-old grandson Jack to his first snowboarding experience amidst the huge Sequoias. At this writing, snow has disappeared from the park – but, check weather forecasts before departing.

Kids pan for gold and agates at Columbia State Historic Park.

Columbia State historic Park is just 3 miles north of Sonora, while Railtown 1897 Park is located in Jamestown, just a few miles west of Sonora.

Both parks offer living history and could conceivably be visited in the same day; Sonora offers a host of motels if one seeks to spend the night.

Columbia Historic Park offers wonderfully preserved Gold Rush-era buildings that served as frequent movie and TV series backdrops, including the classic western High Noon, and TV’s Little House on the Prairie. Columbia’s Wilson/McConnell House is where Marshal Kane (Gary Cooper) recruits Sam Fuller (Henry Morgan, aka Colonel Sherman Potter in the Mash series) in High Noon.

Wells Fargo stagecoach carries families through Columbia’s streets.

Kids can ride the Wells Fargo stagecoach and pan for gold and agates for a small fee. Restaurants, ice cream shop, western backdrop and informative docents dressed in period costume make Columbia a fine place for strolling and soaking in our early California history.

Railtown 1897 denotes the year that the Sierra Railway, which began construction in Oakdale, reached Jamestown, later extending to Sonora, Angels Camp and Tuolumne City. It’s known as the “movie railroad”, hosting scores of movies and television shows since 1919. Kids can scramble around and over rail cars, admire the fleet of giant locomotives and see a real railroad roundhouse and turntable.

Engine #3 in Railtown’s roundhouse is part of extensive locomotive fleet.

Railtown’s spring opening is Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3, with extended hours and free rides. After opening weekend, the park is open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, with trains running Saturdays and Sundays and modest admission charges. Excursion train tickets add additional cost.

How to get there: Mt. Diablo- from Stockton, go west on CA Hwy. 4 just past Discovery Bay, take the Byron

Railtown's Engine #3 in the classic western 'High Noon'.

Highway south one mile to Byron, go west on Camino Diablo which connects with Marsh Creek Road.  Round Valley Preserve is right off Marsh Creek Road. For Calaveras Big Trees, go east on Hwy. 4 to the park.  For Railtown and Columbia parks, take Hwy. 108 to Jamestown for Railtown; for Columbia, continue on Hwy. 108 to Sonora, then north on Hwy. 49.

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and chilly weather gear! To plan your visit: for Mt. Diablo State Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517, (925) 837-2525; Calaveras Big Trees Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=551, (209) 795-2334; Columbia State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=552, (209) 588–9128; Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, railtown1897.org, (209) 984-3953. For camping in Mt. Diablo State Park or Calaveras Big Trees, reserveamerican.com, (800) 444-7275.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear Valley, Dodge Ridge celebrate with late ski season events!

With recent storms blanketing the Sierra the last two weekends, nearby ski resorts are celebrating with special events to close a stellar season. Last week I skied both nearby Dodge Ridge and Heavenly Valley in the Tahoe area. Sunshine, great snow coverage, slopes 100% open and weeks of marvelous skiing yet to come. So turn to our closest ski areas to San Joaquin County for special reasons to ski or board in the coming weeks:

 

Big Foot attempts the Bear Valley pond skim last spring!

Bear Valley:

Saturday, March 26, starting at 9 AM, Nikolov Dodov Slopestyle Competition on the Mountain, midday on the sun deck, Bear Valley Live presents Secret Town and at 7 PM at the Bear Valley Lodge’s Cathedral Lounge, Grover Anderson.

Sunday, March 27, starting at 10 AM, Easter decorating and egg hunt at Bear Valley.

Saturday, April 2, the third and final event of the Freeheel race series, Pond Skimming/Brewfest event on the Mountain, midday on the sun deck, Bear Valley Live presents the Groove Doctors and at 7:30 PM at Sky High Pizza and Pub, Bear Valley Live presents DJ Eternal.

 

Dodge Ridge:

Family gathers for photo op in Boulder Creek Canyon off Dodge Ridge's Chair 8.

Sunday, March 27, Golden Egg Hunt: On Easter Sunday, March 27, Dodge Ridge’s presents its Annual Golden Egg hunt. There will be eggs of all colors hidden on the mountain at Dodge Ridge’s Base Area, each with a prize inside, but the Golden Egg, that’s the one you’re looking for. Children will be grouped by age (4-5, 6-8, and 9-12*) and be sent out in waves to search for the Golden Egg (one per age group).  Whoever finds the Golden Egg from their age group will go home with one Youth Season Pass for the 2016-17 season. *12 year old children who will be 13 prior to December 31st, 2016 will be ineligible for the 2016/17 Youth Season Pass, as they will no longer be in the Youth age group for the 2016-17 season.

Saturday, April 2, Pond Skim, Chili Cook Off and DRAIL Brewfest: On Saturday, April 2, it’s Dodge Ridge’s Winter Spring Fling event as a celebration of the incredible 2015/16 Season of snowfall.  As part of the line up, the popular Pond Skim will be the highlight of the weekend as participants attempt to skim their way across Lake Dodge Ridge on their trusty skis or snowboard. Prizes will be given for best skim, best splash and, most importantly, the best costume of the event. The weekend also features the annual Chili Cook Off, and DRAIL Brewfest fundraiser with live music and BBQ in the base area plaza.  So whether you’re a chili aficionado or a brew enthusiast you won’t want to miss out on this slopeside party.  Between endless bowls of chili, plentiful beer, and ridiculous pond skimmers, we’ll leave you to be the judge of who sinks or swims.

For more information: Bear Valley Ski Resort, bearvalley.com, (209) 753-2301; Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, dodgeridge.com, (209) 965-3474.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
  • Blog Authors

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
  • Categories

  • Archives