Winetasting, history and kid’s activities make for fun, fall destinations!

Syrah grapes from the Lodi-Woodbridge Grape Appellation

With the fall grape harvest and crush in full swing in recent weeks, no better time to visit nearby wine country, whether the Lodi-Woodbridge appellation in north San Joaquin County, or the Shenandoah Valley district, an hour to our northeast near Plymouth.

Delightfully, both regions offer something for all members of the family, from wine aficionados to young kids. Make it a long day-trip or, extend for a several day tour of both regions.

The sense of history runs deep in both these locales; in the 1850s pioneer settlers and farmers, and Gold Rush miners and shop-keepers quickly planted grapes, beginning with Zinfandel and expanding into a number of other varietals in the following years.

Kids admire historic fruit crates on old truck at San Joaquin Historical Museum.

In the Lodi/Woodbridge area, make your first two stops at the San Joaquin Historical Society in Micke Grove Park, and the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center at the corner of Lower Sacramento and Turner Roads.

The San Joaquin Historical Society’s Dave Stuart suggests, “For a starting point on history of the Lodi wine appellation, stop at our Tree and Vine Building, offering a host of displays of historic wine-making equipment.  The museum preserves a remnant of William Micke’s 1922 Flame Tokay vineyard; Tokay grapes dominated the area into the 1950s and were used as table grapes and for making brandy and even some wine. The advent of the seedless table grape spelled their doom and now very few Tokay vines can be found in the area.

Historic Pacific Fruit Express, an early refrigerated rail car, revolutionized abilities to ship fruit across the country.

The museum also features the Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) rail car which transported iced produce to distant markets. During prohibition the shipments of wine grapes actually increased as home vintners bought grapes with which to make their own wine for home consumption”.

The Lodi Wine and Visitor Center offers a tasting room, wine-themed gifts and an adjoining demonstration vineyard showing off the varieties of grapes grown in this award-winning appellation. It’s a starting point to pick nearby wineries you might want to visit.

Grab a map and you can head out to one of the more than 80 wineries in the area, favorites include Michael David Winery, Jessie’s Grove Vineyards, Lange Twins Winery and Harmony Wynelands (complete with an old Seattle theater pipe organ for weekend concerts). This time of year, most wineries feature both special events and special offerings.

Kids play at the vertical wind-tunnel at World of Wonders Science Museum in Lodi.

For kids, stop at the nearby Cosumnes River Preserve, two miles north of Thornton, to see thousands of migrating birds of all types right off the road. In the heart of downtown Lodi, kids will enjoy the World of Wonders Science Museum with hands-on activities for children from two to upper teens.

Plan a breakfast or lunch stop at Richmaid Restaurant on Cherokee Lane, which preserves a sense of old-time, homey restaurants, or lunch or dinner at Lodi Beer on School Street in downtown Lodi.

The Shenandoah Valley is a newer wine-grape appellation boasting 40 wineries located just northeast of Plymouth, CA, an hour from Stockton in the Sierra foothills.  A pleasant drive through fall foliage turning bright yellows and oranges can include historic stops at Sutter Creek, Plymouth and Fiddletown, noteworthy for their preservation of Gold Rush history.

The old Hotel Sutter-Bellotti in downtown Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek, offers a dozen blocks of quaint shops, restaurants and about a half dozen wine-tasting outlets for Shenandoah Valley wines. Main Street offers a walkable stretch with a wealth of historic buildings dating from the 1850s, many of them marked by plaques offering historical anecdotes.

Stop for lunch or dinner at the Hotel Sutter/Bellotti Inn, opened in 1860 and one of the oldest hotels still in continuous operation in the state. On Eureka Street is the old Knight Foundry, the only water-powered foundry in the US, that, until recently, was in continuous operation since 1873. Sam Knight designed the water wheel which was used world-wide, powering early hydroelectric plants throughout California, Utah and Oregon.

Plymouth is the “Gateway to the Shenandoah Valley” and home to the remarkable ‘Taste’ restaurant, arguably the region’s finest and, just up the street, the Amador Brewing Company, with crowds queuing up for hand-crafted beers and good food.  Plymouth traces its history to the 1870s when prospectors stopped there in search of quartz and gold. The city has a cute public park with bandstand, the old Plymouth Hotel and other eateries, all crowding several blocks.

The C. Schallhorn Blacksmith Shop in Fiddletown dates to 1870.

From Plymouth, head seven miles east on Fiddletown Road to Fiddletown, which quickly grew in the 1850s and 1860s as a center of trade for many mines located nearby. Fiddletown features several blocks of Gold-Rush-era buildings including the Chew Kee Store dating to 1851, two historic buildings remaining from the town’s former Chinese retail district and the C. Schallhorn Blacksmith Shop. Stop at Browns English Toffee for a delectable treat in the heart of the historic district.

For the early history of the Shenandoah Valley’s wine appellation, make a stop at Sobon Estate Vineyards in Plymouth, longest running winery in the area and their Shenandoah Valley Museum, with displays of historic winemaking equipment and techniques. Other favorites include Karmere, Helwig and Shenandoah Vineyards. Kids will enjoy a stop at Amador Flower Farm, 22001 Shenandoah School Rd., Plymouth, for both the corn maze for older kids and the hay-bale maze for younger children.

Kids enjoy the corn maze at Amador Flower Farm in the Shenandoah Valley.

For an even more extended tour, journey further east to Apple Hill, just beyond Placerville, where apple orchards, farms and wineries share their bounty with visitors, now through Christmas eve.

For more information: San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, located in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Rd, Lodi, 209.953.3460,; Lodi Wine and Visitor’s Center, 2545 W. Turner Rd., Lodi, 209.367.4727,; World of Wonders Science Museum, 2 N. Sacramento Street, Lodi, 209.368.0969,; Shenandoah Valley and Amador County wines,; Plymouth and Fiddletown,; Sutter Creek,; (209) 267-1344; Sobon Estate Winery and Shenandoah Valley Museum,; Amador Flower Farm,; Apple Hill,

Amador Flower Farm's hay-bale maze is made for kids 5 and under!

Contact Tim at, follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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