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:, to volunteer for a 2nd or 4th Saturday work day, or for a ship’s tour, contact John Van Huystee,, or phone 209.518.6667.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

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,, 1518 Broadway, 916.441.0222; Tower Theater,, 2508 Land Park Drive, 916.442.0985; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, 980 9th Street, (916) 442-8575,;  Sacramento Midtown Business Association, 919. 20th Street, (916) 442-1500,; Old Sacramento Business Association, 980 9th Street, Suite 400, (916) 442-8575, Check the web site or pick up a copy of Sacramento News and Review, a lively arts guide to what’s going on ( 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!

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Midtown Sacramento; hot-bed for foodies, nightlife, history and creative events!

Cyclists Rich Fowler, left, and Frank Allen of south Sacramento biked to Midtown for lunch at 'Tapa the World'!


Top photo, shoppers enjoy the Blue Diamond Nut and Gift Shop for specialty nut and gift ideas; below, the Midtown Farmers Market runs every Saturday, 8 to 1, drawing young, old and four-legged shoppers (photo courtesy of the MBA).

Young professionals enjoy a brew on the patio of Lowbrau, photo courtesy of the MBA.

Sutter's Fort, built in 1839, offers living history and lively events.

Tower Cafe, part of the Tower Theater complex in nearby Broadway District, is an eclectic eatery!

In 1839, nine years before the discovery of gold in Coloma, 47 miles distant, John Sutter arrived in Sacramento and began construction of Sutter’s Fort.  His road to fortune was in planting of grapes and wheat, and raising a huge heard of cattle.  He sent an employee, John Marshall, to find timber and build a sawmill; with discovery of gold, Sutter’s world changed overnight.

Fortune-seekers rushed to get rich, passing through Sacramento to get to the mines.  Others came and set up shop to provide equipment and food to the miners.  Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” and grew rapidly in the 1850s and 1860s; the area known as Midtown grew quickly around Sutter’s old fort.

Today the Midtown area offers some of our favorite destinations. J and K streets offer a wealth of cute and trendy shops, restaurants and nightspots. Sacramento, capital city of California, has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last 20 years, steadily becoming a slick, cosmopolitan and thoroughly visitor-friendly city – Midtown is heart of the action!

Midtown is defined as the area bounded by 16th on the west, Alhambra on the east, B Street on the north and US Hwy. 50 to the south. It’s just a dozen blocks east of the “big dig”; the new Entertainment and Sports Complex, better known as the new Kings Arena, going up on a six square block chunk of downtown.

Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the Midtown Business Association (MBA), notes, “the new arena, to open October, 2016, will seat 17,500 and is expected to be active many nights per year with King’s games and many shows and artists.  Those thousands of visitors will fuel Midtown restaurants and retailers, and we’re eager for that”.

The new arena and a surging economy have lots happening in the district.  Emily added, “several major developments are unfolding, including the proposed trolley system, the Ice Blocks Project, including housing and retail shops in the old Crystal Ice Plant, and a number of housing projects.  It’s an exciting time to be part of Midtown Sacramento!’.

She offers “take the time to stroll around the grounds of, or tour, Sutter’s Fort, re-built in the likeness of Captain John Sutter’s stronghold. Kids will delight in the old fort, complete with canon in the parapets and docents showing how life was in the middle 1800s”.

In addition to Sutter’s Fort, many reminders of Midtown’s history can be found including scores of old mansions and historic homes, many dating back more than 100 years, elevated to avoid the flooding that once plagued the river-bound city.  An historic walking tour map can be picked up in the MBA’s office.

I found Rich Fowler and Frank Allen, who biked into Midtown from south Sacramento, awaiting lunch, and asked them what they liked about Midtown.  Fowler noted he recently had taken his family “to a delightful dinner, and we walked two blocks down J Street for ice cream, a perfect family outing”.  Allen added “my wife and I find it such a classy and safe area for dinner and a show.  It’s the nicest place in town!”.


Restaurants, from old favorites to new faces, abound in the district.  They include Biba’s, Paragary’s (soon to reopen after a major remodeling), Ink, Bar West, Café Bernardo, Centro Cocina Mexicana, Plan B Café (the Sacramento Bee notes it one of the top 10 in area for best fries), Waterboy, Red Rabbit Kitchen, the Old Spaghetti Factory (good family food and rich history, in the old Union Pacific Railroad station) and Zocalo.  And don’t miss Rick’s Dessert Diner, for those who think desserts should be the main course!

Midtown is a hot-bed of upscale bars and night spots, including Blue Cue, Harlow’s, MoMo Lounge, Monkey Bar, Preservation, the Rind, Tank House and Block Butcher Bar (noteworthy for making their own sausage and specialty whiskey cocktails). A unique eatery is the Federalist, operating out of shipping containers, specializing in pizza and beer.  The MBA’s web site and Facebook pages offer good guides to these repasts.

Live theatre is a Midtown specialty, with the venerable B Street Theater offering award winning plays.  Newer small theaters include the Capital Stage and the William J. Geery Theater, with restaurants and night spots just a block away or closer! The nearby Wells Fargo Music Circus and Community Center Theater help round out a growing live theater scene.  Pick up a copy of Sacramento News and Review, a lively guide to what’s going on or check their web site,

With such robust epicurean and night-spots, it’s no surprise the area is a hot-bed of active events. The Midtown Farmer’s Market is well attended each Saturday morning at 20th and J Streets, from 8 AM to 1 PM.

Second Saturdays are big events, running from 5 to 9 PM; in May, ‘Wine Down, Dress Up” features the wines of Lodi and a local fashion show, on Capital between 18th and 19th.  June, July, August and September bring ‘THIS midtown’, with indie bands playing to big crowds.

Sutter’s Fort does not miss out on special events, with ‘Sacratomato” coming on July 25 at the fort, an event focused on all things tomato, including food, drink and fun.

Getting around Midtown can be done by car, on foot and all of it by bicycle.  This part of the city is quite bike-friendly, and along the north side of Midtown, the American River Bike Trail offers a placid tour just beyond the city confines.

Calendar a visit, better, a weekend trip, to our unique capital city – bustling shops and eateries, live theater, living history amid world-renowned museums, kids and family activities – all just an hour away!

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J Street and go east through downtown, into the Midtown area starting at 16th Street.

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail; to the west, both downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento; to the south, the Broadway District (check out the Art-deco Tower Theater and adjacent Tower Café).

What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

Where to stay: A notable place to stay, the Amber House, an AAA-4 star bed and breakfast getting top reviews; other nearby motels and hotels can be found in the Midtown District and in downtown Sacramento.

For more info:  Sacramento Midtown Business Association, 919. 20th Street, (916) 442-1500,; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, 980 9th Street, (916) 442-8575,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!

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Bike Touring Old Sacramento, downtown Sacramento and the midtown Sacramento area

Friends Rich Fowler, left, and Frank Allen pose outside Tapa the World Restaurant on J Street in Midtown Sacramento.

Two cyclists peddle north on Front Street in Old Sacramento; one can park for free on the 2000 block of Front Street, near the CA Auto Museum, and ride from there!

You meet the nicest people on bicycles!  Yesterday, two buddies and I rode our bikes from the south Sacramento “Pocket area”, north along quiet Pocket streets, then along the Sacramento River levee, right into Old Sacramento.  From their, we continued north past Old Sac, intersecting the Jedidiah Smith Recreational Trail, then cutting south into the Midtown area. 

Our round trip was about 25 miles, delightful on a sunny, 65 degree day, and we entered Midtown just east of the Blue Diamond Nut and Gift Center, a great spot to buy flavored almonds and a huge variety of Sacramento-specific gift ideas.

From their, we headed south along 16th street, stopped into a Starbucks, chatted with fellow cyclists and had a fun time with coffee and kinship.

We then toured east along J street, lined with cute, trendy shops, fine and casual restaurants and abundant night spots.  A budding theater district is growing in the Midtown area, as well!

For a full report on Midtown Sacramento, see my Valley Travel blog, coming on February 18, or the February 19 Record Travel section.  To find past and future blogs, go to:

Dust off those bikes, and Happy travels in the West!




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Sacramento; touring our Capital City, Old Sacramento and downtown


New entertainment and sports complex, future home to Sacramento Kings, is under construction on K Street, due to open in October, 2016.

The State of California Capital is always a fun visit for both young and old!
The light rail line, run by the Regional Transit District, runs through downtown Sacramento. A trolley to connect West Sacramento to Midtown is in the plan stages.
The old Governor’s Mansion is open daily for tours, located on north edge of downtown Sacramento.
Western Pacific locomotive loads passengers for trip down the Sacramento River, from the CA Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
Tail fins reached their zenith in the late 1950s, here a tailfin on a beautiful 1959 Cadillac at the California Automobile Museum, just south of Old Sacramento!

Sacramento, capital city of California, has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last 20 years, steadily becoming a slick, cosmopolitan and thoroughly visitor-friendly city – and, it’s just 50 miles north of Stockton!

Gold was discovered in January, 1848 (in Coloma, 47 miles away) and the world rushed to get rich, coursing through Sacramento to get provisioned.  Others came and set up shop to provide food and equipment to the miners and the city boomed!

Old Sacramento, on the Sacramento River, was the world’s seaport to the gold mines and would soon anchor the Pony Express, the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  By 1860 Sacramento had grown to be the second largest city in the west, eclipsed only by San Francisco.

Within a few blocks are the California Military Museum, the California State Railroad Museum, the Delta King Riverboat (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Just a mile south is the California Auto Museum at 2200 Front Street with a stunning variety of classic and novelty autos, dating back more than a century.

If you haven’t visited downtown Sacramento in a while, consider some of its newer attributes. Old Sacramento retains its charm, and many recent additions to the city’s entertainment scene make it a destination for live theater, upscale and/or unique dining, trendy shopping and night life. Add in the town’s richly preserved history – it’s a delightful destination!

The State Capital retains its grandeur and remains the center of state governance.  Over the last 20 years, state office buildings have proliferated just east of the Capital, along the south edge of the area known as “Midtown”. The nearby Crocker Art Museum, 216 O Street, founded in 1885, is the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi.  A major expansion a few years ago keeps this institution in the top pantheon of art palaces in the United States.

“Old Sac”, notes Lisa Martinez of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, “offers the highest concentration of local businesses in the city, with a wide variety of crafts, mercantile and antique shops, one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants along the Old Sac boardwalks”. 

She added that “Old Sac and downtown are building a big following from both coffee fans and foodies, with a wealth of new faces added to the scene”.  A recent visit found coffee houses like Temple Coffee, Insight Coffee Roasters and Chicory Coffee and Tea, all drawing fans of the bean!

The trend of farm-to-fork restaurants, using locally-sourced, fresh ingredients, has taken a strong hold in the downtown area, with new restaurants like Mother (vegetarian), Ella, The Grange and Café Bernardo all getting high marks from epicureans.

In the downtown area, K Street is currently the “big dig”, with the new entertainment and sports complex, better known as the new Kings Arena, going up on a six square block chunk of downtown.

Martinez noted “the new entertainment and sports complex will seat 17,500 and open in October, 2016, offering King’s games and many traveling shows and artists.  The spin-off benefit of those many thousands of visitors will fuel downtown restaurants and hotels”.  She added that the 700 block of K Street is already undergoing a total transformation, and interest in new development and downtown housing is at a high point.

K Street retains much of its old charm, with the old Crest Theater, 1013 K St., currently running Oscar-nominated short films among its ongoing fair. Across the street, Assembly offers live music shows. Nearby, the new Esquire Theater opened several years ago, complete with IMAX screen; the nearby Esquire Grill is an excellent lunch or dinner option.  Just east is the Sacramento Convention Center and Community Theater complex, both attracting visitors in large numbers.

Reminders of Sacramento’s history can be found throughout Old Sacramento and the adjoining downtown. The old Governor’s Mansion, 1526 H Street, is now a museum with tours offered daily.  The area surrounding the old mansion and downtown offers a wealth of historic homes, many dating back more than 100 years and elevated to avoid the flooding that once plagued the river-bound city.

Several venues make the area a lively theater destination. The Wells Fargo Pavilion hosts Music Circus and the B Street Theater offers ongoing live performances, as does the Community Center Theater.  Starting the last Friday in May through July, 5-9 PM, a huge, free Friday concert fills Cesar Chavez Plaza.  Check the web site or pick up a copy of Sacramento News and Review, a lively guide to what’s going on (

The downtown area bounded by the Sacramento River on the west, the American River to the north, 16th Street on the east and Hwy. 50 on the south is compact, running about 20 blocks by 20 blocks. Getting around can be done by car, to some degree by light rail, on foot or by bicycle. The city is quite bike-friendly, and along the north side of downtown, the American River Bike Trail offers a placid tour just beyond the city confines.

Calendar a visit, better, a weekend trip, to our unique capital city – bustling shops and eateries, live theater, living history amid world-renowned museums, kids and family activities – all just an hour away! Coming next week, more Sacramento insight; a tour of the Midtown area!

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento or downtown parking.

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail; to the west, Raley Field (home of the Sacramento Rivercats baseball team) just across the Tower Bridge.

What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

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

For more info: Downtown Sacramento Partnership, 980 9th Street, (916) 442-8575,; Old Sacramento Business Association, 980 9th Street, Suite 400, (916) 442-8575,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!

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Lake Tahoe for Valentine’s Day, or, anytime; take the sunglasses and binoculars!

The Tower of Nations, at entrance into Squaw Valley, is testimony to the 30+ nations that took part in the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Emerald Bay on a hazy Tahoe winter day is perhaps the most photographed location around the stunning lake!

Several friends, and my wife, upon reading my recent Record feature and blog about romantic Valentine’s Day destinations in northern California, all noted “you omitted Lake Tahoe?”.  OK, perhaps a big oversight.  Revisiting my list of destinations within a few hours of the Central Valley, let’s include that lovely destination.

Six weeks into winter…Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra have almost no snow.  The ski areas are surviving primarily on man-made snow on selected runs, and motels, hotels and restaurants are running at reduced capacity.  With little snow in the forecast, and days reaching into spring-time 65 degree temps, it’s a great place for a one-day or weekend Valentine’s Day road trip!   Take your hiking shoes, sunglasses and bikes!

For the most scenic drive (admitting in advance we like Tahoe’s  north shore), from Sacramento, go east on US Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe, then go  north on Highway 89, trekking up the magnificent lake’s west shore.  A fun and romantic place for libation on the way is Camp Richardson’s The Beacon Restaurant for lunch, always a fine lake-front restaurant with views of the almost snowless Sierra across the lake.

And, make time to stop above Emerald Bay and take in the view that has been the subject of a billion photos over the years!  You will find gorgeous views all along the lake’s western and northern shore; stop and enjoy the scenery with your sweetheart!

A bit further north, consider a detour off Hwy. 89 into Granlibakken Resort, Tahoe’s oldest ski and tubing area since 1922.  With only a small ski and tubing hill, it offers historic lodging and another good place for lunch.

Our favorite destination is the Tahoe City area and the stretch further northeast to King’s Beach.  In and around Tahoe City, and at Squaw Valley, you can discover ghosts  of the 1960 Winter Olympics, which took place on the lake’s western shores (for cross-country and biathlon events) and at Squaw Valley for the balance.  That stretch of lake shore also offers multiple lodging choices, from vintage motels, bed and breakfasts to upscale hotels.

Favorite places to dine, particularly for Valentine’s Day: Plump Jack at Squaw Valley, River Ranch Lodge and Restaurant on the Truckee River at entrance into Alpine Meadows Road and Gar Woods on the lake at Carnelian Bay.  For perhaps the finest breakfast on the north shore in a rustic setting, try Rosie’s at Tahoe City; get a table near the fireplace and order a Bloody Mary!

Hence, if you’re seeking a weekend, romantic getaway, consider North Tahoe (or the Russian River/N. CA coast, Gold Country like Murphys or Sutter Creek, or Old Sacramento, all profiled in my previous post) – but,  book soon, lest all the good lodging and restaurant options are sold-out!

How to get there: From Stockton: go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe, take Hwy. 89 north to Tahoe City; it’s about a three hour drive.

What to take: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes and snacks for the trip. Bikes if you are a cyclist; for all these old towns are bike-friendly!
For more information:  Tahoe City Visitor Information Center, 100 North Lake Blvd, next to the Fanny Bridge at the Wye in Tahoe City, CA 96145; (530) 581-6900;

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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Valentine’s Day destinations for you and your sweetheart in Northern California



The Point Arena Lighthouse on CA coast, north of Jenner.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching – if you’re looking for special destinations in Northern California, several pop quickly into my wife’s and my mind!  In 45 years of marriage, my wife has taught me that a special Valentine’s destination has these attributes: scenic, somewhat secluded, fine and somewhat-dressy restaurant(s) nearby, nice lodging if we are spending the night and a sense of history (the latter, my inclusion).  Include flowers and candle-lit dinner, and she is happy!

These destinations are, respectively, to our northeast, just north and east of Stockton and the Valley; each are 2.5 hours or less to reach and a scenic drive gets you there!

The Russian River and Northern California coast are less than three hours to our northwest.  The Russian River and its valley offers an epic romantic getaway, lined with vineyards, deep forests and spritely old towns, and the California coast north and south of the river provides a stunning bonus. The river offers several lovely towns like Guerneville and Jenner, complete with nice restaurants, motels and bed and breakfast accommodations.

The north coast above Jenner offers more of the same with ongoing quaint towns like Gualala, Albion, Mendocino and Fort Bragg, in addition to a stunning, rocky and windswept coast. Just above Jenner, you’ll find the old Fort Ross Salt Point State Park and the Point Arena Lighthouse all worthy of exploration.  Or, head south of Jenner to find the towns of Bodega Bay and Bodega (those swooping gulls and blackbirds will remind you of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, filmed in both towns!).

Favorite restaurants for that special Valentines meal include Rivers End in Jenner, looking down on the mouth of the Russian River and a resident sea lion colony, and further north, Sea Ranch, with first rate accommodations and a fine restaurant looking out over the ocean.  Bodega Bay offers The Tides Wharf Restaurant, right on the bay where sea lions often frolic outside your window! The Jenner Inn and Sea Ranch are upscale places to stay, and, for winter campers, beautiful state park campgrounds can be found both north and south of the Russian River.

Gold Rush country and its quaint, historic towns lie just an hour east of Stockton.  With an ongoing non-winter, it’s virtually like late spring in the Highway 49/Gold Rush corridor. Of several score of historic towns, two wonderfully preserved and walkable cities, Murphy’s and Sutter Creek, top our list.

Both are centers of wine-growing regions and offer a number of winetasting locations right on main streets, lots of interesting shops, fine restaurants and both are rich in history and evidence of the Gold Rush in the 1850s and 60s. Each are eminently walkable with boardwalks and lightly traveled main drags, and offer nearby lodging, from bed-and-breakfasts to cozy motels.  Each town celebrates and preserves its history, when many 49ers made fortunes by placer and hard-rock mining over 150 years ago.

Favorite restaurants include both The Murphy’s Hotel and Alchemy in Murphy’s and the Hotel Sutter and Susan’s Place in Sutter Creek (all very Valentine’s Day worthy!).  Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek is not only the cleanest pizza place in the Sierra foothills, but also offers great pizza and wonderful service!

Old Sacramento, an historic and gourmet destination, is closest to Stockton and due north just 45 miles. Old Sac is a long-time favorite, with 20 some square blocks of Sacramento’s founding history preserved, plenty of great restaurants and cafés, the California Railroad Museum on the north end, the western terminus of the Pony Express in the middle, California Auto Museum to the south, and the Crocker Art Museum just a few blocks walk to the southeast.  Several miles of old boardwalk and plenty of cute shops make it a stroller’s delight!

For a spectacular and romantic place to stay, the old Delta King riverboat moored on the waterfront is a favorite, including a scenic and quality restaurant. A number of other fine restaurants are located in Old Sac, including several we treasure, as will other sweethearts; The Firehouse, Fat City and River City Cafe.  Include Steamers along the waterfront for a cozy café that includes great baked goods to start your morning!

Old Sac shops offer bike rentals, hospitality guides share maps and insights on want to see and what to do and the mighty Sacramento River rolls steadily by on the west.   Hornblower Cruises offers river tours, or hop a horse-drawn carriage for a romantic ride through the old city!

Lastly, if you are staying in town, I can recommend the Stockton Kiwanis Crab Feed, Saturday, Valentine’s Day at St. Basil’s Church, March Lane in Stockton, 6 PM (email me for info)!  My wife isn’t so keen on that idea, so I will take her out to a sweetheart dinner on the 13th, perhaps CoCoRo!

Hence, if you’re seeking a weekend, romantic getaway, consider these destinations and book soon, lest all the good lodging and restaurant options are sold-out!

How to get there: From Stockton: for the Russian River, take Hwy. 12 west out of Lodi all the way to Sebastapol, then Hwy. 101 north to Santa Rose, then Hwy. 116 to Guerneville and Jenner.  For Murphys, take Hwy. 4 east to Murphys, for Sutter Creek, take Hwy. 88 northeast, go north a mile on Hwy. 49; for Old Sacramento, go north on I-5.

What to take: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes and snacks for the trip. Bikes if you are a cyclist; for all these old towns are bike-friendly!
For more information:  Russian River,, 877.644.9001; Murphys,, or email; Sutter Creek,, 209.267.1344; Old Sacramento,, 916.442.8575.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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Occasional cylist, looking to extend your distance rides? LSD ride is an option!

LSD riders string out along DeVries Road in Lodi winegrape country.

LSD group, prior to ride start at Bear Creek High School.
This group of LSD riders took a break at a Lodi bakery in fall, 2014.

The next LSD Ride (“long, slow distance ride”) will take place on Saturday, February 7  at 9 AM, starting and finishing on north edge of Bear Creek High, 10555 Thornton Road, Stockton (Park on McNabb Street, just west of Thornton). 

This ride will feature a tour of the Lodi wine country to the west of Lodi, with a stop at Phillips Farms for snacks and refreshments; riders can then chose to return to Bear Creek, or continue north to Thornton, CA (the two options total about 10 miles and 30 miles, roundtrip, respectively). 

Rides travel along quiet wine-country roads, at a leisurely pace with “catch-up” stops for all riders.  All riding levels will be accommodated; youth under age 18 must ride with helmets; adults are strongly encouraged to ride with helmets.  Riders should bring drinks and sunscreen; a bike lock is also suggested. 

LSD Rides are typically held the first Saturday each month; are free to participants and presented by the San Joaquin Bicycle Coalition.  For more information, please contact Tim Viall (I am one of the bike tour leaders),; cell phone, 209.969.3875.

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“Do you know the way to San Jose” (downtown San Jose) via ACE commuter rail


ACE Train idles at Stockton's Robert Cabral ACE/Amtrak station, just before dusk.

“Do you know the way to San Jose? I’ve been away for so long.  I may go wrong and lose my way,” went the popular 1968 song by Dionne Warwick.  It sold over a million copies and won Warwick her first Grammy.

My pals and I had not been to downtown San Jose for almost 25 years, but had heard how revived and visitor-friendly the town had become.  And, as a center of the Silicon Valley and high-tech, San Jose justified our trip on the ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) Train from Stockton. 

Our plan was take the ACE train, all the way to San Jose to explore and see what had changed.  It’s a scenic, memorable and relaxing way to cover the 90-some miles! And, true to what we had heard, downtown San Jose is full of interesting, high-tech and visitor-friendly attractions.

With the ACE train, the latest morning train departs Stockton’s Robert Cabral Amtrak/ACE station at 7:05 AM, with stops in Manteca, Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont, Santa Clara and into downtown San Jose’s historic Southern Pacific Diridon Station a little after 9 AM.

The two hour train ride traverses a number of old downtown areas, climbs over the Altamont Pass and through beautiful Niles Canyon and the southern border of the San Francisco Bay.  Stunning scenery presents itself at many a stretch, just out of sight of autos – adults and kids will delight in the train ride portion of the adventure!

In the final two miles of the train ride, one passes the new 49ers Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, a new stadium being built for the San Jose Quakes (professional soccer) and, two blocks from the Diridon station, the SAP Arena, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. For 49ers games, ACE runs a Sunday train from Stockton to Santa Clara.

The earliest return on ACE is 3:35 PM – it is a commuter rail line, after all.  There are also three later departures in the afternoon. The ACE train has virtually all new rolling stock, immaculate rail cars, including one equipped to hold about 15 bicycles. So a tour of San Jose with your bike is another option. 

A free DASH shuttle bus takes you to many intriguing downtown San Jose stops, so no money is required to take the bus. Along the route are the Martin Luther King Library, San Jose State University, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the San Jose Museum of Art and a number of interesting historical buildings, hotels and unique restaurants such as Original Joe’s.

Our primary destination was the Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose’s world-class museum dedicated to innovative and creative spirits that inspired Silicon Valley.  Special exhibits at “The Tech” include the Tech Studio, Social Robots, the Earthquake Platform (we adults and a passel of kids were awestruck by the simulation of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and other more recent temblors), Moon-landing simulator, Body Metrics, the Tech Virtual Gallery, Health and Biotech Gallery, the Silicon Valley Innovation Gallery and much more. 

This is a center for youngsters and teens; it was impressive to see Stanford University present with a Genome exhibit, enthralling a dozen young future scientists!  The entire three floors of The Tech are kid-friendly, designed to be hands-on; all four of our adult tourists were energized to plan a future visit with grandkids of all ages. The Hackworth IMAX dome theater (inside The Tech) is the largest in the west; an additional fee is required to see movies on the massive circular screen.

Shopping highlights of San Jose’s downtown include the Historic District, with a number of unique boutiques and eclectic shops, interesting shops at both the museums, and a variety of stores at the San Jose Market Center on Coleman Avenue. We picked up a copy of Silicon Valley Metro, a free weekly paper at the train station; it’s loaded with activities, night spots, restaurant recommendations and “what to see and do”; they also have a slick web site full of similar info:

Just two blocks from the Tech Museum of Innovation (“The Tech”), we found the ornate and historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph at the corner San Fernando and Market. The San Jose Museum of Art, with Café and museum store, (originally the 1892 San Jose Post Office), is just across the street.

DASH offers free shuttle to various points around downtown, including Martin Luther King Library, San Jose State University, San Jose Convention Center and the aforementioned shopping areas.  All in all, it’s a pretty, historic and tourist-friendly destination, enhanced by the ease of getting there on the ACE train!  Though, the ACE Train service, except for San Francisco 49er’s games, is not available on weekends.

For those seeking further rail exploration, the San Jose Diridon Station is served by CalTrain, the rail line that runs north to San Francisco (seven days a week), and one can also take Amtrak from San Francisco to Stockton, and vice versa.  All three rail lines are “bike friendly”, as well. Hence, a several day rail excursion can make for even more fun!

So, purchase your ACE ticket, “find your way to San Jose”, and do some innovative exploring!

What to take: Binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip and good walking shoes.

For more information: The Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 South Market St., San Jose 95113, phone 408–294–8324, the; opens daily at 10 AM, groups save up to 25%, IMAX films and special exhibits require a separate fee. Downtown San Jose Association, 28 North First Street #1000, San Jose, Ca 95113; (408) 279-1775;  ACE Train: Robert Cabral Station, 949 E. Channel Street, Stockton, CA 95202;; fares, adults, round-trip, $24.50, kids 6 to 12 and seniors 65 and over, half price or $12.25 each.  CalTrain rail service from San Jose to San Francisco,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the West!

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Spring training; Arizona’s Cactus League opens to 15 major league teams in early February!


Cleveland Indians warm-up, across the field from the San Francisco Giants.

Member of the Cleveland Indians signs autographs, chats with fans prior to game in 2014.
Chicago Cubs new ballpark, opened in 2014, helped club set Cactus League attendance record.
Author’s spouse, Susan, poses next to Welcome to Old Town Scottsdale sign; try the nearby Pink Pony Restaurant!




The Super Bowl is still more than a week away, we’ve thankfully finished those interminable college football bowl games, and the NBA and NHL are in full swing.

But, for diehard baseball fans, spring training in Arizona and Florida will soon be underway! For fans of the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and 10 other teams – the Phoenix area is Spring Training Central, in late February through end of March. Said owner Bill Veeck in 1976, “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

The Cactus League, as spring training in Phoenix is called, is home to half of major-league teams; the other half train in Florida’s Grapefruit League. In Phoenix, the teams spend their workouts and competitive Cactus League games at 11 ballparks, with several teams sharing the same park.

Ball fans can frequently take in two games in one day by visiting the same park for a day game, followed by an evening game, or take in games at two different parks, just miles apart.

During spring training, fans can see players up-close and personal. Our experience last spring was that members of the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians chat alongside the fence, joke and have a good time with fans. We watched as the Giants took a 10-2 lead over the Cleveland Indians (yes, I am an Indian’s fan), then the Indians came back to take the game, 11 to 10. Players on both teams chatted with fans between innings, and acted as if they delighted in the game.

All the Phoenix-area ballparks are much smaller than MLB stadiums, and more intimate, seating about 10,000 fans –not a bad seat in the house. Ticket prices are lower, and a cold beer seems to taste better amid such intimate and pleasant surroundings.  And, no alligators as in Florida!  In Spring Training, 1921 in St. Petersburg, FL, Yankees Manager Miller Huggins ordered a young Babe Ruth, resting on the bench, “What are you doing here on the bench?  You’re supposed to be running in the outfield to get your legs in shape,” Huggins said.  The Babe replied: “I ain’t going out there anymore…There are alligators out there!” 

For the Giants, pitchers and catchers are scheduled for the first workout on February 18; the first full squad workout is set for February 23. Their first competitive Cactus League game is set for March 3 with a two game series against the Athletics. They conclude their spring training season with an April 1 game against my favorite, the Cleveland Indians.

The Giants return much of their world championship team, but will work to fill the third-base void left by Pablo Sandoval (departed to Boston) with Casey McGehee signed to fill that spot. Fans are looking forward to the continuing development of second baseman Joe Panic and dominant pitching of Madison Bumgarner and veteran presence of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy.  Relief pitching should remain strong, and manager Bruce Bochy will be busy rotating new faces into the lineup and filling Sandoval’s vacated clean-up spot.

The Oakland Athletics have pitchers and catchers reporting February 18 and the first full squad work out on February 24. Their Cactus League opener is against the Giants on March 3 and their final Arizona exhibition game is April 1 against the Los Angeles Angels.

The A’s, shaking up the roster for a stronger playoff run, made 10 trades involving almost 30 players.  Gone are their best player, Josh Donaldson, and several stellar pitchers including Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. But the A’s brought in new and younger blood, with a new infield including Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist. With returning star pitchers Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz and Scott Kazmir, several vets back from surgery and new, young arms, pitching won’t be the club’s challenge.

The Giants and the A’s square off in a three game “Bay Bridge” exhibition series, at AT&T Park and Coliseum, April 2-4, with the regular season then getting underway for both teams immediately following.

The Phoenix area has plenty to offer, in addition to the Cactus League. It’s a golf Mecca, and Scottsdale’s quaint Old Town shops and unique restaurants are always a pleasure. Dine at the Pink Pony in Scottsdale for a real treat, and be transported back to the city in the 1960s. Greater Phoenix offers the Desert Botanical Garden to explore desert plants, the Heard Museum offering world-class insights into Native American culture and art and the Phoenix Art Museum. 

For kids and family activities, the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Science Center and Children’s Museum are featured attractions. This region is centered in the lush and colorful Sonoran Desert surrounded by tall mountains; plenty of hiking and biking trails will take you to new and alien places!

Another idea, for California travelers, is to couple the spring training visit with a stopover in a national park such as Grand Canyon, several hours to the north. We did just that, camping several nights along the south rim of the canyon, then touring south through the artistic town of Sedona, then into the Phoenix area. It made for a spectacular week-long trip.

Both Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks are also along the route to Phoenix. The spring is the perfect time to visit these natural wonders, when wildflowers typically blanket the otherwise arid landscape!

How to get there: From Stockton, Phoenix is about 710 miles and a bit over 10.5 hours.  A natural detour can include a stop at the Grand Canyon, then traveling south to Sedona, before reaching Phoenix.  The Giants play in Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251; nearby, the As play at renovated Hohokam Stadium, 1235 N Center St, Mesa, AZ 85201.

What to take: Binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip. And, your favorite team’s hat and jersey!

For more information:  For Cactus League teams, stadiums, schedules: For Phoenix vacation planning:

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

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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