St. George, Utah, base camp to Utah state, national parks and outdoor adventure!

Tuachan Center for the Arts is nesteled in the red rocks on north edge of St. George; concerts and Broadway shows make home here in summer and fall.

The Washington County Courthouse in downtown St. George dates to the 1860s and is open for tours.
Top, Washington County Courthouse in St. George dates to the 1860s; bottom, red rocks are a staple of a tour through Snow Canyon State Park.
Jenny’s Canyon is the reward for a short hike in Snow Canyon State Park, UT.
Brigham Young’s winter home, in the 1870s, in St. George, UT.

Mormon Tabernacle in St. George is the longest opertating Mormon temple in world.

Make St. George, Utah, your gate way to Utah national parks, north rim of the Grand Canyon:

Little did Mormon leader Brigham Young realize when he sent 300 Mormon families south from the Salt Lake area in 1861 to establish a cotton-growing empire – that he was establishing a beautiful town that would become gateway to southeast Utah’s stunning state and national parks.

St. George, Utah is all that and more. Located in the Mojave Desert next to the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, it’s surrounded by red rock and yellow brown escarpments, cleaved by the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers and is rich in outdoor activities, history, culture and family fun.

The town provides a gateway to bordering state parks like Snow Canyon, Sand Hollow and Coral Pink Sand Dunes parks and nearby national parks such is Zion, Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

It’s a town full of family activities, historical consequence and cultural diversions. The city offers a dozen golf courses, many of them located in challenging red and yellow rocky gorges and offers 70 miles of separated bike trails as well as a bike share program. Outdoor activities are a year-round focus, from beautiful city parks, reservoirs for swimming and boating, pickleball and tennis courts and hiking trails on the city edges.  St. George is home to many annual sporting events, like golf, softball tourneys and the Utah Senior Games in October.

Visit the downtown Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum to get a handle on early civilization, from the Anasazi and later the Paiute tribes of Native Americans, to the Mormon settlement beginning in 1861. The nearby Washington County Courthouse, built from 1866 to 1876, is also open to tours.

Make your next stop the beautiful Mormon Tabernacle; completed in 1876, it was originally constructed to serve as both church and courthouse. It is the oldest continuously active Mormon Temple in the world and is active with concerts and programs as well as Mormon services. Just blocks away, take a tour of the winter home of Brigham Young, which he acquired in the 1870s and lived in until his death in 1877. The home gives a good feel for what life was like in the early days of this picturesque desert town.

You need not travel far to find grand scenery. Snow Canyon State Park is just 8 miles north, providing a great tour of the Mojave Desert, split by red rock carapaces, yellow and brown rock formations and washes wet only in winter months.  The park offers 16 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding and you’re around camping as well as wildlife-viewing and photographic opportunities galore. Take the short hike into Jenny’s Canyon to find a dead-end slot canyon with red rock walls towering many stories over your head. Just across the road, a short hike takes you into the Sand Dunes area, where coral sand blankets the base of red rock cliffs. Additional state parks like Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Quail Creek, and Sand Hollow Parks make for an unending trove of family adventures.

In the next few days we will head east, first to the closest national park, Zion (just 45 miles distant) and then to Bryce Canyon (140 Miles) a few days later. We’ve been to both a few years ago, but we want to explore a few other nooks and crannies in those two superlative national treasures. Heading to the Southwest the north rim of the Grand Canyon lies just 145 miles away. More on those destinations in coming installments.

Saint George offers plenty of cultural opportunities. With a symphony orchestra, Children’s Museum, St. George Art Museum, a wealth of museums of varied history and several choices for theater. Next Tuesday evening, we’re headed to the Tuacahn Amphitheater, set into the red rocks on the south edge of Sand Canyon State Park, for the Tony award-winning production of Matilda the Musical.

St. George offers several score hotels and motels, and a wide variety of family-focused and more upscale restaurants. Don’t miss the Painted Pony Restaurant, on the edge of the downtown historical district, for a classy dining experience with food rated highly by gourmets.

How to get there: To reach St. George you have two choices. One is to cross the Sierra, either east on Highway 108 or Highway 120 (through Yosemite), a scenic 600 miles and 10.75 hours. A bit longer though a bit faster is to take the interstate route, down the San Joaquin Valley to Bakersfield, then east past Las Vegas and up to St. George, 635 miles and 9.5 hours.

For more information: Saint George,; Zion National Park,; Snow Canyon State Park,

Contact Tim Viall at; follow him at Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County with out-of-town guests!


Sunset, with Mt. Diablo in distance, graces the outdoor dining deck at Garlic Brothers Restaurant in north Stockton.

Giant wind-art adorns the Joan Darrah Promenade behind the Stockton Ports Ballpark on the Stockton Deepwater Channel.
A tour group admires the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, circa 1930, in downtown Stockton.
The Haggin Museum graces Victory Park and features huge art collection as well as Native American and pioneer Stockton history exhibits.

Kids admire vintage farm truck loaded with historic fruit crates at the San Joaquin Hisstorical Museum near Lodi.Exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County with out-of-town guests,

A 48 whirl-wind tour of Stockton:

With a thriving cultural scene, gold rush history, stunning architecture, an active waterfront and San Joaquin River Delta location, Stockton is a perfect town to share with family and friends visiting during summer months. If you have two days to share with out-of-town guests, here are suggestions how to maximize their experience.

Start with a sunset dinner on the deck at Garlic Brothers Restaurant, west end of Ben Holt Drive (Holt revolutionized Delta agriculture with the invention of the Caterpillar tractor, more on Holt, below). Garlic Brothers overlooks a thriving marina and you’ll revel in a sunset over Mount Diablo, 40 miles across the Delta.

Next day, explore downtown Stockton’s waterfront by taking a walk on the Joan Darrah Promenade along the Deepwater Channel. Gazing west, you’ll see portions of the Port of Stockton, the eastern-most inland port in California, and a huge economic driver for the region (big ocean-going ships give it away). Just east of the Deepwater Channel, the historic Hotel Stockton, the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre, Bank of Stockton, California Building and others dating to the late 1800s beckon for a walking tour (the Downtown Stockton Alliance provides historical walking tour maps).

If your tour group includes youngsters, consider a stop at the Stockton Children’s Museum on West Weber Avenue, or Pixie Woods Amusement Park in Louis Park, with rides and fun for all ages.  If you are seeking a bite or libation, consider Cast Iron Trading Company and Channel Brewing in the old Belding Building, or old favorites like CanCun or Casa Flores, all within 1.5 blocks of the Hotel Stockton.

Following your tour of downtown and the waterfront, plan an afternoon stop at the Haggin Museum. Anchoring stately Victory Park, the museum features extensive art collections as well as Native American and pioneer history. The museum graphically tells the story of Ben Holt’s agricultural and manufacturing innovations, as well as the city’s storied boat-building history with Stevens and Colburg Yachts, among other shipbuilders.

Later that evening, consider dinner at one of the fine restaurants along the Miracle mile, the city’s first suburban shopping center that blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s. Cocoro, Mile Wine, La Palma and Valley Brew are all inviting options along the Mile.

For evening entertainment, check the Visit Stockton website for shows/performers which may be playing at the Fox/Bob Hope Theatre, the Downtown Arena, the Stockton Civic Theater and several other local theater producers.  Or, take in a Stockton Ports baseball game at the downtown waterfront Ports Ballpark.

The next morning, consider a quick tour to the Lodi/Woodbridge winegrape appellation, centered around Lodi, just 15 miles north. Start with an early breakfast at the 50s-retro Richmaid Café, on Cherokee Lane in Lodi, then tour northwest to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see what the Delta looked like before pioneers settled the area. You’ll find native plants in their glory, and a variety of waterfowl in their native surroundings.

Backtracking, stop at Cosumnes River Farms for both olive oil sampling and wine tasting. You also have a choice of some 70 other wineries spread throughout this highly-regarded wine-growing region; see Visit Lodi for a map of wineries and other attractions. If you’re looking for a late lunch, stop at Phillips Farms on Highway 12, just west of Lodi, for a delicious farm-focused lunch, along with adjoining farmstand full of local produce, wine and gift options.

If you still have energy and want to further explore agricultural and pioneer history, take in the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, on the south edge of Lodi.  Learn more about Native American history, our earliest pioneers and 160 years of local agricultural innovation. During summer months, the ever-popular petting zoo lets kids get up close, and pet, a wide variety of farm animals on Saturdays and Sundays.

You’ve now completed a 48 hour whirlwind tour, and shown off many of the city’s highlights.  What have we missed? Add your own favorites…and, we’re off!

For more information: Children’s Museum of Stockton,; Downtown Stockton Alliance,; Haggin Museum,; Pixie Woods,; San Joaquin Historical Museum,; Visit Lodi,; Visit Stockton,

Contact Tim at; follow him at Enjoy showing off your town!

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

Frugal travel across the US, Canada, the world: Affordable Travel Club and Evergreen Club

The Elk River and Canadian Rockies were just north and east of the Marchant's home in British Columbia.

David and Nancy Marchant, of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, were our first Affordable Travel Club hosts.
Judy and Ward Lowrance, who introduced us to the Affordable Travel Club and invited us to split a house-sitting assignment in Seattle.
A natural bridge slowly forms in Zion National Park, our destination in a week or so!

Frugal travel across the US, Canada, the world;

New mode of thrifty travel for world travelers: Affordable Travel Club and Evergreen Club

My spouse and I have been retired for five years and have discovered a new mode of travel that has allowed us to double our high-end travel, while keeping costs almost ridiculously low.

We depart Monday morning, by auto, for two and a half weeks in St. George, Utah. We will spend our nights at a lovely home in the hills above the city, and our days touring the spectacular southern Utah scenic area, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and other-worldly wonders. The cost of this 18 day trip will be close to nothing, other than the cost of gas and a few meals out. We will be housesitting a lovely home, and touring the parks on a national park senior pass – both, zero expense.

The key in the lock for many of our past and future frugal travels is the Affordable Travel Club, a world-wide club with membership in about 40 countries and 3000 members who offer two options. The first is to connect on housesitting gigs like the one in Utah, while the other is even more immediate. Email or call ahead to various members across the US, Canada or foreign countries and ask the host to put you up for the night.

When the connection is made, the host provides you comfortable lodging, a nice breakfast and shares the wonders of their city; you tip them $20 ($30 in Canada) on your departure. We’ve met a Baker’s dozen families this way in the last few years, and hosted a number of couples or singles touring through the Stockton area. Several host couples have become fast friends, including a couple from England who have invited us to spend several days with them when we get to that country.

Through the club we have also landed six house sitting assignments, including Seattle and Edmonds, WA, Taos, NM, Tucson, AZ, this coming trip to St. George and an October housesitting date outside Boulder, CO. We have a standing notice on the club housesitting bulletin board, and 6-8 requests annually, asking if we can housesit in places like Coeur d’Alene, ID, Oklahoma and the like. We choose based on this criteria: do we want to visit that area, is it a nice home (we check Google earth to see what the house looks like), how long is the assignment and does it include pet or plant sitting? Our St. George assignment comes with a 12-year-old border collie/spaniel mix, and we will take the dog for walks most days we’re there.

The basics of the Affordable Travel Club, and others similar like the Evergreen Club, is this: join, pay an annual membership fee ($65) and gain access to almost 3,000 members across the US, Canada and other countries. Hosts provide you a night’s lodging, breakfast the next morning and considerable insight into the area they live in. The house-sitting option is a useful, additional benefit.

On a recent two month tour across Canada, we spent three nights with Canadian couples, one in British Columbia, one in Alberta and another in Saskatchewan. The process is pretty simple; scan the club’s web site and map of members, find a member near our driving route, contact them by email or phone 10 days or a week in advance, and ask if they could put us up.

Our first night stay was with David and Nancy Marchant in the little town of Baynes Lake, British Columbia, on the west side of the Canadian Rockies. It came with the benefit of a full steak dinner upon arrival, when, a few days prior to our visit, David noted there were no restaurants anywhere near their home and invited us to dinner. The following morning, the Marchants provided breakfast and David happily took us for a tour of his small town and surrounding British Columbia.

Couples in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Regina, Saskatchewan were equally fine hosts, giving us tours of their property and offering suggestions of what to see in their portions of Canada.  Our insight into our Canadian neighbors is all the richer due to these three visits. In addition, we discovered what they thought about their country, their government and their health care options – certainly enlightening.

On the Stockton front, we have hosted about 10 couples or singles passing through our town. Acting as hosts allows us to expand our network of fellow travelers, and several guests have included Oregonians who will put us up next time we are headed north to Washington or British Columbia. While hosting, we get the chance to show off Stockton highlights, and extoll the delights of California living.

Of course, we practice other money-saving ideas to stretch our travel bucks: we travel with efficient autos (like a Ford Focus that gets 38 MPG highway), we often split a main course in high-end restaurants, carry our own auto snacks and soft-drinks and we utilize our federal senior pass for free entrance to national parks and monuments and half-off on campgrounds. Such practices, and membership in the Affordable Travel Club, allow us to travel about five months of the year without breaking our bank account.

For more information: Affordable Travel Club,; Evergreen Club,

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

Posted in Alaska, Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pedaling the American River Bike Trail and rides in your hometown!

Rider heads east past Hagen Park on the American River Bike Trail, with the placid American River on right side of photo.

Friends help Rich Fowler ride 75 miles on his birthday on the American River Trail.
Performance Bike Saturday morning rider group gathers outside the store prior to their ride in north Stockton.
Shadow rider on Weston Ranch bike trail (Matt Beckwith photo).
Full moon riders gather on a balmy evening in downtown Stockton.
Long, Slow Distance (LSD) riders head out into Lodi wine country.

Bike touring on the American River Bike Trail and your own hometown…

Summer fast approaches and what better way to be active, get fit and explore nearby California gems? Dust off those bicycles, check them for road-worthiness and get pedaling to nearby nifty destinations.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of nearby bike trails, the American River Bike Trail that stretches from Old Sacramento on the west all the way up to and past Folsom Lake on the east, following the course of that mighty river, the American. The trail offers more than 40 miles of paved, relatively flat cycling through stunning riparian scenery, with miles of additional side trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding.

On a recent outing, we started at the Lake Natomas Fish Hatchery, just off Hazel and Highway 50 and took a leisurely pedal up the American River to Folsom, stopping for a late brunch at Mel’s Drive in, then peddled back to our starting point. It was only about a 9 mile total ride, but somewhat justified our Saturday brunch. Well, almost. Another nearby destination is the old Sutter Street Café in historic downtown Folsom, offering tasty breakfasts and lunches in a wild West setting. Explore a new addition to the bike trail network, the Johnny Cash Trail, which starts at the old Folsom Bridge and heads to the southeast, past Folsom Prison and new destinations into the California foothills.

Another starting Point is Old Sacramento, which preserves Sacramento much is it was during the 1850’s Gold Rush. Here, catch the west end of the American River bike trail, pedal east through Discovery Park and continue on as far as you care to crank, then do a U-turn and return to your starting point. Old Sacramento offers a half dozen museums, bakeries, cafes and fine restaurants to recharge your batteries.

Closer to home, Stockton and San Joaquin County are blessed by quiet and relatively safe places to pedal. We’re graced by a year-round cycling climate, almost no hills and lovely by-ways to accommodate peddlers.

Where to start: If you’re not sure of your bike’s fitness, or how you fit your bike, visit a local shop like Performance or Robbie’s and get a quick tune-up. Increase your safety on city streets with a rearview mirror or eye-glasses mirror – seeing cars approaching from behind will give you more confidence. For your bike’s safety, carry a good cable lock, so your favorite doesn’t get snatched when you take a break.

When pedaling on the roadways, obey all traffic laws, pedal with traffic and stop at stop signs/traffic lights. Never, ever assume a motorist sees you until you make direct eye contact. Kids under 18 are required by law to wear a helmet; smart adult cyclists also wear a helmet; chose bright colors to make yourself visible to approaching motorists.

If you’re new to bicycling, or haven’t toured recently, many options exist. Consider doing short cycling trips around your own neighborhood on quiet urban or suburban streets. Performance Bicycle in Lincoln Center offers both Saturday and Sunday rides accommodating beginners all the way up to more experienced cyclists.

Want to increase your mileage from five miles to 10 miles or more? The San Joaquin Bike Coalition offers “long slow distance (LSD) Rides” the first Saturday each month starting on the north side of Bear Creek High School on McNabb Street, and heading north into Lodi wine country. The SJBC’s Full Moon Rides in the evening kick off on Tuesday, May 29th for the year. Each of these rides proceeds at a leisurely pace so you won’t get left behind.

Already a serious distance cyclist? Join the Stockton Bike Club for their weekly rides, including many that ascend into the Sierra foothills for rides featuring stunning scenery and robust hills!

The county offers a wealth of cycling destinations. Stockton’s Calaveras Bike Trail, on the north edge of University of Pacific, provides one of the city’s most interesting bikeways; visit UOP’s DeRosa University Center for a refreshment break. From UOP, take the Calaveras Trail west to Buckley Cove Park past Brookside, or east all the way to Cherokee Lane. Or, cycle south on shady Kensington and then Baker Street, all the way to downtown Stockton and the Deepwater Channel (to take in a Stockton Ports game or to pedal around the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade).

Lodi is surrounded by quiet roads through vineyards – offering lovely places to bike with little traffic. North Stockton, Weston Ranch, Manteca and Tracy all offer additional separated bike paths.  For insight into where to ride, check Bike Lodi, Visit Stockton and local chambers of commerce for favorite local rides.

In Stockton and Lodi, the San Joaquin Bike Coalition and Bike Lodi have worked tirelessly with their cities to upgrade the cycling master-plans and broaden the cycling community in their cities. Both cities are discovering how bike tourism leads to more business and how cyclists add to the fabric of their communities – in Lodi new Bike Lodi signs brand the city as bike-friendly and offer a handy spot to lock-up your bike.

For more information: American River Bike Trail,; Bike Lodi,; Performance Bike Shop,; San Joaquin Bike Coalition, or their Facebook page,; Stockton Bike Club,; Visit Stockton,; or phone local chambers of commerce for suggested ride routes.

Contact Tim Viall at; follow him at Safe pedaling in your town!


Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

High Sierra adventure; Hwy. 108, Sonora to Sonora Pass offers fun and adventure!

Senator Curtin's stately Victorian home in Sonora; he ran for California governor in 1914.

Pinecrest Lake, at almost 5,700 feet, attracts crowds of both swimmers and fishermen to its clear, cold waters.
Relief Reservoir shines its azure blue waters about 2.5 miles up the trail from Kennedy Meadows Resort.
The high Sierra, looking northeast from Sonora Pass; great hiking from this vantage point!
Horsemen and pack animals from Kennedy Meadows Resort head up the trail to Relief Reservoir.
Author’s grandson Hunter attacks a Sloppy Joe Burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Hwy. 108, pathway to high Sierra fun and adventure!

With late winter Sierra snows melting away below about 8,000 feet, it’s time to revisit our favorite part of these mountains, Highway 108 from Sonora up to Sonora Pass. This route takes in Native American and gold rush history, stunning scenery, fishing and swimming opportunities and hiking and biking options galore. Several towns offer comfy lodging, and more than a dozen campgrounds offer picture-postcard places to spend a night, or a week.

Start in Sonora, long a crossroads for Native Americans as well as gold rush prospectors and pioneers. Located at the intersection of the gold rush highway, 49, and Hwy. 108, it’s a bustling yet historic town with all the amenities. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants, several local theaters and shops lining its historic stretch of Hwy. 49.

Tour the old Sonora Jail, 158 W. Bradford, now the Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum, first built in 1857, burned and rebuilt in 1866 and serving continuously until 1960. Each of the 10 jail cells house mini-museums, focusing upon our native American forebears, early townspeople and miners, the area’s lumbering history and the importance of water to both agriculture and gold mining. Your kids will get a kick out of the old jail, as well – lock ‘em in the clink!

The old courthouse is just blocks away, and nearby museums include the Sonora Fire Museum at 125 North Washington, the Veterans Memorial Hall and Military Museum, 158 W. Bradford and the St. James History Room at 42 W. smell. Six old cemeteries circle the city – the historical society offers maps.

It’s a town lined with old Victorian homes along many streets, including the Sugg-McDonald house, built 1857 on property of a former slave and the beautifully restored 1897 home of J. B.  Curtain, attorney, state senator and 1914 candidate for California governor.

Downtown’s Washington St./Highway 49 futures dozens of the historic buildings dating to the 1850s, including the spectacular Opera Hall, 1885. Walk the 10 walk stretch of history, window shop and stop at Coffill Park on Sonora Creek, were a 22 pound Gold nugget was discovered.

The Sonora area was also a major source of lumbering with several huge mills nearby including the Standard Mill, adjacent to Sonora and the huge Westside Lumber in Tuolumne City, just 6 miles to the south east. Each mill built narrow gauge railways deep into the Sierra; shay engine number 3, a 60 town locomotive that begin operations in 1910 is on display at the entrance to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds on Stockton Road, just a mile from downtown.

Beyond Sonora, head up Hwy. 108 and stop in Twain Harte, a lovely mountain resort town featuring dependable restaurants like a Sportsman Café (breakfast), and The Rock (regularly voted the best hamburgers and fries). Back on Hwy. 108, head east past Miwuk Village, Sugar Pine, Long Barn and Cold Springs before reaching the delightful resort town of Pinecrest, wrapped around the lake of the same name.

Pinecrest’s PG&E reservoir at 5,679 feet offers a bucolic setting for cabins, fishing, sandy beaches and family fun. Overnight lodging is offered by the Pinecrest Lake Lodge and Pinecrest Chalets, and dependable family restaurants are nearby, including Mia’s (Italian, pizza) and the Steam Donkey (fine food in a rustic family setting).

A picturesque 4 mile hike around the rocky lake shore is fun family entertainment, and hiking and bicycling trails fan out into the Sierra in all four directions. Just above Pinecrest is the ski area of Dodge Ridge, presenting more bicycling and hiking options at higher elevations. Pinecrest is home to two nice campgrounds, and from May through summer, outdoor movies are offered nightly at the Pinecrest Amphitheater on the lake shore.

Heading higher into the Sierra, pass-through the small town of Strawberry, where the Strawberry Inn offers good food and lodging, then find additional lakes like Beardsley, Donnell and Relief Reservoir strung among 10 campgrounds along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers. Here additional hiking and backpacking trails are extensive; favorites include the Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak and Sonora Peak and trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Our favorite campground is the USFS Clark Fork Campground on the Clark Fork River – clean air and clear night skies make for amazing stargazing.

The Kennedy Meadows Resort features a nice lodge, restaurant and cabins and is a great focal point for horse packing trips and hiking into Kennedy Meadows. Above is Sonora Pass, with additional hiking options both north and south – though the almost-10,000 feet elevation and scenic vistas will literally take your breath away! Take your camera, hiking and fishing poles!

For more info: Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum,, (209) 532.1317; Sonora Chamber of Commerce,, (209) 694-4405; Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau,, (800) 446-1333.

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Golden 1 Center enhances dining and nightlife in downtown Sacramento!

Appetizer of raw ahi tuna with guacamole of avocado and mango salsa on wonton chips is popular at the Diplomat Steakhouse.

Public art surrounds sidewalks around the Golden 1 Center.
Crowd of Sacramentans streams towards the Golden 1 Center, passing the Sauced Restaurant.
The Pilothouse Restaurant is located onboard the old Delta King Riverboat in Old Sacramento.
The new Sophia offers theater-goers an intimate setting in Midtown area.

Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center brings growing downtown dining and night scene

For years, we’ve attended special events in Sacramento’s downtown area, taking in shows at the old Crest Theater, the Wells Fargo Music Circus, the Community Center Theater as well as the old B Street Theater complex. For dining and nightlife, we’ve always targeted the Old Sacramento area or Midtown Sacramento for nice restaurants, bars and après-theater forays. We stayed clear of the K Street mall area and surrounding streets, thinking the area “too gloomy and no action”. I’m here to tell you – all that has changed with the opening of the Golden 1 Center in fall, 2016.

Since the new arena opened as home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team, downtown foot traffic is up well over 10 percent; on nights of King’s games and other big shows, foot traffic can increase as much as 80 percent, turning the area into a lively people-scene. Like King’s rookies in training camp each season, new restaurants and nightspots have popped up near the flashy new performing arts center; 13 new restaurants have opened near the arena, with nine more soon to follow. Those numbers add up to more than 100 restaurants populating the downtown district.

Notes Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, “Downtown Sacramento has really evolved into a vibrant, one-of-a-kind dining experience. From the Old Sacramento waterfront into downtown and midtown, we’ve become somewhat of a mecca in recent years with some of the country’s most talented chefs taking advantage of our abundant local, fresh ingredients. As a result, high-quality restaurants are proliferating – from casual eats to special occasion dining – and more are on the way”.

A few personal suggestions in the downtown area around the Golden 1 Center:

• The Diplomat Steakhouse, 1117 11th St, offering prime meat dishes and sea food, and tasty appetizers like raw ahi sushi with avocado and mango guacamole on fried wontons. “They are very popular” noted bartender Joel, in the 10 days the new steakhouse has been open,
• Echo and Rig Butcher & Steakhouse, in the Sawyer Hotel, 500 J St., a new, classy restaurant with both dining room and outdoor patio, getting great reviews,
• Tequila Museo Mayahuel, offering fine Mexican food including a tequila museum at 1200 K Street,
• Frank Fat’s – the old standard with beautiful décor and fantastic fried rice, 806 L Street,
• Sauced, serving up BBQ and brews, just east of Golden 1, 1028 7th Street, and,
• Capital Hop Shop, a new taproom with lots of hoppy options, 1431 I Street!

Old Sacramento, just to the west of the arena, remains a center of dining and noshing options. On the waterfront, the Rio City Café, 1110 Front Street and the Pilot House Restaurant on the grand old riverboat Delta King (built in 1923 in Stockton), 1000 Front Street, offers riverfront views, nostalgia and fine food. The Firehouse, always a favorite at 1112 2nd Street, Knobs and Knockers, 1203 A Front St., serves up German beers, pretzels and knockwurst (downstairs,  music on the weekends will signal the location), and Fanny Ann’s Saloon, 1023 2nd St., with quick beers and great burgers, are all good options.

In Midtown, the new $29 million Sophia Theater complex recently opened at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue, attracting lively crowds with a 250 seat Mainstage Theater and a 365 seat adjoining Children’s Theater, first class and intimate venues. Nearby, venture to Paragary’s, 1401 28th Street, with the coolest outdoor garden, dining and drinks area and varied, reasonable menu, or Biba’s, 2801 Capital Ave., for classy decor and fine Italian dishes.

Desserts? Don’t overlook the old standby, Rick’s Dessert Diner, at 2401 J Street, where fresh, delicious pastries, tortes, cheesecakes, pies and cakes will round out your gourmet downtown evening!

Walking, parking? Sacramento’s Old Sac/downtown/midtown area has become eminently walkable, and surface lots and parking decks are sprinkled throughout the area. For big events at Golden !, we usually park in public parking lots under the I-5 freeway in Old Sacramento, near the California Railroad Museum. Uber, Lyft, cabs, pedicabs and RT light rail also serve the area, should walking between destinations become a bit too far.

For more information, on downtown happenings and business guide, go to the Downtown Sacramento Partnership,, (916) 442-8575. For events at the Golden 1 Center, Music Circus, the Community Center Theater and the Sophia Theater, go to Visit Sacramento,, (916) 226-5783.

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trailerfest offers you tour of several hundred vintage travel trailers

Trailerfest continues tomorrow and Sunday at Tower Park Marina, just west of Lodi on Highway 12. Tour through several hundred vintage camper trailers, with open house for the public on Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM. It’s your chance to view classic travel trailers, talk to the owners about buying or rehabbing an old trailer and more. See you at Tower Park Marina, west of Lodi!

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

California’s national historic districts and monuments make the state special!

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse bathed in sunlight on a windy day.

Old Fort Point, tucked under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.The Balclutha, left, and Eppleton Hall at Hyde Street Pier.
Mountain biker charges down a Ft. Ord singletrack trail.
Ft. Ord wildflowers come in many hues on the old army base.
Old windmill offers contrast from Carrizo Plain NM wildflowers.

Explore some of California’s 37 national parks, historic districts and monuments!

California counts 37 total national parks, national monuments, historic sites, trails and seashores; more than most other states (go to and search for California’s list). It’s one more reason to declare California a treasure-trove of wonderful destinations.

Last week I shared our favorite nearby national parks; this week we’ll profile our favorites from the national monuments, historic sites and seashores list. These are all within a few hours drive of San Joaquin County, so, get out your adventure planner!

We’ll cover our favorites starting in the Bay Area, then move south.

Point Reyes National Seashore: Where can you see Elephant seals, Tule elk, watch whales, stroll the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California for Queen Elizabeth in 1579, tour a spectacular Pacific lighthouse and gorge on freshly shucked oysters – just north of San Francisoco and only 2 1/2 hours from Stockton? It’s Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore, offering visitors over 1500 species of plants and animals to discover! Stop first at the Drake’s Bay’s Visitor Center; just down the beach we happened upon a huge northern elephant seal, 12 feet long and pushing 2,000 pounds, snoozing and paying no attention to our presence. Motor over to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse for tours, and find raw Tomales Bay oysters for lunch.

San Francisco National Maritime Park: Anchoring the west side of Fisherman’s Wharf area, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park preserves the sounds, sights and lore of Pacific Coast maritime history. Tour a wonderful fleet of historic ships, the Visitor Center and the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Walk along pretty Aquatic Park, home to two historic rowing/swimming clubs where you’ll see die-hard swimmers in the Bay, year-round!

Further west is Fort Mason and the Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts (remains of the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and its future impacts on California). Beyond Crissy Field, the old WW I airfield, lies Fort Point.

Fort Point National Historic Site: The fort is located under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, a stunning setting all to its own. The fort defended the San Francisco Bay from well before the Gold Rush, the Civil War and through World War II. Designed in same style as Fort Sumter, you can tour officers and enlisted men’s quarters, admire old cannon and discuss 19th century warfare with docents in period uniform. The fort’s graceful masonry and killer views, with the Golden Gate towering overhead, is worth the trip!

Two national monuments in California’s coastal range are ripe for exploring.

Fort Ord National Monument, the old army post that trained thousands of soldiers for recent wars was established as a national monument in 2012. Sandwiched between Monterey and Salinas, it offers an undiscovered 8 by 16 mile swath of rolling greenery, with plenty of hiking, bicycling, as well as birding, wildflower and wildlife viewing in its undulating backcountry.

If you are a cyclist, the monument is of special interest; old army paved roads are cut by plenty of gravel roads and exciting singletrack, making for a varied biking experience. The monument abuts Laguna Seca Raceway, and San Benito County Parks offer nice campgrounds in surrounding hills, making for a long-weekend destination or overnight in Salinas or Monterey. The desolate and scenic Big Sur coast is just south, to extend your visit.

The Carrizo Plain National Monument: Head south on Interstate 5 three hours, turn off at CA Hwy. 41, go south and follow signs. High in the coastal range, the plain preserves the land much as it was 200 years ago. Carrizo Plain experts will note that March to early May is the usual time to see wildflowers in abundance. During our visit few weeks ago, goldfields carpeted the hills with brilliant golden hues, and daisies, poppies and lupine were bursting forth. In May, buckwheat, mariposa lilies and farewell-to-spring flowers usually make a strong appearance.
Geographically, it’s an exciting place, with the Caliente Range running through the monument and the Sierra Madre Mountains lying just to the west. In January, 1857 the San Andreas Fault ruptured the monument area with a huge earthquake, causing 30 feet of lateral offset within the plain, creating a fault-line stretching 220 miles. Take the Wallace Creek Trail and watch for the unusual land forms, remnants of this huge earthquake.

The Carizzo Plain  provides a wealth of hiking and bicycling, horseback riding and stunning birdwatching, wildlife and wildflower viewing. Wildlife for the hardy explorer can include sightings of pronghorn antelope, tule elk, black-tailed deer, bobcats and mountain lions, coyotes and ground squirrels. The monument offers two campgrounds; nearby Los Padres National Forest offers additional options. San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay on the coast are just west, offering hotel, motel and bed and breakfast accommodations, as well as seafood and the mighty Pacific.

Plot that next adventure; another 30-some monuments and sites remain!

For more information: Pt. Reyes National Seashore,, (415) 464-5100; National Maritime Museum and Hyde Street Pier;, 415-447-5000; Fort Point National Historical Site,, (415) 504-2334 ; Ft. Ord National Monument,, (831) 582-2200; Carrizo Plain National Monument,, (805) 475-2131.

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

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

Pick Six: Top national parks in California and surrounding states

Ranger explains how massive General Sherman Sequoia is largest tree, by mass, in the world.

Yosemite Falls thunders, with our ’64 Scotty trailer in foreground.
Couple admires Grand Canyon from rim near Moran Point

Wheeler Peak stands over 13,000 feet in Great Basin National Park, studded with ancient Bristlecone Pines.

Our top six picks: The top national parks in California and surrounding states

This week is National Parks Week, with admission to all national parks and monuments FREE through the 29th! Californians are blessed by close proximity to this amazing world; the best of the US and the West is captured for posterity by our national parks.  This week we offer the top six parks within California and the three states surrounding: Oregon, Nevada and Arizona.

Our first thoughts fall to the west’s most-visited national park, Yosemite. While about 90% of visitors cram into the one mile wide, eight mile long Yosemite Valley, real Yosemite explorers suggest touring to lesser known corners of the park, such as hiking along the north shore of Hetch Hetchy Valley (John Muir called it Yosemite’s twin) by crossing the O’Shaunessy Dam, or hiking west along the Tuolumne River from Tuolumne Meadows. Get off the beaten path and discover new wonders in Yosemite’s Sierra wonderland.

Smashing as Yosemite is, don’t overlook nearby dual wonders Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, sharing a common border in the Sierra above Fresno, just 90 miles south of Yosemite. Both parks are home to the mighty Sequoia, with Sequoia’s General Sherman (largest tree in world) and Kings Canyon’s General Grant Grove.  Here you can drive your car under a mighty fallen giant, or tour to the end of Kings Canyon with Mt. Whitney looming in the distance.

Joshua Tree National Park is located east of the Palm Springs area, offering a wild and other-worldly assortment of plant life.  From 18’ tall, spindly Ocotillo plants with slender red flowers, to Brittlebush, Smoketree, Mojave yucca and the strange Cholla cactus – alien and hardy creations!

Should you enter Joshua Tree’s north-entrance, you’ll find the home of the park’s namesake Joshua Trees. The route slowly descends in elevation, past old mining roads, through the Jumbo Rocks area (our favorite campground at the Rocks).  Here a jumble of boulders and rock slabs is thrust into the sky like pick-up-sticks – a kid’s wonderland of climbing opportunities. At lower elevations, patches of Ocotillo, the Cholla Cactus Garden and other strange plants appear.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, makes our list, just north of the California border and offering wondrous vistas. Start at the Crater Lake Lodge area on Rim Drive’s southside.  Walking to the crater’s  rim, the first view remains always inspirational.  Crater Lake, which filled a collapsed volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago, at 5 miles across and 6 miles long, is the bluest azure blue. Just west across the Cascade range is the lovely town of Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with three theatres staging varied Shakespearian works and more modern plays like those of Tom Stoppard.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada, anchors the majesty of the Great Basin and Range area. To get there, take Hwy. 50, deemed the “Loneliest Road in America”, with wide, open desert valleys, peaks green with foliage due to afternoon thunderstorms, and historic towns, Native American and Pony Express sites sprinkled throughout.

Great Basin National Park is anchored by 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak, second tallest in Nevada. The park offers the solitude of the desert, sagebrush, jack rabbits, mountain lions, mule deer and the darkest of nighttime skies (you’ll clearly see the Milky Way). The allure of Lehman Cave, not the largest but one of the most impressive of caves in the US (Ranger-led tours trek 1,500 feet into the mountain, offering some of the most dramatic caverns, stalactites and stalagmites in the country). The caverns and Bristlecone Pine groves (gnarly trees older than 4,000 years) above 9,800 feet on Wheeler Peak set the park apart from others.

I first visited Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park with my family as a wide-eyed 14 year-old Ohioan, and many times as an adult.  Each visit comes with the jaw-dropping, catch-your-breath amazement that accompanies the first look into that huge, colorful abyss, some 5,000 feet deep in the high desert. Approach the park’s rim at sunrise or just before sunset and find the canyon bathed in stunning hues from the rising/setting sun; below, the Colorado River runs 277 miles through the park’s canyon, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep  – incredible!

The majority of visitors enter the park at the south entrance. The south rim runs for miles, offering unique vistas and history, including the Tusayan Ruins and Museum, chronicling the history of the native people that once made their life on the rim. Take a hike down the Bright Angel Trail, where mules haul people all the way to the canyon bottom – we hiked about a mile down the trail, then had approximately 700 vertical feet to climb out – definitely tougher than the hike down! The town of Williams, 60 miles south, is a featured stop on old Route 66, with blocks of the city center recaptured in their early Route 66 finest.

Lodging/camping: Yosemite Park, Sequoia/Kings Canyon Parks, Crater Lake and Grand Canyon all offer both lovely campgrounds and classic lodges; Joshua Tree and Great Basin offer stunning campgrounds (for overnight motels, check nearby towns).

For more information on any national parks, and pick your park.  For camping,; book early, these gems sell out during summertime.

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

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sierra Nevada, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Local travel; explore your history and what makes the city great!

Hush, by Diana Reuter, is on display.

Kids exercise their artistic talents at the Haggin.
The Leyendecker Gallery is a popular art exhibit.
This classic Stevens wooden runabout helps the museum tell Stockton’s story as a boat-building center over the last 170 years.
The Yokets Village is part of the museum’s Native American gallery.
Huge harvester, a wonder of wood and iron, was pulled by a 20-horse team in Valley fields.

The Haggin; explore your history and what makes the city great!

Have you and your family wondered about the Native Americans and early settlers who lived in the Stockton/San Joaquin area hundreds of years before you? Have you recently toured, arguably, Stockton’s finest institution of history and art? Stockton’s Haggin Museum, declared by Sunset Magazine “one of the unsung gems of California” recently opened new and renovated exhibits and galleries, offering renewed inspiration and education for residents of the San Joaquin.

The Haggin’s Native American Gallery profiles Spanish missionaries who entered California in 1769, finding an estimated Native American population of over 300,000, the densest population of Native people in the entire North American continent north of central Mexico. 100 indigenous tribes speaking 125 languages inhabited California with diverse food sources, from the oceans and our inland waterways, to the marshes of the Delta and Valley oaks producing acorns.

The following 150 years would produce massive changes in the landscape and population, uprooting the native populations.

The Spanish mission in San Jose had the greatest influence on tribes in the San Joaquin County area.  In 1826, Jedidiah Smith, the first white trapper appeared, foretelling annual visits by trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company out of Ft. Vancouver, WA.   In 1833 a malaria epidemic swept through the Native American population; over 20,000 died in one six month period.

Haggin exhibits outline how the Mexican government ceded vast tracts in the form of ranchos, including 46,000 acres to Captain Weber in Stockton, practices which further endangered Native Americans. The Haggin’s galleries trace how the county grew with missionary’s incursions and land-grant growth due to new settlers.

The Mexican American War ended with Mexico ceding California to the US, just eight days after discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848.  The Gold Rush would prompt California’s population to quadruple by the early 1860s. Museum exhibits trace the city and the county’s dynamic growth to modern times. The Haggin’s most popular artifacts remain, including the oldest harvester remaining, a wonder of wood and iron, built by Holt, the old Stevens classic wooden boat and Willy the Jeep, commemorating Stockton High School students who held war bonds fund drives and raised money to supply 245 Jeeps for the World War II effort.

The Haggin’s storied art collection, along with current and coming art exhibitions, make this a special time to renew your acquaintance with this wonderful institution.  They include:

87th Annual McKee Student Art Contest & Exhibition, March 22 – April 29: Celebrate the arts in education during this student exhibit, the longest running student art exhibition in the country! Featuring the work of student artists from kindergarten through grade 12, the exhibition was first envisioned by founding patron Robert T. McKee. All schools in San Joaquin County—public, private, charter, parochial and home-schools—receive invitations to submit their work.

60th Stockton Art League Juried Exhibition, May 17 – July 15: The Stockton Art League’s juried art competition returns to the Haggin Museum this year with more than 100 new works by long-standing local artists and newcomers from around the country. The original competition was conceived in 1951 to promote and reward excellence in Northern California art, expanded in 2006 to include all of California as well as Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Today it includes artists from throughout the United States; artists will be awarded across five categories:  Acrylics and Oils; Water Media; Mixed Media & Graphics; Sculpture; and, Pastel.  The works on display in the museum’s temporary exhibition galleries will be for sale through the Stockton Art League with pricing information at the front desk.

FULL SUN: American Women Artists Illuminate the Haggin Museum, August. 2 – Sept. 16: This exhibit celebrates a re-examination of the Haggin Collection; members of American Women Artists (AWA) were asked to create artwork that was inspired by a selection of 13 paintings from the Haggin Museum’s 19th – 20th-century art including works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Bierstadt, Rosa Bonheur, William Merritt Chase and other notable artists. This juried exhibition will include nearly 100 pieces of artwork ranging from paintings to sculptures.

2nd Saturdays for Families are popular with families with children ages 5-12. Activities include art projects, interactive programs and Museum-wide events. Reservations are not required, but seating is available on a first come, first served basis. The Museum supplies all materials and activities are included with regular Museum admission. Contact the education department (209) 940-6315 or for more information.

• Saturday, May 12, 1:30 – 3 pm: Weave a colorful flower plate to take home or give to someone special.
• Saturday, June 9, 1:30 – 3 pm: Become a robot engineer for the day! Using simple materials, create a moving hand modeled after your own muscles and tendons.

Summer Art Workshops are coming, with Session 1: July 10 – 13, from 2 – 4 pm and Session 2 July 17 – 20, from 2 – 4 pm. Each session features a range of art projects for ages 6-12. Call (209) 940-6315 or email

For information: Haggin Museum, 1201 N. Pershing, Stockton,, (209) 940-6300, open Saturday and Sunday, Noon-5 PM and Wednesday-Friday, 1:30-5:00 PM (open to 9 PM, 1st and 3rd Thursdays). The Haggin charges a modest admission fees; all visitors are FREE on the 1st Saturday monthly.

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

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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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