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Two children stand in front of a small section of the Cruising mural, one of 17 murals in downtown Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO

You can catch a glimpse of Yosemite Valley, enjoy San Francisco landmarks and take in the bounty of the San Joaquin Valley with just a short leisurely walk.

It can all be found in downtown Manteca.

Manteca has slowly gained recognition in art circles for its growing collection of murals. It has become a brief stopover for Bay Area mural enthusiasts venturing to the Sierra. There is also several times a year where tour groups make it a point to swing into the heart of Manteca to see the muralswhere old Highway 120 and Highway 99 routes once crossed before they were replaced by freeways.

With 17 large murals and counting downtown Manteca is slowing transforming itself into a family social and cultural hub complete with two major street fairs essentially bookending the valley’s fun-in-the-sun season starting with the Crossroads Street Fair the first weekend in April and ending with the Pumpkin Fair during the first weekend in October. The two street fairs collectively attract over 75,000 people each year.

The city will have spent over $10 million transforming the downtown district during an 11-year period when work is completed on a “Grand Central Station” style transit center icon designed to also double as a downtown landmark complete with clock tower and community gathering spot. The station’s public plaza and large community room are designed to accommodate low-key events from casual gatherings and cultural events to social endeavors.

The transit station complements the de facto town square created when the city tore out streets and expanded Library Park while taking full advantage of a number of stately sycamore trees that provide a shade canopy during the spring, summer, and fall. Recent additions to the plaza include a 75-seat amphitheater complete with a new gazebo stage, five murals along the mural walk, an interactive water play feature that incorporates history and geography into its design, and an expansive children’s playground.

Library Park is part of the street fairs but also hosts a number of other events throughout the year such as the summer famers market and in years’ past outdoor concert series.

There are two things that sets Manteca’s downtown apart from its counterparts in Northern San Joaquin Valley communities of 100,000 residents or less.

It is still at the center of the community and daily traffic movements plus it can be accessed by a separated bicycle path system that ties it to many of the city’s neighborhoods.

Yosemite Avenue and Main Street each host major commercial areas on the four corners of the community. That means the streets connecting them cross at the heart of downtown. While that is a blessing it is also a curse. It means traffic counts in downtown Manteca are proportionally higher than in most other smaller valley downtowns in relation to their overall traffic movements. That means the type of enhancements that have helped lure more intense retail activity downtown such as turning sidewalks into virtual promenades as has happened in Lodi can’t work in Manteca due to the need to move large volumes of traffic in all four directions.

Even so, Manteca’s downtown hosts its fair share of specialty shops and dining options.

The food offerings range from traditional sandwich shops, delis, and BBQ-style restaurants to Thai, a repertoire of Mexican styles, fast food, English tea shop, Chinese, and American including a popular hole-in-the-wall spot dubbed the Mangy Moose that is jammed almost every day for breakfast. There are several Mexican bakeries as well as one with a European twist plus ethnic food stores. What some find surprising is downtown Manteca sports a specialty store that draws strong foot traffic in the form of a Rocky Mountain Chocolate outlet.

There are a number of traditional retailers, four financial institutions, bars including a sports lounge, and services.

Downtown Manteca also is where you’ll find the city’s library and post office. There is also another uniquely Manteca feature within its downtown - two Portuguese American organizations have large expansive halls used for their own events and those of community groups - the Festa do Espirito de Manteca (FESM) and Manteca-Ripon Pentecost Society (MRPS). The facilities have allowed Manteca to host a number of strong specialty regional draws such as the annual Manteca Quilt and Doll Show closing in on 40 years.



209 staff reporter