By DENNIS WYATT
LODI — I’m sure Lodi boosters could have done without the backhanded slap delivered in 1969 by Creedence Clearwater Revival with the song “Lodi” with the infamous chorus. “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again.”
It goes without saying John Fogerty didn’t appreciate the place much back then where he played gigs before CCR hit it big.
The song in a way is an euphemism for not only Bay Area folks like Fogerty often think about the Northern San Joaquin Valley but what a number of people who live here thing of the place.
After all, we don’t have Napa Valley nor do we have Pleasanton or Livermore.
True. But we have something that’s much better — a down-to-earth Napa Valley, Pleasanton, and Livermore all rolled up into one without the traffic and the high prices. It’s called Lodi.
If you’ve never been to Lodi, you’re in for a big surprise. If you haven’t made your way there since John Fogerty did, you’re in for a shock.
First a few general observations. The biggest wine grape producing county in California — and the world for that matter — isn’t Napa, Sonoma or Monterey. It is San Joaquin County by far.
If your idea of a fun weekend excursion is driving two hours plus one way through Bay Area traffic, enjoying the rolling parking lot known as Highway 29 so you can visit family wineries, enjoy good food, and forking over big bucks for accommodations then returning the next day, then Napa fits well into your plan.
If you’re looking for a day trip — 30 minutes from Manteca — where you can enjoy one of 74 wineries, stroll through a shady downtown with al fresco dining and shopping options that is a distinct Northern San Joaquin Valley version of Livermore, then try Lodi.
And if you want a weekend excursion while being pampered, skip the Calistoga mud baths, and book a stay at Lodi’s Wine & Roses. The hotel-restaurant has a full-service spa. The accommodations, spa and food is so impressive, inviting and relaxing that Wine & Roses has graced the news columns of Forbes magazine and the New York Times.
Besides 85 wineries throughout the countryside known as the Zinfandel Capital of the World, there are a few wine tasting rooms downtown, there is the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center.
And if wineries aren’t your thing, there’s 12 “night life” options that includes the Lodi Beer Company, Brix & Hops, and Stogies Cigar Lounge where cold beer or a glass of wine is paired with cigars.
But perhaps the best thing about downtown Lodi is you can park your car and enjoy.
You can take in a movie at the Lodi Stadium 12 and then walk to a number of dining options — even with outdoor dining — just next door, down the street, or a block away.
There is a complete repertoire of citywide restaurant offers. My favorite is Bon Apetit just a tad west of downtown on West Lodi Street. It has the prerequisite outdoor dining. Its menu features items made 100 percent from scratch including quiche in the French genre. You can also enjoy upscale scale dining, casual, and even fast food.
You can enjoy fast food in Turlock or Modesto, right? But can you cool offer with a root beer float made in a frosty mug in the A&W Drive-In that started it all? Ok, so its nit the original building and there’s air conditioning. But there is even memorabilia to quench your thirst for a short excursion down memory lane.
Strolling downtown to either window shop or browse the unique offerings that includes art galleries also makes for a pleasant day.
To be honest, I’d prefer to hit Lodi Lake where you rent paddle boats or take a kayak out toward the Mokeloumne? River. Lodi Park is a great place just to enjoy the shade of stately trees while watching birds frolic on the water. There is even a public “swimming pool” that is a marked off section of the lake. There is a charge for swimming that also has showers and restrooms on sight as well as lifeguards. But what Lodi has that no other public swimming pool has in the area is a sandy beach.
And if you work up an appetite or want to cool off, there’s a Sno-White Drive-In right across the street that has old—fashioned frosties that hit the spot on a warm summer day.
You could combine your visit to Lodi with a concert or play at Hutchins Street Square, Lodi’s performing arts center.
There are also other touches. The Wonders of the World Science Museum designed for kids and others is located near the train station and the Lodi downtown arch. There is the Lodi Serpentarium that’s not in modern digs downtown but is housed in a small industrial park. Even though it’s not a glamour spot if you’re into snakes and other reptiles the place won’t disappoint.
A few miles south of Lodi is Mike Grove Regional Park with its zoo, kids amusement park, golf course, Japanese garden, and San Joaquin County Museum.
There are other golf courses as well. Lodi’s Visitors’ Center also encourages bicycling tours of the surrounding wine country. To be honest as a longtime cycling enthusiast, I wouldn’t rate the Lodi area as a bicycling Mecca but then that’s me.
Lodi also has farmers markets and two annual street fairs among other events.
Everything else aside, if you want a pleasant day wine tasting with a good meal and pleasant times without breaking the bank or stressing going to and from, give Lodi a try.
If you want to kill a day enjoying a park, Lodi Lake or Micke Grove Park will provide an experience you can’t get elsewhere in an urban setting in the 209.
And if it’s a day excursion for a meal, relaxing times, window shopping, and enjoying a pleasant and thriving downtown, you’ve definitely have to try Lodi.
Just like a fine wine, Lodi has gotten better with age.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com