LODI — Lodi, in a way, is the Rodney Dangerfield of the 209.
It gets no respect from many when they think of wine despite it being world renowned in vintner circles. It is the largest wine grape growing region in California that goes a long way to making San Joaquin County the largest wine grape producing county in the United States. To top it off, Lodi has 85 wineries and more than 60 wine tasting rooms with a number that can match the elegant setting of their counterparts in the Napa Valley.
It gets no respect from many who yearn for destination downtowns in the Valley. They pine for downtowns like Livermore and Pleasanton yet they don’t realize what they have in their own backyard. Lodi has appealing tree-lined streets, dining, entertainment venues, art galleries specialty shops and events galore in its downtown.
It gets no respect — strike that — it gets no consideration as a day trip despite having Lodi Lake and attractions such as the World of Wonder science museum, the north state’s largest serpentarium (think reptiles and such), and the ability to jump out of a perfectly good plane from 10,000 feet or so or spend a day at Micke Grove Park complete with zoo, children’s rides, an expansive county museum, and a stunning Japanese garden.
Personally, I’m not a wine drinker. Over the years, though, I have taken more than a few friends from the Bay Area and Sacramento to visit some of the wine tasting rooms and then dine in downtown Lodi. All of them — without exception — were stunned not just at the quality of the wines but the ambiance of the wine tasting rooms. All have since made their own treks to the Lodi area. One couple took my suggestion to stay at the Wine & Roses. They were completely stunned. They said the rooms, health spa, and on-site restaurant were on par with anyplace they’ve stayed in the Napa-Sonoma region. My experience with Wines & Roses was during a pair of weddings and a business conference. It was impressive then and that was before their expansion that has the true feel of a wine country spa situated on seven acres with towering trees and lush landscaping for a retreat from the valley heat.
While I’m not into wine, one of my vices are root beer floats.
At least once a year I’ll make the pilgrimage to the Lodi A&W to get the real deal in a frosted glass mug. Lodi happens to be the birthplace of A&W Root Beer. The drive-in today has a decent collection of A&W memorabilia on display plays weekly car shows during the summer.
Such trips are normally tied into an excursion to Lodi Lake that is connected to the Mokelumne River. Lodi Lake is a city park where you can paddleboard, kayak or canoe or rent pedal boats. There is also a swimming area complete with a sandy beach and showers. The lake adjoins a 58 acre nature area complete with trails and plenty of birds. There is a $5 vehicle entrance fee.
If you want a treat to cool off you can walk across the street from Lodi Lake to a Sno-White Drive-in to get a soft serve ice cream come. The half and half or the vanilla dipped in chocolate is a sweet way to trigger a trip down memory lane when such treats made your summer.
There is another reason to make the 25-minute trip (26 miles) from Manteca of 54-minute trip (55 miles) from Turlock — good old-fashioned window shopping.
The pleasant tree-lined streets of downtown Lodi are perfect for browsing unique shops and a fair share of art galleries. Plus there are more than a few places for al fresco dining where you can enjoy a good meal and take in the low-key sights and sounds of downtown. It is one of the few Valley downtowns with a viable first-run movie house. Taking in a movie at the Lodi Stadium 12 Cinemas and then strolling to a nearby restaurant is a great day trip. You can do that in Modesto and Stockton downtowns to a degree but not like you can in Lodi.
You can literally park a block from the cinema and then walk — within a two block radius — to dine on a wide repertoire of cuisine options while dropping in unique stores along the way.
Lodi arguably has the strongest mix of specialty retail, dining, wine and craft beer options, cultural venues, art galleries, and entertainment options in all of the 209 downtowns. And at the same time it is in a setting that is inviting and oozes with ambiance.
It’s not Carmel, St. Helena, or Sausalito. And, actually, that’s the point. It offers a nice day trip getting away that doesn’t require two hours plus to reach while fighting Bay Area traffic that can be horrific on weekends just like it is on weekdays.
Not only will you not break the bank while spending a pleasant day but you can be home in 30 minutes if you start from Manteca or within an hour from Turlock.
The best way to find out about Lodi’s numerous wineries and other attractions is to go to visitlodi.com.
One last note: An older and mellower John Fogerty and Clearance Clearwater Revival would see Lodi a lot differently than they did back in 1969.
It’s definitely not a place you’d mind being stuck in for a day or longer.