Stockton and San Joaquin County “must sees” for visitors and residents…

Updating your local travel “bucket list”!

A few weeks ago, I postulated on “must visits” in Stockton and San Joaquin County for kids out on summer break.

Since that article appeared, a number of folks have asked what would be on an “adult bucket list” for our city and county? In other words, the places you’d take guests to, while visiting, or, the places you shouldn’t miss if you really want to discover the heart and soul of our community.

The stately Haggin Museum, with regional and city history and world-class art collection, anchors Victory Park.

I put out the call, via email and phone, to about 30 friends, city leaders and tourism experts. In most cases, their suggestions matched up to mine. And, a couple gems make the list I hadn’t thought of. So, here we go, suggestions from my wife and me, and additions from local friends in the know:

Stockton's Children's Museum is guarded by huge toy soldiers.

The most frequently mentioned places were the Haggin Museum, historic downtown Stockton and its waterfront and (for kids), the Children’s Museum and Pixie Woods. Notes veteran Stocktonian and author Sharon Nordstrom, “The Haggin Museum is a precious gem with educational and delightful exhibits.  Pixie Woods has to be one of the most charming play lands in all of California”. I would add the Haggin is a great place to start for local Native American history, Stockton’s early pioneer and agricultural history and additionally features a world-class art museum.

Downtown Stockton historic walking tours, including the interior of the 1910 Hotel Stockton, are organized by the Downtown Stockton Alliance.

Several suggested touring downtown Stockton, for learning downtown history, attending events and shows and dining at local eateries. Ben Saffold, Stockton marketing manager, and Marilyn Togninali, head of Friends of the Fox Theater, both made that suggestion. The Downtown Stockton Alliance hosts regular historic walking tours, and they can be made by reservation.

Marilyn adds, “classic movies at the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre include a tour of the venerable movie palace – one of the last great theaters remaining in the San Joaquin Valley”. And both suggest dining out before or after your downtown visit, at locale institutions like Cancun, Casa Flores, On Lock Sam or Angelinas.

University of Pacific's campus is anchored by the DeRosa University Center; it's just 100' off the Calaveras Bike Trail, for mixing a campus bike tour and river bike ride!

Mike Klocke, Record editor, suggests exploration of the University of Pacific campus. Mike notes, “I’ve visited college campuses all over the country, and Pacific has what I would call ‘compact beauty’. Lovely to walk and small enough you can see a lot in a short time”. The Ivy League-like campus has been the location of some 70 movies and TV shows.

UOP is also bordered by the Calaveras River Bike Trail, for a walking or bicycle tour of both the campus and the Delta, with the trail heading west out to Buckley Cove on the San Joaquin River.

Stockton is rich in the arts (Stockton Civic Theater, Stockton Symphony, UOP and San Joaquin Delta College theater, events and shows at the Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena), deep in ethnic, local food at special places like Casa Flores or Cancun for Mexican, On Lock Sam and Dave Wong’s (Chinese), Siamese Street (Thai), Saigon (Vietnamese), CoCoRo (Japanese) and hundreds more. And don’t miss the growing vibe on Miracle Mile, with Mile Wine, the Ave, Centrale, the Abbey, Valley Brew and more.

The Stockton Ports baseball team plays on the water at the modern Stockton Ball Park on the historic Banner Island site.

Sports on the waterfront includes Stockton Ports baseball or Stockton Heat hockey, while UOP and San Joaquin Delta College offer a host of sporting events in the college game; local festivals at Weber Point Event Center, San Joaquin Fairgrounds and other venues offer lasting memories ( has a full calendar).

Many friends recommend the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, with our city and county bordered by many of the thousand miles of waterways of this spectacular natural attraction. Nearby access to the Delta includes the Downtown Deepwater Channel and the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade and, just west, the Port of Stockton.

Include Delta dining for a fun outing, with scenic meals served at Nena’s in the downtown Waterfront Warehouse (formerly the historic Sperry Flour Mill), Garlic Brothers or Bob’s at the Marina (the latter two nestled beside Village West Marina at west end of Ben Holt Drive).

The historic Ryde Hotel, a former speak-easy, hugs the banks of the Sacramento River and can be part of a Delta auto tour!

The Delta offers boating, fishing and auto touring to destinations like the lovely Delta Loop (go west on Hwy. 12), and unique nearby Delta towns like Walnut Grove, Locke and Rio Vista. On your tour, seek out a score of historic draw-bridges, the historic Ryde Hotel and the route that offers two free auto ferries across bucolic waterways bordered by Valley Oaks and Delta vineyards.

Nearby communities have to make our list. The Lodi – Woodbridge wine grape appellation, with 80+ wineries; downtown Lodi, with the World of Wonders Science Museum, almost a score of wine-tasting rooms and charming restaurants makes for a marvelous small town ambiance. Nearby Micke Grove Park may be the county’s most underrated gem, with the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, Micke Grove Zoo, Japanese Gardens and more. In south county, don’t discount the Tracy Grand Theater, Manteca murals and Dos Reis Regional Park as reasons to look southward.

The Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple is most intriguing (photo courtesy of Visit Stockton).

And for arguabley the “most unique attraction”, the Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple has to be one of the most unique cultural places to visit in all of California!

For more information: Haggin Museum,; Children’s Museum,; Pixie Woods,; Downtown Stockton Alliance,; Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre,;
University of Pacific,; Calaveras River Bike Trail,; Stockton Civic Theater,; Stockton Symphony,; San Joaquin Delta College,; Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena shows,; Miracle Mile,; Stockton Ports baseball,; Stockton Heat hockey,; Visit Stockton,; San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta,; Delta Loop,; Lodi – Woodbridge Winegrape Commission,; Visit Lodi,; World of Wonders Science Museum,; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum,; Micke Grove Zoo,; Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple,

A Delta sunset dinner is just the way to end a day of touring Stockton; photo taken from Garlic Brothers Restaurant outdoor deck on the Delta.

What special places did I miss? Email me and I’ll mention in my Record blog; contact me at; read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Happy travels in the west!



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Exploring the East Bay; the ghosts of old coal miners haunt Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve north of Mt. Diablo

Ghosts of old coal miners haunt the East Bay foothills!

Somersville town site and Markley Canyon from Rose Hill Cemetery (look closely, see tailings from old coal mines).

From the 1850s to early 1900s, the largest coal mining area in California was the Black Diamond Mines District just northeast of Mount Diablo. The almost 4 million tons of coal (“black diamonds”) were the product of over 900 miners, many of them immigrants from Wales. These black diamonds fueled  power plant boilers, Delta steamships, railroad locomotives and warmed houses in winter.

It’s a beautiful regional park, only 45 miles and about an hour and 10 minutes from Stockton. A lovely drive, a good hike (or bike) and loads of historical perspective await, located just northeast of Mt. Diablo and south of Antioch. The area was once home to three Bay-area Miwok-speaking tribes. With the arrival of Spanish, Mexican and American settlers in the early 1700s, the Miwuk lifestyles were dramatically altered.

Old coal-mining ore car is hidden in weeks, just off Nortonville Road Trail.

Coal was discovered in the 1850s and kept over 900 miners busy for 50 years. Towns including Somersville, Nortonville, Stewartville and two more blossomed in the district, home to miners, their families, merchants and saloon-keepers. At the peak of operations in the late 1870s, the coalfield’s population was the epicenter of Contra Costa County.

Scores of mines were tunneled into the Contra Costa foothills, with miners digging shafts into the hills, yielding tailings (waste rock piles) still visible from miles away. The Pittsburgh Railroad serviced the mining district, taking coal to Pittsburgh docks where it could be shipped to San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton.

Due to rising production costs and new energy sources such as oil, the coal mines ceased operations in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, sand mining began in the district, supporting the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company in Oakland and foundry sand for the Columbia Steel Works in Pittsburgh.

Rose Hill Cemetery, high in Contra Costa foothills, contains burial plots of over 230 miners and their family members.

We visited early on a sunny morning recently, after a scenic trip across the Delta. During summer, start early for it can get very hot by noon!

Beside the preserve’s parking lot are the remnants of the Independent Mine shaft. A large depression marks the site of a 700 foot sealed shaft and a boiler explosion in 1873 which killed two men and scattered boiler parts more than a quarter mile.

We could look high up the hills and see the Rose Hill Cemetery overlooking Markley Canyon. We grabbed a map from the visitor’s kiosk, and begin the roughly half-mile, uphill hike, past the old Somersville town site and several tailing piles from old mines to the cemetery.

Rose Hill was a Protestant cemetery and burial ground for many of the Welsh immigrants. Here lie over 230 burial plots, of children who died of epidemics (smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid), men who died in mining disasters and women who perished in childbirth. Only 80 gravestones remain today, the result of vandalism or others that were wood and lost in fires; some gravesites were not marked.

Old mining machinery line the preserve's access road.

The gravesites carry eerie history, like plot 46, the grave of William Gething.  He died aged 36 in a Black Diamond Mine explosion in 1876, killing him and nine others – seven of the men are buried nearby. Nearby, plot 6, is the grave of Sarah Norton, wife of Noah Norton for whom the town of Nortonville was named. Sarah was a midwife who delivered over 600 babies; at age 68, in route to a birth in nearby Clayton, she was thrown from a buggy and killed instantly.

Another half-mile past the cemetery is the Nortonville town site, though neither Somersville nor Nortonville retain any of their buildings, with many dismantled when the towns were abandoned and others lost to fire. If one stops along the Nortonville trail and gazes over the cemetery, tailings and town site, you can almost hear the voices of miners and their families whispering in the trees.

Back in the valley, fairly short and relatively level hikes take you to the Greathouse Portal, which houses the visitor center within the old sand mine. Nearby is the Eureka Slope, an incline shaft entrance to the Eureka coal mine which produced 150,000 tons of coal out of a steeply inclined shaft descending 300 feet.

Preserve docent and friend await a grade school class to tour the Hazel-Atlas Portal into the old sand mine.

We walked to the Hazel Atlas Portal, another sand mine that operated until the 1940s. We chatted with a preserve docent, who was awaiting a first grade class to tour the shaft, which tunnels horizontally into the hillside for more than a quarter-mile. Tunnel tours are offered on the weekends, by reservation (bring a flashlight and jacket, the old mines maintain a temperature in the high 50s within their confines).

The preserve offers about 60 miles of trails traversing grassland, foothills, woodlands, evergreen forest and exotic plantings of the miners including pepper trees, almond, eucalyptus and black locust. The trails are ideal for hiking, biking or horseback riding (the park offers two backpack campsites).  Take your binoculars and keep a watchful eye for rabbits, deer, raccoons, skunks and occasional bobcat, fox, coyote and mountain lion sightings. Over 100 species of birds make the area home, including rare golden eagles. Mt. Diablo State Park is just miles south, but that trip is for another day!

How to get there: Take Highway 4 west through the Delta, to Summersville Road exit in Antioch. Go south on Somersville to the preserve entrance.

For more information: East Bay Regional Park District,, (888) 327–2757.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

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Stockton, San Joaquin summer-time destinations for the kids

Get the kids out of the house and into summer adventure!

OK, your kids are just weeks into summer vacation, and, they are B-O-R-E-D! What to do…? Let them scan this list of kid’s favorites, polish their own list and get them out of the house and into the community’s wonderful attractions!

Here’s a running start, based on experience of three grandkids and tips from other kids and parents:

The Water Fountain at Weber Point always draws big crowd of kids to its cooling waters!

Downtown Stockton: the downtown Stockton waterfront from the Ports Ballpark and Stockton Arena on the north channel-side to Weber Point, the Cineplex/Hotel Stockton at the head of the Channel out to the Children’s Museum and Morelli Park on south channel, it’s the heart and soul of Stockton.  Once the Gold Rush port to the Mother Lode, it brought miners, merchants and helped build an agricultural empire second to no other in the US.

Start your tour near Weber Point, where the outline of Captain Weber’s home rests on the southwest side of the park (and, dip a toe in the Weber Point Interactive Water Fountain). Walk the Joan Darrah Promenade, rent a kayak at the Stockton Marina, and take in a Stockton Ports baseball game or an event at Stockton Arena.  For more info,

Stockton’s Children’s Museum, Pixie Woods, Haggin Museum: Mark both the Children’s Museum in downtown Stockton and Pixie Woods at Lewis Park as places for fun for kids of all ages.

Author's grandson Jack enjoys driving a Regional Transit bus at the Children's Museum.

The Children’s Museum ( lets the kids play on a fire engine, fly a helicopter, prowl in a police car and discover so much about the world they reside in.  At Pixie Woods (, take a boat ride on the Pixie Queen Paddle wheel steamer, ride the rails on the Pixie Express Train or join scores of families on the carousel.

Pack a picnic for Victory Park and take in the stately Haggin Museum (, one of the west coast’s prime museums and art collections and has anchored Victory Park for 83 years.  Second Saturdays offer up special programming for families with kids.  The museum focuses on the city’s history from Native Americans, the Miwuk and Yokuts, city founder Captain Weber, to more modern leaders like Benjamin Holt (inventor of the Caterpiller-type tractor), Tillie Lewis (the “Tomato Queen”), and Stephens Brothers wood boat builders.

Among its art collections are scores of paintings by 19th and 20th century American and European artists, and breathtaking panoramas of the Yosemite Valley.  Ongoing special showings of art make the Haggin experience one that varies by the month.

Jack builds a miniture city at World of Wonders Science Museum in downtown Lodi.

Lodi’s downtown: Movies at the new Cineplex, nearby World of Wonders Science Museum and a quintessential small-town vibe make Lodi a place to stroll and enjoy a summer’s day. The World of Wonders Science Museum ( is a hands-on activities center for kids and adults. Located in historic downtown Lodi, the museum offers hands on, creative science exhibits to energize and amaze the minds of all ages.

Check the special events option on the museum’s website, including the Maker Fest, July 30, with toy dissections, Artwork Alley, Crafting Corner, Kid’s Construction Zone and more fun. Other specials include Free Fridays (bring a friend on the last Friday each month, and your friend gets in free). The museum is located near the Cineplex, at 2 N. Sacramento Street.

Micke Grove Park with the Zoo, San Joaquin Historical Museum and Japanese Gardens: This is one of our county’s undiscovered gems, a huge park set amidst towering Valley Oaks that contains the Zoo, Japanese Gardens and the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum.  History comes alive at the San Joaquin Historical Museum( With nine large exhibit buildings packed with Native American, pioneer, Gold Rush and agricultural history, and four historic buildings including the Charles Weber Cottage dating to 1847 and the Calaveras School, 1866, it’s one of the state’s best historical museums. And, weekends through end of August, kids can pet farm animals a’plenty at the Critter Corral!

Kids get a kick out of antique farm truck loaded with produce packing crates at the San Joaquin Historical Museum.

Within the large park you’ll also find the stunning Japanese Gardens, the Fun Town Amusement Park and the Micke Grove Zoo (, surrounded by lots of picnic areas placed amongst the oaks. Special Zoo events include Zoomaginations, July 11-15 and Wild Water Play Days, July 18-22. Pack a picnic lunch; the park offers so many options in addition to the zoo and museum, you’ll spend a long day.

Hiking, Biking: Pull out those walking shoes or dust off the bikes and head for places like the Calaveras River Bike Trail, with neighboring University of Pacific campus, makes for a great place to start either a walk or ride.  From UOP, one can walk or pedal to the Miracle Mile or the Haggin Museum through wide, shady residential streets.  Explore the Delta, accessing it at the west end of Hammer Lane or the Cosumnes River Preserve ( north of Thornton. Make sure someone packs a plastic bag; blackberries are thick along delta waterways and make for tasty pancakes the following morning!

Author's grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack, hiking on the Delta's Shima Tract.

Explore the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta: Take Highway 12 west out of Lodi, and tour the Delta Loop, just past Bouldin Island, or Eight Mile Road west to tour Delta waterways and several busy marinas. Or, follow Hwy. 4 west (extension of Charter Way in south Stockton).  Explore Delta back roads, count how many historic draw bridges you cross, and watch the varied agricultural bounty, as well as boats or big ships all along the way.

Cultural celebrations: Throughout the summer, our city and county offers up scores of fun celebrations of our cultures and many ethnicities, including Lincoln Center Live, July 15 and August 19, Taste of the Delta at varied Delta locations, July 30, the Stockton Obon Festival, August 6, 7 at the Stockton Buddhist Temple, Stockton Con, August 20, 21, Reggae on the Delta, August 27 and many more.

While you are enjoying local entertainment, don’t overlook Wednesday night free concerts in Victory Park through end of August, the monthly free movies at Weber Point and classic films presented monthly at the Bob Hope/Fox CA Theatre. Go to for a list of community events.

Stockton's downtown waterfront is a great place to walk or bike! Take in a movie, see a Stockton Ports game, too!



Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

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American the Beautiful senior pass: the best deal in camping and touring in National Parks and other federal attractions

I just got lucky and scored a campsite for two nights at lovely Pinecrest Lake up Hwy. 108, 25 miles east of Sonora.  The on-line reservation asked for my federal senior pass number, which I typed in.  I had forgotten this was a Forest Service campground – and with the 50% discount, we scored two nights for only $25!

Pinecrest Lake on Hwy. 108 above Sonora, lovely in summer with several pretty Forest Service campgrounds nearby!


If you are 62 or older, get the America the Beautiful federal senior pass, just $10 for life, offering you free entry into National Parks like Yosemite and Pinnacles and half-off most federal campgrounds!

America the Beautiful senior pass, deal of a lifetime!

America the Beautiful senior pass: They are available for in person purchase at the entrance to national parks and many national monuments, the America the beautiful senior pass, for those 62 and older, is the best deal in travel.

The pass gains you free admission into national parks, national monuments and other federal facilities. It saves you half price on most National Park, Forest Service, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management and other federal campgrounds. And, get 1/2 off admission charges to many attractions (such as the caves and much more) in some of our national parks.

Between national park admission fees, and half-off on campgrounds – we probably have saved $1500 in the last 3+ years. I just booked the campground at Pinecrest Lake, forgetting it was in the national forest and had to pay only $25 for two nights, a lovely place and only a short walk to the pretty lake.

In person they cost $10 – for life – online you pay $20, again a pass for life. Here is the detail from the National Park Service web site:

1.   You can buy a Senior Pass in person from a participating Federal recreation site or office. See Site Locations that issue the Senior Pass.

2.   You can buy a Senior Pass using the USGS online store. Applicants must fill out the Online Application and upload proof of residency and age. This may be done by photographing your document and uploading it to the order. You will need to provide a credit card payment of $20.00 ($10.00 fee for the Senior Pass, and an additional $10.00 document processing fee). Once the documentation is verified and payment is received, a pass, with the pass owner’s name pre-printed on it, will be issued to the applicant. If you cannot order a Senior pass online, you can submit a Paper Application by mail to the USGS using the paper application and enclosing the same documents and $20 fee.

Online Senior Pass applications are processed and shipped within 3-5 business days from the day they arrive at USGS. Transit time varies, and is dependent upon the service selected:

• USPS – typically 5-10 business days
• FedEx Ground – typically 3-5 business days
• FedEx 2nd day – typically 2 business days
• FedEx Overnight – typically 1 business day

If you need your pass within 15 days or less,  it is recommended that you either obtain your pass at the first site you visit, or request expedited shipping services for your order.

3.   What is the Senior Pass?

A $10.00 lifetime pass that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies, with up to 100% of the proceeds being used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services.

For more information: The America the Beautiful federal senior pass, see above; purchase in person at entrances to our national parks, or purchase on-line at: the Online Application; for more info on the National Park Service Centennial,

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

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Enjoy Lake Tahoe in summer and avoid the crowds…find hidden corners of the lake!

Beat Lake Tahoe’s summer crowds; focus on quiet places along Tahoe’s south and southwestern shore…

Lupine frames Mount Tallac, off Hwy. 89 north of South Lake Tahoe.

Sure, Lake Tahoe can be jammed by tourists in summer months. But, you can still find quiet, secluded places near the lake, hang out for three or four days and mostly avoid the warm-weather crowds. We’re on a budget, so camping was our answer to keeping expenses down. Here’s our latest adventure.

Campgrounds abound, including Forest Service and state parks. Fallen Leaf Lake is our favorite, just off Lake Tahoe on an almost equally impressive Fallen Leaf Lake. A Forest Service campground, the federal America the Beautiful senior pass (just $10, age 62 and up), cuts the price in half, just $16.50/night.  It’s a forested, spacious campground, with 200+ sites, with nice shower facilities and a bike trail to the Lake Tahoe shore.

Pick up a map of hiking/biking trails from the Forest Service Supervisors Office in South Tahoe. We started with a fairly easy hike, right out of the south end of Fallen Leaf lake campground, the Moraine Trail, which winds along the edge of Fallen Leaf. It’s a forested, shady trail, easy – along our trek, a coyote followed us for 100 meters through a thick forest swale.

Another option is the paved bike trail that heads north out of the campground towards Lake Tahoe and interconnects with the bike trail following the lake’s shore along the Tallac Historic District.

Eagle Creek thunders down towards Emerald Bay, just off Hwy. 89. One can hike up the creek to pretty Eagle Lake.

The next day we departed early and drove north on Highway 89 to Emerald Bay, parked and hiked up the Eagle Creek Trail to Eagle Falls, thundering with snow melt. It’s only about 1/2 mile to the spectacular falls, though fairly steep; the trail continues on to Eagle Lake, scenic and very pretty with snow remaining on high.

Or final trek was the toughest, a portion of the Mount Tallac Trail. From South Lake Tahoe, looking north, Tallac is the broad peak, 9700 feet, still thick with snow above 8500 feet. The trail, in its entirety, is 9.5 miles and climbs 3100 vertical feet. We began at the trailhead, about a mile and a half off highway 89, and quickly started up.

Snow plant brightens the Mount Tallac Trail heading up towards remaining snow fields.

Our hike led us up a long, steady slope on an exposed breezy ridge, with views of both Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. Plenty of wildflowers, from crimson-red snow plant, purple Lupine and Indian paintbrush enlivened the trail. As we got closer to Mt. Tallac’s snowfields, the views became even more dramatic. The thinning air and our relative lack of fitness precluded continuing on – but even this portion of the trail ranked high in our hiking experiences.

Tahoe is laced with dedicated bike and hiking trails, throughout South Lake Tahoe, just north heading up Highway 89, further north along 89 starting at Homewood and along both the Truckee River and Tahoe’s north shore. Hardy cyclists can tackle the entire 72 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, though it has its share of narrow, twisty turns and several steep vertical climbs -  not for the faint of heart.

The beach adjoining the Tallac Historic District looks north to Baldwin Beach, with Mount Tallac looming in the background.

Tahoe lakefront options, for sunny beaches, hiking or cycling, are rich, indeed.  Camp Richardson is a favorite stop, with historic hotel, cabins, store, ice cream shop, bike rental and a lovely beach. Part of that beachfront scene is the Beacon Restaurant – dine on the beach, have a drink and sample the fish and chips. Later in the summer, music Wednesday through Sunday on their deck makes for an even more fun vibe.

Just north of Camp Richardson is the Tallac Historic District. Stop at the Forest Service Visitor Center, get details on these three historic former luxury waterfront estates, the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla. Then walk the paved trail to view what life was like for Tahoe’s glitterati in the 1920s and 30s. Here you can also walk to the sandy beach for incredible lake views.

Further north on Hwy. 89 is Emerald Bay, perhaps the most photographed place on the lake. On the bay is the lovely Vikingsholm estate, built in 1929. A steep hike down to the bay allows tours of the old mansion and close-up views of this highly-visited portion of the lake. Eagle Creek thunders into the bay nearby, heavy with snow-melt.

Wildflowers frame Lake Tahoe in distance, and Fallen Leaf Lake, right, from trail up to Mount Tallac.

We usually breakfast at our campsite, and occasionally pack a lunch for our daily tours. For dining out, our favorite restaurants in this part of Tahoe include The Beacon and Lakeside Beach House and Artemis Lakefront Café in South Lake Tahoe. Though we didn’t get up to Tahoe City, our favorite breakfast place in the entire Tahoe area is Rosie’s – try it!

A variety of upcoming Tahoe events make for good reasons to pick travel in the next several months. Truckee Thursdays run every Thursday evening, June 9 to August 18 with a beer garden, live music, farmers market and craft vendors. Information, The Valhalla Art, Music and Theater Festival kicks off June 22 and concludes August 31 with a variety of music, art and theater. Information,

Music on the beach can be found at the South Shores Lakeview Commons on Thursday evenings; Kings Beach offers free music on Fridays and Tahoe City’s concerts at Commons Beach take place on Sundays through much of the summer. Harveys in South Tahoe offers big shows and concerts at their Outdoor Arena, information,

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in its 44th season features two mainstage productions, “The Comedy of Errors”, and “Forever Plaid” at Sand Harbor State Park. Information, Tickets start at $15 and offer classy plays right on Tahoe’s magnificent shore.

Tahoe Queen and MS Dixie II prepare for scenic cruises of the lake from Zephyr Cove. Midday, sunset and dinner cruises are options for this delightful tour of the azure lake.

A variety of higher-priced options abound, from ziplines, renting jet skis, SUPs, boats, golf and taking in big acts at the casinos. If you haven’t taken a Tahoe paddlewheel excursion, consider taking the several hour cruise on the MS Dixie II or Tahoe Queen out of Zephyr Cove on the Nevada south shore.

Heavenly Valley’s new Epic Discovery Summer Adventure Park debuts, promising lively activities like Alpine coaster, ziplines, canopy tour, rock climbing, ropes courses, 4×4 expeditions and interactive learning stations. Check it out at ski

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

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“Fat tire” mountain biking in and around Stockton and San Joaquin County

Wondering where you could ride your mountain bike in or nearby the Stockton/San Joaquin County area, and go beyond where road bikes with their skinny tires can go? So was I; here are suggestions from local bikers, from Facebook friends and from me:

You never know who you might meet on a mountain bike!

Patrice Perkins offers: Try the levee off of Eight Mile Road next to the park (Tim’s note: it begins where the Pixley Slough paved levee trail ends; get on the paved portion of the trail at Trinity Parkway and McAuliffe, just south of Walmart in Spanos Park, then head west. The gravel trail continues west to Paradise Point Marina and other interesting spots on the Delta). Patrice adds: Lots of Delta water out there and a great view of Mt. Diabolo on clear days. Good spot for dogs, as well.

Patrick Dean suggests: I ride New Hogan Reservoir trail every couple weeks; it’s about a 45 minute drive though. You can also get to Auburn/Forest Hill trail system in about an hour and Napa Skyline Park in about an hour.

Several riders suggest: check with Tyler at Performance Bicycle in Stockton; he leads a mountain bike ride every Wednesday from the shop. He knows many trails and levies to ride on in the area.

I suggest: the  Hammer Lane/Shima Tract levee at the west end of Hammer Lane; go to the west end of Hammer, take a left at the light on Mariner’s Drive then a right and park in Voyager, a little dead-end street up against the levee. The trail, which loops Shima Tract, is about 9 miles, nicely graveled and gets into scenic Delta backcountry on the far side.

Round Valley Regional Park, about 35 miles west of Stockton. Go west on Hwy. 4; just past Discovery Bay, take a left at the light on the Byron Hwy., to the town of Byron, then go west on the Camino Diablo Rd. which becomes Marsh Creek Rd. to the park (19450 Marsh Creek Rd., Brentwood). Large parking area, and access to beautiful trails in the foothills on the east side of Mount Diablo.

Group of riders readying for the Calaveras Trail, near UOP. This trail connects to 'fat tire' mountain bike options both on its west and east ends - taking one to levy-top trails fit just for mountain bikes.

Another suggestion, if you want more trails and real hills, Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, just south of Antioch, CA (the park is also the site of the amazing history of California’s coal and sand mines, that ran from the 1850s into this century).

What other mountain biking treks in the Stockton/San Joaquin County area would you suggest? Send your suggestions to me,, and I will share them!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Safe pedaling in the west!

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Bicycling in Stockton/San Joaquin County…freshen up your summer!

Liven up your summer, have fun, get more active with local cycling!

Ah, the first days of summer are upon us. You and your family probably have bikes stashed in your garage, perhaps dusty and seldom used.

San Joaquin Bike Coalition's LSD Ride participants, June, 2016.

Why not make this your summer to increase your fun quotient and your physical activity? Dust off and start riding those bikes! It helps that Stockton and nearby towns like Lodi are lovely towns to cycle in (Lodi has recently hosted a finish and a start for stages in the Tour of California, Stockton offered a start some years earlier for this big-league cycling event).

Where to begin? Pull those bikes out and dust ‘em off. If they need air in the tires, that’s easy. Check to make sure the brakes function properly and that all bolts on your bike are tightened. If you’re unsure about your bike’s fitness, or how you fit the bike, take it to a local shop like Performance, REI or Robby’s and get a quick check.

Where to ride? Pedal quiet neighborhood streets to get your bike legs. Do you often drive to the store near your home? Consider cycling – put on your helmet and away you go. For getting kids into the cycling habit, target several days a week, either cool mornings or evenings, and make a refreshment stop along the way.

Group of riders on Calaveras Bike Trail, near University of Pacific.

Venturing further, the Calaveras River Bike Trail, just north of UOP, provides one of the city’s separated bike routes and is a great east/west ride. Stop into UOP’s DeRosa University Center for a refreshment break, and continue south on Kensington and then Baker, all the way to the Deepwater Channel.

Several other favorite local rides: from the Bear Creek High area, ride North up Thornton Road to DeVries Road.  That route takes you into Lodi wine country, with destinations such as Thornton or the Cosumnes River Preserve.  Not to be overlooked, Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy also offer quiet city streets and bike trails for new or veteran riders!

Matt Beckwith of the SJBC leads a LSD Ride group into the Lodi wine country.

Local cycling groups offer lots of help to make your riding more regular. Here are options:

I joined the San Joaquin Bike Coalition’s recent LSD (long, slow distance) Ride held the first Saturday, monthly, 8 AM starting on north side of Bear Creek High School, and chatted with SJBC board member Matt Beckwith.  Matt offered these tips, “with wonderful weather for most of the year (except those first few days of the year when temps hit triple digits) and little elevation change, Stockton is a wonderful city in which to ride a bike. Just off the arterial roadways, many neighborhood streets make it easy to get through town – Kensington and Baker, south of University of Pacific, are great examples”.

Matt added, “the city is currently working on the update to the bicycle master plan ( A number of community forums have been held as well as targeted focus groups and surveys in an attempt to find what residents are interested in related to cycling in Stockton. The SJBC has been a part of all of these meetings and are actively encouraging our members and the community at large to join in the conversation. The city project team recently demonstrated the first live preview of a possible cycling amenity, a two-way cycle track on several blocks of Center Street”. While the LSD Rides have grown popular, so too have the new Full Moon Rides in downtown Stockton – watch their website for next dates.

Brent Presser, left and Tim Stone shared their favorite rides.

Two LSD riders shared favorites.  Tim Stone, of Stockton, has been riding regularly since 1984, cycling several times a week from his home near Lincoln High School to work at San Joaquin General Hospital. Tim adds, “my favorite ride is from Lincoln High School to the Bear Creek Bike Trail, and out into Lodi-area vineyards. House of Coffee, on Ham Lane in Lodi is a favorite stopping off point for me and many cyclists”.

Brent Presser, of Lodi added, “I ride regularly in the area with SJBC and the Performance Bike groups. My favorite rides are throughout the Lodi area in the vineyards that surround town; my favorite stop for libations is also House of Coffee in Lodi; and the American River Trail in Sacramento”.

Performance Bike Shop in Lincoln Center South offers several weekly group rides. I visited Tyler Young, part-time employee and ride leader, who said, “we offer beginner/intermediate rides every Saturday, 9 AM at the store. The route for this morning’s ride tracked south to the Calaveras River Bike Path, to University of Pacific, south down Kensington, a stop at the Miracle Mile for refreshments, and return”.

Tyler Young, of Performance Bike in Lincoln Center South, front, left, prepares to lead a Saturday morning ride from the store.

He added, “it’s the most popular group ride, although an alternate route is sometimes taken out to the Brookside area, Buckley Cove Park, Lake Lincoln and western Stockton. Our Saturday morning ride started two years ago, has grown to 30-some riders and has become a model for other Performance Bike stores throughout the US”.

Stockton Bike Club, a group for more serious riders, also offers weekly rides, with many trekking through the Sierra foothills east of San Joaquin County.

Here are a few safe cycling rules to live by:

• While a new CA law requires motorists to give cyclists 3 feet when they pass, realize drivers may not know that or won’t follow the law.
• As a rider, obey the law (ride with traffic, single file, not on sidewalk; stop at stop signs, red lights).
• Youth under 18 must wear a helmet (state law); adults are advised to do the same!
• Wear bright colors and invest in a rear-view mirror or eyeglasses mirror (you’ll gain peace of mind, seeing drivers approaching from behind).
• Use hand signals when turning, so motorists know your intentions.
• Never assume a driver approaching, or on a side street, sees you until you make eye contact with that driver.

Riders stop at Consumnes River Farms, north of Thornton, for wine tasting and olive oil sampling.

And, check my Record travel blog this Friday; I’ll share some tips and suggested “best rides” for you fat tire, mountain bike riders, right in Stockton/San Joaquin County and locations nearby.

For more information: Performance Bike Shop,, (209) 951-5665; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, or their Facebook page,; Stockton Bike Club,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Safe pedaling in the west!

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What makes your Stockton/San Joaquin County Bucket List?

Stockton's Deepwater Channel, courtesy of Visit Stockton.

I’m working on a “Stockton/San Joaquin County Bucket List”, for a future article in the Record newspaper and my travel blog.

Here’s your assignment:  Assume you have special guests in town:

1. What are the two most special places or activities you would show off to guests, in Stockton or San Joaquin County?

2. For your favorite, please share a sentence as to “why this makes your list”, and,

3. Please share your name and which town you live in.

Grandson Jack Taylor poses outside Stockton's Children's Museum.

I will use some of these suggestions in my article; please email suggestions to,  Thanks!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the westy!

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Five glorious parks within four hours of San Joaquin County; beat the heat and crowds!

Beat the summer heat and crowds while basking in nature’s glory in these five close-at-hand parks!

Trail in Pinnacles National Park leads to eerie talus caves (bring a flashlight or headlamp!).

We’re less than a week from the start of summer, it’s getting hot in the valley – and you haven’t made your summer travel plans yet? Let’s consider some of the nearby parks and natural wonders that can take you out of San Joaquin County’s heat, yield incredible adventure and are only a few hours away.

We will pass over several close-at-hand gems, which become especially crowded in the summertime. Yosemite National Park and portions of the Lake Tahoe area are best saved for September and October when the crowds die down. We recommend three nearby national parks, a national recreation area and the high Sierra.

A favorite, Pinnacles National Park is only 2.5 hours from Stockton and remains one of the least visited of all the national parks in the west despite its eerie allure. Long a national monument, it was just elevated to national park status in 2013.

Just 30 miles south of Hollister, California, Pinnacles features the remnants of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles to the south near Los Angeles. The Pinnacles volcanic area has been moving slowly but steadily several inches north each year on the San Andreas Fault, distancing itself from the mother volcano.

Pinnacle's Machete Ridge, the remnants of an ancient volcano located near LA!

It’s a land of strange rock formations, talus caves, abundant wildlife and frequent sightings of the California condor. Located in the California coastal mountain range, the cooling Mediterranean breeze coming off the nearby Pacific keeps the park consistently cooler than the nearby California Central Valley.

Pinnacles is a park made for short or longer hikes (take a headlamp/flashlight if you want to explore the talus caves) in the rugged volcanic spines and valleys of these mountains, with lots of greenery to provide shade. The park offers two campgrounds and overnight accommodations can be found in nearby Hollister. For additional adventure, tour south to Mission San Antonio, and continue west on a winding road over the Santa Lucia Mountains, dropping you in the center of Big Sur on the California coast.

Sequoia's General Sherman tree, with a 40' diameter trunk is, by volume, the world's largest tree!

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks share a common border and are just 100 miles south of Yosemite in the high Sierra. Approaching Sequoia, you’ll climb from near sea level in the San Joaquin Valley to 7000 feet, passing numerous Sequoia groves and unfolding views of the towering Sierra, deemed the ‘Range of Light’ by John Muir.

Amongst thousands of huge sequoias, the General Sherman sequoia stands out.  Its trunk is 40 feet in diameter, 275 feet in height and is the largest tree in the world in total volume. The nearby General Grant sequoia in Kings Canyon is nearly as large – both attract crowds in the summertime.

Sequoia National Park also offers plenty of hiking opportunities, along with Moro Rock and the Auto Tree where you can drive your car through a huge, downed sequoia. Kings Canyon is several thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, a favorite of rock climbers and, like Sequoia, offers plenty of hiking and camping options. The two parks offer several classic lodges for those who want more traditional lodging.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, just four hours to our north, is second only to Yellowstone National Park as a volcanic and thermal wonderland. It’s also more compact than Yellowstone, as well as within a single days drive. Just 100 years ago, Mount Lassen exploded, hurtling large boulders for 3 miles and leveling the forest miles further.

Frozen Lake Helen, with Mt. Lassen in the background.

The park offers mud pots and fumaroles; those and the Devastated Area will thrill youngsters to seniors alike. Check the park’s Hwy. 89 road report; it cuts through the park, rises high on the flank of Mount Lassen and sometimes can be snowed in until late June or July. Nearby Chester offers lodging and the park offers several scenic campgrounds. Sleeping giant Mt. Shasta is just north, allowing an extended adventure to its surrounding campgrounds and quaint towns.

For a cool summer retreat, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, plan a trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Walk the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California in 1579 for Queen Elizabeth, see whales offshore, tour a spectacular lighthouse and spot tule elk and elephant seals.

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse is a beacon for ships on this rugged CA coast.

Stop at the Drakes Bay Visitor Center and then walk the beach (we found a huge elephant seal on a recent visit). Continue west along the Point Reyes Peninsula, reaching the Point Reyes lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, open for tours, though closed Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Looking to the south, you’ll see the Farallon Islands on a clear day, 20 miles away. Don’t miss the classic little town of Point Reyes Station, set among historic farms dating back to 1859. You can find several places to purchase oysters along the way, and several cute restaurants in the town itself.

Lastly, a plug for our Central Sierra just east of San Joaquin County.  Accessed by Highways 88, 4 and 108, each road takes you high into the Sierra at altitudes up to 10,000 feet where clean air, cool temperatures, pristine lakes, fishing and hiking options abound.  You’ll find special attractions like Calaveras Big Trees, the Arnold Rim Trail, Lake Alpine and Pinecrest Lake, depending upon your route.

Horses from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, on trail to Relief Reservoir, just off Hwy. 108 in the Sierra.

El Dorado and Stanislaus National Forests encompass this broad area, with campgrounds strung along rivers and lakes like jewels. With the federal America the Beautiful pass, for seniors 62/older, you’ll get free admission to all national parks and half price on most federal campgrounds; it’s just $10 for a lifetime pass!

For more info: Pinnacles National Park,, phone: 831.389.4486; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks,; or phone  559.565.3341; Lassen Volcanic National Park, www.nps/gov/lavo, phone, 530.595.6100; Point Reyes National Seashore,,  (415) 464-5100; for the high Sierra, check the El Dorado and Stanislaus National Forest sites, respectively,, For national parks and forest service campgrounds,, or call 877.444.6777. Purchase the America the Beautiful senior pass in person at NPS units, or on-line,

The America the Beautiful senior pass (for those 62 and older) gets you into national parks for free, and saves you 50% off most federal campgrounds. Just $10 for life, it has probably saved us $1500!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the westy!


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Historic mystery buildings, just east of Jackson, CA on Hwy. 88 – what were they?

Old brick house on the east, what seems to once have been an old boarding house on west, with barn behind. What were they?

We just spent five days in the south and west Lake Tahoe area. Going up, and coming back, we usually take Hwy. 88 to the beautiful Hope Valley, then Highway 89 to Hwy. 50 and into South Lake Tahoe.

We’ve done this route multiple times over the years – and every time I pass the buildings pictured, I wonder what they are or were. On the west, hidden in trees is what looks like an old boarding house, a few feet further east is a small, old brick home, and in the back is what looks to be an old barn. All three look like they haven’t served any purpose for many years. They are located about a mile and a half east of the turnoff to the Jackson Rancheria Casino, and about 3/4 mile west of W. Clinton Road.

Closeup of the old house.

Do any of you Hwy. 88 buffs know the backstory to these buildings? Are you the sleuth who can solve this mystery?

Watch my blog in about 10 days, and the Record newspaper, for a story about our exploration of Southwest Lake Tahoe (and an answer to this riddle, if I find it!).

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

An old boarding house, perhaps, on the west side of the complex?

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
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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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