Bucket list suggestions for your 2019 California travels

Huge steam donkey provided power to skid and mill logs in the Tuolumne City area.

Back road’s discovery; Cosumnes River Preserve just north of Thornton and Lodi.
Atlas Obscura is a fine guide to weird and wacky treasures both in California and much beyond.
Wildflowers surround an old windmill near the entrance to Carrizo Plain National Monument, just a few hours south on Interstate 5 from San Joaquin County.
Discover Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake, just a short detour off your next trip to Yosemite Valley.

Exploring California in the new year; bucket list suggestions for your 2019 California travels

In our years leading up to retirement, and particularly since, my spouse and I frequently reflect on the quote (author unknown), “Travel far. Travel wide. Travel close to home. Life is not meant to be lived in one place”.

This column shares ideas on “traveling close to home”, primarily in our great state of California. Here are a few tips and different ways to think about what you might want to see when you polish your travel plans within the Golden State:

Explore back roads: Ever since riding with my dad as a pre-teen in our 53 Plymouth,  remembering him saying “let’s see where that road will take us”, I have been a fan of exploring back roads. My motto: Avoid freeways, and particularly Interstates, if it all possible! As example, if visiting Lodi and surrounding wine country, back roads like Thornton Road will take you to a marvelous little bakery in Thornton, Consumnes River Farms for wine and olive oil tasting, and north to Cosumnes River Preserve, for spectacular bird-watching along the riparian banks of the Cosumnes River.

Our Sierra foothills are bisected by back roads gems: If you’re near Sonora, perhaps checking out Black Oak Casino, follow Tuolumne Road a bit further to Tuolumne City, tied both to gold rush history and several huge, now shuttered lumber mills. The city preserves some of the buildings of huge Westside Lumber, which closed in 1960 – it represents two bygone eras of the gold rush and timber production.

Take exploratory day trips: Use special events like the upcoming Stockton Restaurant Week (January 18-27, 2019, 30 participating restaurants) as a reason to dine at several new places and see elements of the city you’d forgotten about, including exciting new restaurants in downtown Stockton.

Or explore Lodi, starting with breakfast at a favorite, Richmaid on Cherokee, a throwback to the 1950s (with the Vintage Reserve Garage across the street, featuring 20 to 30 classic and vintage autos for sale), and check out local jewels like the San Joaquin Historical Museum, the World of Wonders Children’s Museum and the quaintest of reborn downtowns. Another idea, explore Oakland and San Francisco using public transit; the Bay Area ferries, street cars, cable cars along SF’s Embarcadero and waterfront.

Explore lesser scenic wonders near major attractions: Instead of the crowds that pack Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, check out often overlooked national monuments like Carrizo Plain National Monument (several hours down Interstate 5, stunning in the spring with wildflowers a-plenty). Find historic Jolon and Mission San Antonio de Padua near Pinnacles National Park, itself an undiscovered treasure just south of Hollister.

Regional or state parks usually experience lighter crowds, like Black Diamond Mines Preserve in the East Bay (preserving remnants of California’s coal mining empire which prospered from the mid-1800s until the early part of the 20th century) or Mt. Diablo State Park (on a clear day, you can see 100 miles, camp overnight and enjoy miles of hiking trails). For a California desert experience, skip often-jammed Death Valley National Park and check out Anza Borrego State park, larger than the other 250 state parks combined, offering similar desert wonders as Death Valley, and the eerie Salton Sea just east.

If you’re off to iconic destinations, find gems along the way: On the way to Yosemite, look for interesting stops along Hwy. 120; walk the several blocks of gold rush town China Camp, once home to a huge Chinese mining and merchant population, now just a shadow of its former grandeur. Before reaching Yosemite, detour along Evergreen Road and check out huge O’Shaughnessy Dam and spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley, which John Muir compared as an equal to Yosemite Valley. It gets about 4% of Yosemite’s traffic, and is a worldly wonder in its own right.

Prospect lesser-visited parts of the state: Explore the Eastern Sierra along Hwy. 395 including Bodie (one of the west’s iconic ghost towns), Mono Lake and its other-worldly tufa columns, Manzanar Internment Camp (were thousands of Japanese-Americans were sadly interned during World War II), beautiful Mammoth Lakes Area and the stark but scenic Alabama Hills area where scores of Hollywood westerns were filmed. California’s north coast, or the Big Sur Coast and points south offer equally interesting scenery and discovery potential.

Ask locals about secret wonders: On a tour of Death Valley, several locals suggested exploring just east of the park to Rhyolite, a once thriving silver mining city with its own rail station, numerous hotels and dozens of buildings and one-time almost 10,000 citizens, now slowly decaying since its abandonment in the early 20th century. We were tipped off about the Salton Sea while visiting Anza Borrego State Park (by the park’s campground host), California’s inland sea formed by huge floods from the Colorado River in the early 1900s, now site of failed resort towns and a growing man-made ecological disaster.

Use guide-book resources: Atlas Obscura (by Fuer, Thuras, Morton) or Weird California (Bishop, Oesterle, Marinacci) profile scores of interesting and amazing oddities that will make you a back roads aficionado.

And, remember to travel while you can; don’t put off your travels when you can start close to home, with some of the USA’s grandest destinations just a few minutes or hours away. Stay active and fit with brisk neighborhood or trail walks, and, “get traveling”!

Resources: the Guidebooks noted; for California travel, visitcalifornia.com, and local resources like Stockton travel, visitstockton.org.

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

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 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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