Mission San Juan Bautista, Mission San Antonio bookend majestic Pinnacles National Park

 

Mission San Antonio interior is a wonder of color and light.

Arches form a breezeway for Mission San Antonio.
The Plaza Hall and Plaza Stables stand across the green plaza at Mission San Juan Bautista.
Arches of Mission San Juan Bautista run for length of a football field!
Machete Ridge forms the backbone of volcanic Pinnacles National Park (photo courtesy National Park Service)
Author Tim Viall stands outside entrance to talus cave in Pinnacles National Park; take your flashlights!

Explore two early California missions, sandwiched around stunning Pinnacles National Park!

Pinnacles National Park, jutting up from the Gabilan Mountains south of Hollister, CA, offers the rugged remains of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles south, near Los Angeles!  Pinnacles lies on the San Andreas Fault and is moving a few inches north each year, distancing itself from its mother volcano!

Pinnacles offers a stunning landscape of rugged spines, deep canyons, eerie talus caves, verdant foliage, streams and wildlife from deer, wild turkeys  and bob cats, to the majestic California Condor with wingspans up to seven feet.   If you want your kids to appreciate the power of nature, this park offers particularly dramatic evidence of the effects of heat, water and wind constantly wearing away at this alien landscape. 

What makes this trip especially interesting is that two old Spanish missions bookend the park.  Mission San Antonio is one of two historic prizes of this trip; founded by Padre Junipero Serra in 1771, when he hung a bell in an ancient oak tree. Needing a better water supply, the mission was later moved ¼ mile to its current site. The Native Americans of the mission were the Salinan Tribe, part of the Hokan family.

They would move into the mission’s buildings and build a productive mission town, home to hundreds of Salinan members who set to work to further expand the mission and its infrastructure. Today, remnants of the first mission buildings, its water-powered mill, ovens and more have been uncovered, the old water system remains evident; the current mission sanctuary is part of the Monterey Diocese.

The old El Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road) connected the two missions (an unpaved, undeveloped portion of the original road is preserved just behind/east of Mission San Juan Bautista).  The historic road ran 600 miles through California, connecting Alta California’s 21 missions and four presidios. 

Mission San Antonio is 55 miles south of the park, past the historic remnants of Jolon on the old El Camino Real, through Fort Hunter Liggett to the historic mission.  We journeyed from Pinnacles south on Highway 25, to the intersection of Bitterwater, followed G 13 to King City, then G 14, passing Jolon, then west on G 18 to Mission San Antonio.

The old town of Jolon was established in the 1860s to meet the needs of miners traveling to the Los Burros Mining District.  When the railroad came to King City, that town prospered and Jolon slowly faded away.  Today, you can find the ruins of the Dutton House, Jolon’s old general store, St. Luke’s Church and faded dreams!

Jolon was acquired by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s, and sold to its current owner, the US Army, in 1940. Ft. Hunger Liggett (http://www.liggett.army.mil) would then become an active Army training base for World War II, and continues today as headquarters for the U.S. Army Combat Support Training Center, encompassing 165,000 very wild acres!

Mission San Juan Bautista is 38 miles and an hour northwest of Pinnacles.  It was founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Lasuén of the Franciscan order, the fifteenth of the 21 missions.  It would be built to contain a nunnery, quarters for soldiers, the Jose Castro House and other buildings around a large, grassy plaza in front of the church.  The Ohlone, original Native American residents of the Valley, were baptized and converted, followed by the Yokuts of the Central Valley. Today, it functions as a parish church of the Monterey Diocese.

We made Pinnacles National Park the center for our mission exploration.  This is a lightly visited national park with a dry and temperate climate.  We entered through the East Entrance, just 33 miles south on Hwy 25 of a very pleasant Hollister, CA (with a number of comfy motels, restaurants and food stores). Though the park also has a West Entrance, from Hwy 146 out of Soledad, it offers no major visitor conveniences (and, no road crosses this out-of-the-way national park).

We camped for three days in the Pinnacles Campground, the park’s only developed campground. With store, visitor center, swimming pool (in season) and showers, if offers both trailer and tent sites, many with full electric hookups. A shuttle bus runs regularly, taking you to the two park main trailheads, about three miles away.

You cannot really get the flavor of Pinnacles without some hiking, so bring comfortable walking shoes, headlamp or flashlight (for cave exploration) and a water bottle. From the Bear Gulch Trailhead, a moderately strenuous one-mile hike takes you to the spooky Bear Gulch Cave (bring headlamps or flashlights) and Bear Gulch Reservoir; one can return on the Rim Trail for a change of scenery.  Plenty of other hikes make for several days of potential exploration!

How to get there: Head south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, south on Hwy 33, then west on Hwy 152 and south on Hwy 156 to Hollister (to reach Mission San Juan Bautista, continue on Hwy 156); Pinnacles East entrance is 30 miles south of Hollister on Hwy 25.  Mission San Antonio is 58 miles south of Pinnacles.  From Stockton to Pinnacles, it’s about 135 miles and 2.5 hours.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes or boots and water bottles or a canteen for hiking the park’s spectacular trails.  For exploring the park’s talus caves, take a headlamp or flashlight.

Where to stay: Pinnacles has a fine campground for both tents and RVs, and back-country camping is another option.  Motels are found in Hollister and San Juan Bautista, to the north, and King City, south of the park.

For more information: Pinnacles Park: www.nps.gov/pinn.  The park headquarters is at 5000 Hwy 146, Paicines, CA 95043; phone: 831.389.4486.  Camping can be booked through www.recreation.gov, or by calling 877.444.6777.  For Mission San Antonio, www.missionsanantonio.net; for Mission San Juan Bautista, http://www.oldmissionsjb.org/.

Next week, a report on visiting California’s desert parks, like Anza Borrego and Death Valley.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

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End Notes, touring the US in a teardrop travel trailer, California to Florida, the old South and back!

 

Cheapest gas, $1.99 in Texas; we averaged about $2.25 per gallon on trip; highest price was return to western AZ and CA, well over $3.40/gallon. Ouch.

Gourmet meal, Catfish, bacon and Caesar salad at St. George Island Campground, FL.
Our Scotty teardrop in front of the Confederate Powderworks, Augusta, GA.
Susan, catching up on her reading in our Scotty teardrop, in a campground in Alabama.

[This is a fifth installment of series on our trip across the US]

My spouse and I just completed a 30 day cross-country tour, from California to Florida and the old South, and back, with a 4’ X 4’ X 8’ teardrop travel trailer.  Several readers have asked “what did your spouse think of crossing the US in a tiny camper?”, so, I asked.  Here are Susan’s comments:

“We got to see a lot of places in the country that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise!  Campgrounds were gorgeous, we were able to live near nature, beside the ocean and hear the birds, see the animals (and the alligators in FL), something you would not see if you were in a hotel or motel room.

It was it nice to get a few nights with friends or at motels; it was nice now and then to get a shower and a real bed and stay with friends; but almost every campground we stayed in was clean, picturesque and had showers at the campground.

We met lots of helpful people who give us insight on where to go and want to see; and routes to take to get there.  Some of the friendliest people we met in years reside in the old South. And the starry skies from many of these remote campgrounds were spectacular.  As were many sunrises and sunsets!”.

Would you do it again?  “Most certainly”, she quickly responds!

Several others asked how much we spent, and how it matched to our budget of $2,000. 

Here is our actual spending recap:
• 30 days on road
• 7638 miles@26 miles per gallon = 279 gallons, X $2.25 = $626 in gasoline
• Seven motels, $511
• 14 paid camp grounds, $291
• 7 nights with family/friends
• One free camp night, National Forest outside Grand Canyon
• One Love Truck Stop night, no charge
• Splurges – luxury meals, tours like air boat, plantation tours, snacks, et al, $650
Total, $2,078.

We are now back into California, entering through the Mohave Desert; seeing surprises which included Joshua trees, as one nears Barstow.  In a few days, we are returning for three days in CA’s Anzo Borrega Desert, then onto a luxury week at our Marriott timeshare in Newport Beach, CA. 

It’s nice to be home, even if the route through CA to Stockton remains bone-dry!

Futures trip plans we hatched on the trip:

• Complete our exploration of old Rte. 66, Chicago to Santa Monica, CA, the “Mother Road”.

• Take another coast to coast trip; California to New England, up to Maine, across to Quebec City and Nova Scotia, and stop in old Ohio, my home state – need 45 to 60 days, perhaps Fall, 2016!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling the US Southern tier with teardrop trailer: Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee!

Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park, one of 22 stately parks inside Savannah, GA.

The Mercer Williams House, once home to composer Johnny Mercer
Ft. Sumter guards the Charleston Harbor entrance; it was site of first shots fired in the Civil War.
War memorial in Charleston’s Battery Park is inscribed “To our Confederate Defenders; Ft. Sumter, 1861-1865″.
Historic Miles Brewton House in Charleston was occupied by the British in the Revolutionary War, the Union in the Civil War!
Stately Magnolia Plantation and Gardens outside Charleston is one of oldest in the old South.

 

BB King's Club is heart of great music and wonderful ribs, oysters and more!

Beale Street in heart of Memphis is center of music, good food and nightlife!

[This is the fourth of four installments on a 30 day cross-country trip]

The old South, Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee: this is the final installment on our recent trip from California across the US southern tier to explore Florida and the old South (with teardrop travel trailer in tow).  Our plan was a 30 day journey on a $2,000 budget, including gas, campgrounds/motels/tours and food.

Our past in these states:  I spent three hot, sticky months in summer of 1970 at Ft. Benning, Georgia – we saw little of the rest of the state.  We had never been to either of the Carolinas or to western Tennessee. Accordingly, we planned to spend a week in these states, and see some of the best of the “old south”.

Hence, on day 18, we headed north out of Florida along the Atlantic coast route to Ft. McAllister State Park, southeast of Savannah, GA. The next day, we leave our trailer at the park and head into Savannah, with a grand historic district and bordered on the north by the Savannah River.  The city has 22 parks, graced by stately oaks with Spanish moss hanging from each limb (the plant is neither  Spanish nor moss, it’s a relative of the pineapple).

We walk first through the City Market, alive with confection shops, restaurants and nightspots, then down to the Savannah River waterfront and past the old Cotton Exchange. We had a late lunch at Fiddlers Crab House on the waterfront. With the second-story veranda view, we watched tugboats, a tourist paddlewheeler, and a large container ship pass by while dining on a half-dozen oysters from Apalachicola, local crawfish and crab chowder. Delicious!

An extended walking tour takes us south, snapping pictures of the historic Mercer Williams House (the family of composer Johnny Mercer), the stately Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park and admiring the elegant homes and grand mansions that surround the city’s shady parks.

We’re staying about 15 miles south east of Savannah, at Fort McAllister State Park. Fort McAllister was one of the major Confederate fortifications protecting Savannah from Union ships and the blockade on the Ogeechee River. During the war, it withstood seven separate attacks by Union gunboats before falling at end of Sherman’s March to the Sea on December 13, 1864.

After two days in this part of Georgia, we journey north along the Atlantic coast to Charleston, SC.  We descend quickly into South Carolina’s “Low Country”, crossing multiple rivers, low tidal marshes and, once again, lots of bridges. As we approach Charleston we journey through miles of poor, rural South Carolina towns.

Charleston was once the very hub of the early Confederacy.  Today, it features the HS Hunley submarine (a Confederate sub, first to sink an enemy ship), and a huge historic district, tied both to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  The district includes the Charleston Museum, the Confederate Museum, the Dock Street Theater, old Cotton Exchange and Provost Dungeon, South Carolina Historical Society and the old Slave Market Museum. We see a dozen old churches, including most with significant, historic graveyards, final resting places of early patriots.

Off the Charleston Harbor is the historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. We stayed down the coast at Episto State Park, a nice park with full facilities, and only a mile from the cute seaside town of Episto Beach. Here we admired many vacation homes, all on stilts to avoid hurricane impacts.

Charleston, on a peninsula surrounded by water, preserves a marvelous historic downtown full of shops and eateries, museums and historic churches. The old King Street was closed off for a second Sunday leisurely walking tour, with many shops and restaurants open, catering to a large turnout of locals and tourists.

We stopped for a late lunch at the iconic Hyman’s Seafood where specials included Low Country Boil (huge, bowl of crab legs, shrimp, fish, vegetables), Cajun fish and shrimp, southern fried porkchops, orange roughy, and smoked beef brisket sandwich.

We took a day to explore the Ashley River Historic Plantation District about 20 miles south west of Charleston.  The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a 17th-century estate acquired 1676 by the Drayton family, featuring America’s oldest gardens, circa 1680, which bloom year-round. The tour features a pre-Revolutionary War plantation house, huge gardens and antebellum slave-quarter cabins.

From Charleston we toured up the coast of South Carolina through Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach – developed with towering condos, vacation hotels and huge homes dominating most of the beachfront.  Further north, we toured off the highway to Little River, SC, and found the Key West Crazy restaurant – the biggest fish and chips, ever! Two dollar margaritas made the meal tastier!

We made North Carolina and Carolina Beach State Park; clean and only $20 per night. With the Georgia, South and North Carolina coasts so broken up by inlets and Intracoastal waterways, it makes touring up the coast and making time almost impossible (though we were in no hurry). In Wilmington, we found the USS North Carolina battleship, commissioned 1941 and decommissioned 1947.

It was now time to begin heading west, and our trek took us past Augusta, GA and discovery of a huge brick industrial complex – the Confederate Powder Works, a former US armory, which the new Confederate government took over and expanded.  Here they made most of the powder for the Confederacy for the three years of the war.

Traveling further west, we cruised through Memphis, TN, and spend an evening at BB King’s Club on historic Beale Street, enjoying music and the best ribs, before resuming our journey west.

End cap: 7,700 miles in 30 days…would have been nice to have an extra 10 days; actual spending for gas, lodging, tours and food was about $2,100.  And, we hatched idea of a future Route 66 exploration (we toured portions in Oklahoma through Arizona), and a fall, 2016, 60 day trip from California to Maine and New England!

For more info: Savannah, www.savannah.com; Magnolia Plantation, 3550 Ashley River Rd., Charleston, 843.571.1266; Charleston, www.charlestoncvb.com.

Next week, we visit two Spanish Missions that bookend Pinnacles National Park.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Central Florida; “big Ag”, and, old towns not feeling the tourism love of the coastal cities!

Old shuttered theater and closed auto shop in Pahokee are emblematic of Central Florida towns that don't receive the tourism bounty of the coastal cities.

Water cannons, mounted on huge “big Ag” trucks, thunder water 150 yards into Florida fields.
Lake Okeechobee is huge, outlined by giant levies courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers and our federal government.
Huge levies and water channels take Everglades water to oceanside towns in East Florida.
Sunrise over Nine Mile Pond in Everglades National Park; sharp eyes will see an alligator cruising in the center/left portion of the photo (don’t go wading)!

Two days ago, I posted the overview of our week in Florida.  Due to space constraints, the Record newspaper and blog version did not allow space to share observations on the central portion of the state; so, here is a bit more.

Earlier in our exploration of the Everglades, from the Sawgrass National Recreation Area and Everglades National Park, several locals tell us the Everglades have been reduced by about half due to encroaching development and levies constructed by Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades provide most of Florida’s fresh drinking water – imperiled as population continues to grow. Not only does the Everglades provide most of Florida’s drinking water and water for agriculture, it provides a home for fish, alligators, eagles, pelicans and many critters.

We departed Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area and headed north, through the Everglades area and up to Lake Okeechobee in central/south Florida.  Much of that portion of our trip took us through Florida’s waterways, and “big Ag” lands. Exiting the park, we are quickly into the state’s agricultural empire. Miles upon miles of squash fields, tomatoes, avocados. Around a curve, we see an army of industrial trucks with water cannons, thundering water 150 to 200 yards, 360°, drenching the road and nearby properties. Apparently no water shortage in this state!

We take the interior roads north of the Everglades to huge Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 rims the lake, with massive levies splitting the Everglades on one side, limestone quarries and big Ag on the other and channels sending Florida’s fresh water to the beachfront towns to the east. East of the huge lake are sleepy, back-water towns like Belle Glade; then Pahokee, a truly beaten town with an abandoned theater. 

At a gas station, I run into Lester Crawford, a Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart awardee (Tet Offensive), who invites us to spend the night in his nearby RV Park.  Also a City Council member, Lester notes his town, Pahokee (with the shuttered old theater and a score of closed businesses), “is on the comeback trail, attracting more tourists – take the time to see!”, he exhorts.

North of the lake, we continue to Holopaw (approaching Orlando) – only then do we see our first orange groves. We turn east, through vast cattle country and slowly descend to the beaches at Melbourne – then head north to Daytona Beach. Here, for $56 we find a nice room on the beach.  With a lovely view of the sunrise over the Atlantic, Susan is up early to see it’s multiple hues. Later that day, we take a short drive south along Daytona’s hard, sandy beach, just as we had done 45 years earlier, in the week before I reported into Fort Benning, Georgia for my Army duty.

From there, we continue up Florida’s east coast, past huge condos, timeshares and luxury vacation and retirement homes – all seemingly oblivious to future water challenges!

For more info: For Florida state parks like St. George Island, go to www.floridastateparks.org; for Everglades National Park, www.nps.gov/ever/.

Next week we will continue our journey into the old South, arriving at Fort McAllister State Park southeast of Savannah, Georgia.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling the US southern tier, California to Florida with frugal budget and teardrop trailer; onto Florida! (Part 3)

 

The historic Orman House in Apalachicola was alternately taken over by both Union and Confederate troops in the Civil War.

The St. George Island Lighthouse and our Scotty teardrop on way to the state park.
A 12 foot alligator glares at our air boat in the Everglades; don’t dip your toe in the water!
Mile after mile of elevated bridges link the many islands of the Florida Keys
Grand old mansion is now a fab bed and breakfast in Key West!
Our Scotty teardrop trailer, about to hit the hard sands of Daytona Beach!
The old fortress in St. Augustine dates to 1672; the oldest fort in the USA.

[Installment 3 in a 5 part feature]

Traveling the US southern tier, California to Florida with frugal budget and teardrop trailer; Alabama and Florida

This week we continue our journey of discovery for two retirees traveling from California, across the US southern tier to Florida and the old South with a teardrop travel trailer on a $2,000 budget.  This is the third in a series about our adventures; our rig is a four-year old teardrop trailer, 4’ wide, 4’ tall and 8’ long, offering comfortable sleeping quarters, drawing admirers in campgrounds (“do you keep your dogs in that little trailer?”; we respond, “nope, we sleep in it”.) and manage 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

We have never been to Alabama or Arkansas, only to Florida for the two weeks prior to my entering the Army in 1970 and have never visited either of the Carolinas. We’re planning to take advantage of my youngest brother, Ned, who, with girlfriend, had rented a nice apartment in Naples for February.

Hence, on day eleven, we head east out of Louisiana (two days in New Orleans), into Alabama, bound for a week exploring much of Florida.  Our budget, so far: three nights in motels, spending $270, gas is averaging $2.15/gallon (so we are under in our fuel budget), campgrounds are averaging about $20/night and we are working not to splurge too much on luxury food/drink (in New Orleans, we spent more than planned).

Departing Louisiana, we cross southern Alabama and discover, just east of Mobile, the USS Alabama battleship, active in the last three years of World War II, massive at 683 feet with nine huge 16 inch guns in three turrets, providing awesome firepower. The park also displays a huge collection of Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard wares, including tanks, a World War sub entirely out of the water, all types of airplanes including a huge B-52 bomber. – all available for touring at a reasonable price.

We continue into the Florida panhandle, and pause to admire old Apalachicola, FL, lined with grand old vacation homes.  We toured the Chapman Botanical Gardens, and adjacent Orman House historical home, occupied by both sides during the Civil War. The town also offers the quaint John Gorrie Museum and park – he the inventor of the ice machine!

Just beyond is St. George Island.  A 4 mile long bridge takes us out to the 12 mile long barrier-reef island. St. George Island State Park inhabits the east end with plenty of beaches and dunes, nice campground with newer shower facilities; luxury camping, $24 per night.

The next day we trek south to Naples, a nine-hour drive-through Florida coastal scenery the first couple hours, and pine trees and sandy forests the balance. Naples, high luxury with huge homes, condominiums and a number of Bentleys and Maseratis roaming the streets.  Lowdermilk Beach in south Naples provided a lovely two day’s destination, though the sight of scores of Floridians tanned to a leathery brown is a bit oft-putting.

We had arranged an air boat tour of the Everglades, from the Sawgrass National Recreation Area. It’s about a 90 mile drive into the center of the state, where boat captain Debra tells us the Everglades have been reduced by about half due to encroaching development and levies construct by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades provide most for Florida’s fresh drinking water – imperiled as population continues to grow.

The boat skims across the freshwater Everglades, down narrow channels lined by eight foot-tall Sawgrass; as we round a bend we spot a good-sized gator, about 12 feet, who cruises slowly past the bow of our boat, then turns and stares down our crew of eight. We see four more gators on the trip (as well as egrets, an eagle and pelicans) and get a good educational session on alligators, crocodiles and other critters of the Everglades, an invigorating journey!

After four days in Naples, we make our way south to the tip of the state, to Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area.  Formerly End of the Earth”, it offers an unchecked view due south into the Gulf of Mexico. A nearby camper, Lonnie from New York, notes “been here multiple times and just finishing up two weeks” continuing “watch out for tiny no see-ums (tiny, biting insects) and spray inside your screens with Deet”. At the marina store, we found Off spray, only $8.58, and so treated our windows.

We take in two morning sunrises at Nine Mile Pond, on the first, we see an alligator slowly cruising past, right to left, about 100 yards off shore. Pretty mornings, about 65°, red skies!

Exiting the park, one dives quickly into the state’s agricultural empire. Miles upon miles of squash fields, tomatoes, avocados. Around a curve, we see an army of industrial trucks with water canons, thundering water 150 yards, 360°, drenching the road and nearby properties. Apparently no water shortage in this state!

We devoted a day tour to the Florida Keys, south of Everglades down Highway 1, entering the string of barrier islands; first up, Key Largo, site of the Bogart and Bacall movie of the same name, and after a series of elevated bridges, a number of other Keys including, furthest south, Key West.

Key West is a lovely, old town and port with grand homes. A big Carnival Cruise liner is tied up, disgorging scores of youth to seniors into a dozen bars and eateries. The downtown buildings are bright yellow, pink, coral, green. Tourist trains operate the main streets, with jewelry and T-shirt shops, all designed to separate tourists from their dollars.

We sampled the bar scene, then found the Southernmost Bar and Café, on the water, and walked out on the concrete pier – the most southern point in the US. It flanks a fun, active beach scene in front of the restaurant, with warm water attracting swimmers. Returning north along Highway 1, endless marinas, many of Florida’s 159 state parks, fish markets, restaurants and bars dot the roadside.

We take the interior roads north of the Everglades to huge Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 rims the lake, with massive levies splitting the Everglades on one side, limestone quarries and big Ag on the other and channels sending Florida’s fresh water to the beachfront towns to the east. East of the huge lake are sleepy, back-water towns like Belle Glade; then Pahokee, a truly beaten town with an abandoned theater.

North of the lake, we continue to Holopaw (approaching Orlando) – only then do we see our first orange groves. We turn east, through cattle country to the beaches – then north to Daytona Beach. Here, for $56 we find a nice room on the beach.  With a lovely view of the sunrise, Susan is up early to see it’s multiple hues. Later that day, we take a short drive south along Daytona’s hard, sandy beach, just as we had done 45 years earlier!

Following Hwy. 1 along the coast, our final stop in Florida is St. Augustine, oldest city in the US, founded 1565. We enter the city near the Spanish-built Castillo de San Marcos, dating to 1672. It stands today as the oldest fort in the United States. The town is rich in early American history and a must-stop!

For more info: For Florida state parks like St. George Island, go to www.floridastateparks.org; for Everglades National Park, www.nps.gov/ever/; for St. Augustine, www.ci.st-augustine.fl.us/.

Next week we will continue our journey into the old South, arriving Fort McAllister State Park just southwest of Savannah, Georgia.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

 

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Traveling the US southern tier, Arizona to Louisiana, with frugal budget and teardrop trailer (Part 2)!

Author's spouse takes a break to read up on travel writing inside our teardrop trailer!

San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a beehive of activity as Texans and visitors celebrate the night scene!
Our teardrop trailer in front of the stately old Marfa, TX, courthouse, on way to Big Bend National Park.
Towering peaks surround Big Bend National Park, in southwest Texas.
This old plantation, framed by mossy oaks, is about 35 miles southwest of New Orleans.
St. Louis Cemetary, New Orlean’s oldest, features this five-coffin mausaleum, for the Young Ladies Association members!
Bourbon Street is very active at night, with young to old celebrating the city’s history and nightspots!

[Installment Two of Five] New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana/New Orleans

Can two retirees travel from California across the US southern tier, explore Florida and the old South towing a teardrop travel trailer and come home on a $2,000 budget?  My spouse and I think so; this is the second in a series about our adventures!  Our rig is a four-year old teardrop trailer, 4’ wide, 4’ tall and 8’ long, offering comfortable sleeping accommodations, drawing gawkers in campgrounds (“can you sleep in that little thing?”) and, towed by our small Ford, allowing 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

For us, it’s a voyage of discovery. We’ve never spent any time in New Mexico, not much in Texas, only a very brief visit for a convention in New Orleans and had never been to Alabama or Arkansas. We hadn’t been to Florida except for the two weeks prior to my entering the Army in 1970. We figured things probably have changed since then!

Hence, on day five, we head east out of Yuma on I-8, passing south of the Phoenix area (we visited last year, home to 15 major league baseball teams, where we saw the Cleveland Indians beat the San Francisco Giants; Cactus League games continue to end of March). We merge into I-10, continuing across an arid Arizona (we make a mental note to stop and explore the Tucson area on a future trip) and into new territory of New Mexico. 

Just off I-10 is New Mexico’s Rockhound State Park, named for the huge rocky landscape and rock hounds who explore nearby formations for noteworthy stones.  Soon we hit Las Cruces and turn south east into Texas, where we will soon leave the Interstate and head southeast on Texas Hwy. 90.

Texas: big skies, arid plains, lots of yucca and cactus and a long way between small towns – and, surprisingly, the mountains of western and southern Texas. I hadn’t planned on those peaks, including Guadalupe Mountains National Park just north of El Paso, the highest place in the state at 8,753 feet, and, traveling to the far southern portion of Texas, Big Bend National Park, on the Rio Grande, surrounded by peaks in the 6,000 foot range – stunning scenery.

Heading to the park we pass through Marfa; despite the town’s strained existence, it has a handsome old Courthouse and the historic Marfa Opera House, now the lightly used Palace Theater. And, quite the art scene, inspired by noted artist Donald Judd.  Though Judd died in 1994, two foundations continue his artistic legacy. 

Nearby is Prada Marfa, a permanent art installation by two Danish artists, located just off Highway 90 about 20 miles northwest of the town. It’s designed to look like a small, upscale Prada store, and was initially designed never to be repaired, so it might slowly molder away, back into the landscape. However, the plan was changed when, shortly after its completion in 2005, vandals stole handbags and shoes and graffitied the exterior.

We stop at the town’s only open restaurant, Dairy Queen, and chat with two young Border Patrol officers. They note that much of the town’s visitor attraction “comes from Big Bend National Park, further south, and the Prada installation”. They also note their jobs are some of the “best in the region”, and, “most border violators are merely dirt-poor Mexicans looking for a better life”.

Big Bend National Park offers stunning beauty amidst its mountains, gulches and dry arroyos. We camped at Cottonwood Campground, on the edge of the Rio Grande River. Road runners (fleet birds) scurry across the roads; leaving the park, we see one Javalina (like a wild pig).

Coming out of Big Bend, a string of dry, dusty and mostly abandoned towns dot eastbound Highway 90 –Marathon, Sanderson, Dryden, Del Rio, Hondo.  Blue sky in abundance, abandoned buildings from better days past, South and west Texas vast, rolling – and, bone dry. Just west of San Antonio, the land gets a bit more rain and we finally see trees!

San Antonio’s calling cards are The Alamo and the Riverwalk – two blocks apart and wonderful reasons to stop in this dynamic city. The fortress called the Alamo was originally the Mission San Antonio de Valero, founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1724 and closed in 1793. The siege and battle of 1836 saw the death of stalwart Texas fighters, contending against a much superior force led by Mexican General Santa Anna.  Today it’s known as the shrine of Texas freedom and a hallowed ground.  Six weeks after the Alamo defeat, Texans led by Sam Houston would defeat Santa Anna and his army at the Battle of San Jacinto, ending the revolution.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is a several mile stretch of the San Antonio River, about 20 steps below downtown, lined with shops, restaurants, taverns and night spots. It’s a hive of activity for young and old San Antonians and thousands of visitors; it was booming with revelers until we departed after a late dinner on the Riverwalk.

We pass through Houston – tall buildings, a bit more vegetation but no time to stop.  Surprisingly, despite about 800 miles on Texas back roads, we see little evidence of the oil industry. For us, we are now bound for Louisiana and New Orleans!

Rainfall and vegetation increase on the way to Louisiana, the state with endless swamps, bogs, bayous and tall trees. The cost of bridges and roads, all of them elevated over water, must be astronomical.

New Orleans appears out of the bayous: gritty, gray, levies holding back sea water. The huge Mercedes-Benz Astrodome seems incongruous, though a modern city rises around it.  Surrounding one side is the old French Quarter, preserving the town’s history and now a hot spot for 20-somethings; the Hurricane Katrina-flooded and derelict Ninth Ward adjoins it, seemingly unrepaired and uninspired.

Armed with a $59 coupon – we stop at a Super Eight, and the clerk notes “$99″, matter-of-factly; it’s late so we settle in for two nights. It’s a three story, interior courtyard hotel that could use a good cleaning and makeover. Floors in the bathroom sag – making one wonder about structural integrity. Figuring it won’t collapse while we’re there, we travel four miles back down the interstate to tour the French Quarter and the Ninth Ward (which had been flooded just years earlier by the devastating Hurricane Katrina).

We toured the oldest cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, dating back to 1789, including the “five coffin hi-rise” crypt for the Young Ladies Association, and the French Quarter. For lively entertainers and an active street scene, Bourbon Street cannot be topped. Later, we tour the Ninth Ward – it looks really beat up and abandoned – though locals tell us it wasn’t much to look at even before the hurricane!

The next day we head 35 miles southwest, touring the old plantations, finding friendly people staffing the grand old farms like Desthrehan Manor House, constructed between 1787-90, the Ormand Plantation, founded 1797, now a bed and breakfast and  the stately Towering Oaks, once a sugar cane and tobacco producer.

How to get there: We crossed New Mexico on Interstate 10, diverted down Hwy. 90 to get to Big Bend Park, and followed 90 to San Antonio, then back to I-10 to get to New Orleans. 

What’s nearby: All of these states have too much good stuff to list; take good maps or a GPS and you’ll find many diversions, depending upon your interests!

What to take: Good walking shoes, a good road atlans, binoculars and your camera!

For more info:  For New Mexico travel, www.newmexico.org; for Texas, wwwtraveltex.com; for Louisiana, www.louisianatravel.com; for Big Bend National Park, www.nps/gov/bibe/.  I also like scanning the New York Times web site, for travel features like “36 Hours in San Antonio”.

Next week, we continue into Florida for a week’s exploration of the Everglades, Key West, St. Augustine and points in-between.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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The Salton Sea and Imperial Dam on the Colorado River; working together to prevent future floods!

The huge de-silting ponds, below Imperial Dam on the Colorado River, designed to remove sediment from irrigation water that is fed by gravity into the Imperial Valley.

An abandoned home in Bombay Beach, caused when flood waters reached almost to the home’s ceilings.
Skeleton of luxury trailer home, mired in mud, at Bombay Beach Resort.
The floods of 1976 and 1977, trailer homes under water along former shores of Salton Sea.
The Great Flood of 1906, railroad tracks completely washed out between the filling Salton Sea and the raging Colorado River to the east.

Last week, my article featured our travels from California to Yuma, AZ, our quick visit to Salton Sea Beach, a derelict resort on the southwest end of Salton Sea, and our visit to the Imperial Dam and Desilting Works on the Colorado River.

Several readers asked about the connection of the Salton Sea to the Dams on the Colorado, so thought I would add further detail.  A year earlier, we had toured to the east side of the Salton Sea, and I researched the sad state of the “ghost resorts” we had seen on that side of this immense, land-locked lake.

We found Bombay Beach on the eastside of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach, a former resort community was almost completely destroyed by huge floods in 1976 and 1977.   Skeltons of houses, trailers, abandoned and ruined homes and restaurants located blocks inland from the current seafront makes for a very spooky, depressing visit.

In the late 1800s, the California Development Company built a canal to take water from the Colorado River to irrigate the desert region to the south of the Salton Sink (the Sink was much like Death Valley, 275 feet below sea level, dry, arid and almost no precipitation)  – this area would eventually become known as  the Imperial Valley.

By 1904 and 1905, the canal clogged with sediment; the CDC built a second canal, then a third. Later that year, with what would be determined to be an El Niño weather pattern, the desert Southwest experienced the most rainfall on record.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1906 as a result of a huge flood of the Colorado River – the entire volume of the River ripped down those silted irrigation canals and poured into the Salton Sink, unimpeded for over 18 months, forming a 25 x 35 mile inland ocean, 52 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level!

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, fish were introduced into the Sea and the advent of air conditioning brought big resorts to several of the Sea’s towns: Bombay Beach and others on the east shore, Salton Sea Beach on the west shore.

But then came the new floods.  Tropical storm Kathleen hit the Imperial Valley in 1976, quickly followed by Tropical storm Doreen in 1977.  With nowhere to go but into the Sea, sea levels rose dramatically, inundating these resorts and ruining the local economies.  By the 1980s, these towns were barely hanging on, property values collapsed and owners abandoned properties and left the area.

Today, modern-day ghost towns are the result; only a few hardy hangers-on remain.  The former hope to develop world-class lakeside resorts is just a distant memory!

Today, the Imperial Dam on the Colorado features huge de-silting ponds just below the dam.  The ponds allow the heavy silt of the Colorado to settle out, so that relatively clean water is then fed into the gravity canals that irrigate the vast Imperial Valley – thereby avoiding future silting challenges that once led to the 1970s man-made disaster.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 south, then I-210 east to I-10 past Palm Springs, south on CA Hwy. 86 to the Salton Sea, then east on I-8 to Yuma and Arizona.

What’s nearby:  To the north of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

What to take: Good walking shoes, binoculars and your camera!

For more info: Yuma Chamber of Commerce, 180 W. 1st Street, Yuma; 928.782.2567; yumachamber.org.

Next week, we continue across Arizona, Texas and to New Orleans.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling the US southern tier, California to Florida with frugal budget and teardrop trailer!

 

This new addition to the Palm Springs Art Museum is another reason to visit Palm Springs!

An abandoned trailer home in Salton Sea Beach, ruined when the lake overflowed and flooded all the resort towns in 1976/77.
These huge settling ponds remove sediment from Colorado River at Imperial Dam, before the cleaner water is sent to the Imperial Valley.
Army tank used in Gulf War graces the Yuma Proving Grounds.
Old car and ancient buildings grace the ghost town of Castle Dome, an old mine as well, oustide Yuma, AZ.
Our Ford Focus 5-speed tow vehicle, and our Scotty teardrop trailer, half-way down the San Joaquin Valley, bound for Palm Springs, eventually Florida and the “old South”.

[Installment One, CA to Arizona]

When you have been retired for two years, it doesn’t take much for my spouse and I to plan another vacation trip. When we discovered, some months ago, that my younger brother was renting a place in Naples, Florida for the month of February – we quickly decided that meant a road-trip to Florida and back!

Two summers ago, we traveled from California to Gettysburg, PA, purchased a teardrop travel trailer in W. Virginia, towed it all the way to Long Island, NY, and back to California. Hence, our rig, a four-year old teardrop trailer towed by our little Ford, offers comfortable sleeping accommodations, draws admirers in campgrounds and allows 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

This trip would mean considerable new territory. We’ve never spent any time in New Mexico, not much in Texas, only a very brief visit for a convention in New Orleans and had never been to Alabama or Arkansas. We hadn’t been in Florida except for the two weeks prior to entering the Army in 1970. We figured things probably have changed since then!

So, the idea hatched – could we spend a month on the road, with teardrop trailer, and keep total costs in the $2,000 range – including gas, motels, meals, campground fees and a few “luxury splurges” for fancy dinners, a couple of pricier tours and the like? I decided we could, with stops at friends in Yuma, my brother in Florida and friends in S. Carolina.  We also use our federal Senior pass for 1/2 off campsites and free admission to national parks, saving a tidy sum.

Planning on what to see and where to stay, we asked friends, and used the Facebook pages of the Tin Can Tourists and the National Serro Scotty Owners, posting “here is where we plan to go, what would you recommend?”  We received about 50 detailed recommendations on both campgrounds and visitor attractions along the US southern tier. We then planned our route with those in mind, and strategic locations like our friends and my brother, where we could catch-up and get a night or more of free lodging!

Hence, after several months of planning, greasing trailer bearings, stopping our paper, arranging for yard mowing and the like, off we went.

California to Arizona was the first leg of our journey, with stops in Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and Yuma, AZ. Our Yuma friends the Connollys acted as tour guides and hosts for a two night stay (another benefit)!

Heading south down Interstate 5, we past vast stands of almond and citrus trees, blooms of white and pink. We see many orchards uprooted, evidence of four years of drought. Then up over the Grapevine, into the LA area, then across to the east side of the Sierra, becoming ever more arid. In Palm Springs, we find a huge arts/auto show and big crowds enjoying an 85° day.

We had heard good things about the Palm Springs Art Museum, and wanted to visit the newly opened Architecture and Design Center – Edward Harris Pavilion, in a 1961 Santa Fe Federal Savings building in downtown Palm Springs. It’s a marvelous reuse of a building style so prevalent in many western downtowns, and we were delighted in a quick visit.

Turning south in the direction of Yuma, we encounter the vast Salton Sea. It’s the result of an environmental disaster 110 years ago, when a flooding Colorado River 100 miles away ripped down several old irrigation canals and flooded a Death Valley-like depression, 280 feet below sea level, filling it with an unnatural lake 35 miles long by 25 miles wide.

In 1976 and 1977, two El Nino winters swamped the lake; with no outlet, the lake level rose more than 10 feet and flooded towns and upscale resorts on both west and east lakesides, ruining the resorts and forcing thousands of home-owners and trailer-dwellers to abandon their habitats.

Turning south down CA Hwy. 86, we pass innumerable dry washes crossing the desert: Iberia, Campbell, Minor, Trifolium, Willow Ditch, cutting through the bone dry Imperial Valley. We turn just blocks off the highway to tour what remains of dusty Salton Sea Beach, with block after block of formerly flooded, now abandoned, homes, trailers and businesses. 

As we head further south into the Imperial Valley, irrigated acreage increases, including vast date palm orchards. “Date shakes in Westmoreland, Medjool dates”, signs announce. We now turn east on I-8, headed to desert-dry Yuma.

Our Yuma pals know my interest in the Salton Sea, large-scale irrigation and California’s growing drought, so they toured us to the Imperial Dam and Desilting Works, spanning the Colorado River 18 miles northeast of Yuma, AZ. The purpose of the dam is to raise the water surface 25 feet and provide water to the All-American and Gila Canals. The desilting works remove most the sediment carried by the Colorado River to prevent clogging of the canals (a problem that led, 110 years ago, to the Salton Sea disaster).

The Colorado water then heads into California’s vast Imperial Valley, where many of our winter vegetables are grown. What then remains of the mighty river flows meekly into neighboring Mexico, having given 95%of its water to US applications.

Nearby is the Yuma Proving Grounds where the US Army tests its war machines in harsh desert environment.  Displays of the US’s mighty arsenal include a Sherman tank, made April, 1944 and a World War II veteran; an armored personnel carrier used extensively in Vietnam; an M60 main battle tank used during the Cold War and Desert Storm; and an M103 combat tank, at 120,000 pounds, the “monster of the midway”!

Yuma offers other interesting diversions, including the old Castle Dome ghost town and mines, 20 miles northeast of town, the Yuma Territorial Prison on the Colorado River, and a quaint, walkable town across the nearby Mexican border, Algadones (take your passports!).

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 south, then I-210 east to I-10 past Palm Springs, south on CA Hwy. 86, then east on I-8 to Yuma and Arizona.

What’s nearby:  To the north of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

What to take: Good walking shoes, binoculars and your camera!

For more info: Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs; 760.322.4800, psmuseum.org; Yuma Chamber of Commerce, 180 W. 1st Street, Yuma; 928.782.2567; yumachamber.org. 

Next week, we continue across Arizona, Texas and to New Orleans.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Stockton Ship-building; USS Lucid, Colberg and Stephens Boat Builders, Stockton Historical Maritime Museuml

 

The USS Lucid, looking forward from the rear deck.

Volunteers Pyle on left, and Ladd, on right, take a break on the Lucid.
USS Lucid, at docks on Stockton’s Deepwater Channel, awaiting repairs.
USS Lucid, showing “before and after” refinishing work done recently.
USS Engage, built in Stockton and sister-ship to Lucid, underway in 1983.

Long-time residents of San Joaquin County will know some of Stockton’s lore as a major ship builder, of both river-going and ocean-going craft.  Newer residents may not know the history; a recently arrived Korean War-era minesweeper and the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum aim to change all that!

When heading west out Monte Diablo in Stockton, sharp eyes will see on the Stockton Deepwater Channel a gray, formerly-formidable United States Navy minesweeper, undergoing repair and refinishing. It’s located just southeast of Louis Park, and a project of the Maritime Museum.

The USS Lucid, MSO 458, built in New Orleans in 1953, is a match to three minesweepers built in the heyday of Stockton shipbuilding by Colberg Boat Works. Each ship was 172 feet in length, had a 36 foot beam, displaced 620 tons and drew only 10 feet of water (designed to operate in rivers, as well as deep ocean).

A friend and I received a riveting in-depth tour of the USS Lucid, narrated by John Van Huystee, instructor and sole employee of the Maritime Museum.

Van Huystee noted “a cadre of volunteers and students are at work on the Lucid, including students of the San Joaquin County Office of Education ‘Building Futures Academy’, also involved in Habitat for Humanity projects. Students can earn minimum wage for their work, while learning a skilled trade. We also use a large crew of regular and occasional volunteers to bring this historic fighting ship back to life.”.

Colberg Boat Works began operations in the late 1890s and survived into the early 1990s. The company was located just east of Stephens Brothers Boat Works, at 848 West Fremont St. In its day, Colberg built several score of ships for the US Army and Navy, including minesweepers, launches, rescue ships, tugs and sub chasers.

Neighboring Stephens Brothers prospered during the same times, building a variety of ships for the US military, and some of the finest sailboats, speedboats and private yachts in the US – many still in existence. One of Stephen’s finest, a 26 foot runabout, is on display at the Haggen Museum.

101 minesweepers were built like the Lucid, designed to contend with Russian magnetic mines used during the Korean and Vietnam war years. 70 were built for the United States, 30 for our allies. Of the 70 ships built for the US, the Lucid is the single remaining ship.

The Lucid’s “twins” built in Stockton were all built in the 1950s at Colberg Board Works; they were the USS Dynamic, MSO 432 (sold to Spain in 1974, struck in 1998), USS Embattle, MSO 434 (scrapped in 1993) and the USS Engage, MSO 433.(scrapped in 2002).

The new Russian magnetic mines could be programmed to go after the fifth ship in a convoy – often an aircraft carrier, fifth in place behind four destroyers. The Lucid had a quarter-mile long copper cable, which could be trailed behind the ship and used to trigger magnetic mines. The ships also contended against other mines such as pressure-activated and contact mines.

The Lucid was built entirely with oak and fir, for the hull and entire superstructure. For all components that would normally be steel, non-steel fittings were used. A stainless steel smoke stack graced the super-structure, and bronze and brass fittings held wood hull pieces in place – nothing of steel was used that could trigger mines.

The Lucid is a “mine sweeper ocean”-version (MSO), and an “aggressive class” ship, which carried a 40 mm cannon and 50 caliber machine guns. It was decommissioned in 1976, acquired by private parties which used it as a  houseboat, dental office and more.

It’s 5 inch thick oak hull (“still solid, no leaks”, added John) was powered by four V-12 Packard aluminum block engines, and could cruise at 15 knots when fully loaded, carrying a 75 man crew.

“Renovation, originally thought to be a five-year project, is already into its fifth year – with several more years to go”, Van Huystee noted, adding “we’re eager to accept new volunteers; one can start by touring the ship and ascertaining our needs and your interest!”.

During the ship’s time in the US Navy, eight captains served. The Lucid was equipped to search for magnetic, pressure and contact mines off the shores of Vietnam; Lucid would work with a cadre of four other ships to plot and blow-up the mines in place.

Each month, on the second and fourth Saturdays, the public is invited to participate in work parties, running from 8 AM to 3 PM. Check the Lucid’s Facebook page and the Maritime Museum’s website for updates.  Also, make a stop at the Haggin Museum, to see the pristine Stephens runabout, and to take in history of both Colberg and Stephens Boat Works!

How to get there: From Stockton, go west on Monte Diablo a mile west of I-5, and watch for the USS Lucid on the Deepwater Channel across from the Louis Park softball fields.

What’s nearby:  Just two miles east on Monte Diablo, you will find the Haggin Museum in the center of Victory Park.
What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

For more info on the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum, see: http://stocktonhistoricalmaritimemuseum.org/, to volunteer for a 2nd or 4th Saturday work day, or for a ship’s tour, contact John Van Huystee, vanhuystee@sbcglobal.net, or phone 209.518.6667.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Tower Cafe and Tower Theater are favorite Sacramento destinations!

 

The eclectic interior of the Tower Cafe; the grotto outside also a favorite place on nice days!

The Tower Theater, looking to the west from Land Park Drive.
Sacramento is a bikable city, and Tower Theater and Cafe offers plenty of spots to lock up your bikes!
The Tower Theater opened in the 1930s, one of the finest Art Deco theaters on the West Coast. Zamm’s Candy was to the left, Tower Drugs (now site of Tower Cafe) to the right.

In an earlier post we noted that the Midtown area of Sacramento offers some of our favorite Capital City destinations.  J and K streets, from about 15th through 30th Streets, offer a wealth of cute shops, restaurants and nightspots. The area features many fine restaurants, from Waterboy, Biba’s, Paragary’s and more.  The Old Spaghetti Factory, in the old Union Pacific Railroad station, is like dining in a museum. For a more daring dining option, try Ricks Dessert Diner, 2401 J St., offering some of the most tempting dessert choices you’ll find anywhere!

Arguably, our most unique and delicious find is the Tower Café in the art deco Tower Theater complex.

It is about 12 blocks south from the main Midtown area, part of the old Tower Theater complex, corner of Broadway and Land Park Drive. The theater runs an ongoing series of noteworthy films and art flicks, many of which don’t show in San Joaquin County. The Tower complex opened in the 1930s, with Zamm’s Candy store on the south, and Tower Drugs on the north portion of the complex. Tower Café occupies the space of the former drug store.

The Tower Café has long been one of our top dining spots, offering outdoor dining in a shady grotto virtually removed from the city’s hustle and bustle; the restaurant’s eclectic interior décor adds to the eatery’s special allure.  They offer a creative set of menu choices and we’ve never been disappointed in both food and ambiance! 

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, go east on US Hwy. 50, take the 16th Street exit, go right, then left on Broadway one block to the Café and Theater.

What’s nearby:  Just to the north a dozen blocks, Sacramento’s revitalized downtown and midtown areas.

What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

Where to stay: Overnight lodging is available in Old Sacramento on the Delta King and the nearby Embassy Suites (beside the historic Tower Bridge).  Other nearby motels and hotels can be found throughout downtown Sacramento.

For more info on downtown and midtown Sacramento in-spots: Tower Café, www.towercafe.com, 1518 Broadway, 916.441.0222; Tower Theater, www.towertheater.com, 2508 Land Park Drive, 916.442.0985; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, 980 9th Street, (916) 442-8575, www.downtownsac.org;  Sacramento Midtown Business Association, 919. 20th Street, (916) 442-1500, www.mbasac.com; Old Sacramento Business Association, 980 9th Street, Suite 400, (916) 442-8575,  info@oldsacramento.com. Check the web site or pick up a copy of Sacramento News and Review, a lively arts guide to what’s going on (www.newsreview.com). 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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    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
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