San Joaquin County is the Rodney Dangerfield of counties. It gets no respect.
It’s not on the Left Coast or among nature’s temples in the Sierra. Instead we are drive through country as opposed to flyover country when it comes to California.
This is actually where four of the so-called seven “Californias” meet — the urbane coast, the fertile farm valley, teeming Delta with its 1,000 plus miles of meandering waterways, and the magical Range of Light.
The county has become an extension of the Bay Area not only providing affordable housing for those making $120,000 a year at Silicon Valley jobs that can’t afford to buy tract homes available on the resale market that go for as high as $1.1 million in San Jose. We are also the prime distribution center for the 18 million people that make up the Northern California mega-plex that includes the Bay Area and Sacramento.
The 745,000 people that call San Joaquin County home are arguably the best composite reflection of American values, ethnicities, and social-economic backgrounds. We are neither hard blue or hard red. People debate each other and then in a growing rarity today — still talk to each other afterwards. We’re a well-mixed stew of backgrounds that blend together for a hearty and strong social fabric yet our ancestral cultures are still strong as well as cherished and shared by many of our neighbors. There are nuclear scientists, world economy savvy famers, code writers, farmworkers, truck drivers, and virtually every conceivable trade and profession among us. We’re 30 minutes from one of the world’s foremost research labs in Livermore and are ground zero for agricultural innovations that allow more yields and less wear and tear on farmland.
A lot of people fill their bellies and sip wine thanks to what is grown on much of the 1,422 square miles within the county boundaries. With crop production at $2.6 billion we’re the seventh richest agricultural county in California. If the county were a standalone state we’d rank as the 35th state in the nation in terms of farm production.
We’re the No. 1 county in the country for wine grape production. San Joaquin County isn’t exactly a slouch when it comes to dairy, almonds, cherries, and walnuts. We’re also top producers in a number of the other 400 plus fruits, vegetables and nuts grown among the seven counties that comprise the world’s richest agricultural region — the San Joaquin Valley.
And, for a little geology lesson, the reason why the soil is so fertile here is thanks to the Great Central Valley — which is actually two separate valleys created around the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers that drain into the Delta. The 60,000 square miles of the Central Valley watershed constitutes over a third of California’s land mass. Over the course of 2 to 3 million years sediment has washed down from the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges to cover the floor of the 450 mile long and 40 to 60 mile wide valley with rich soil.
The Coastal Range that disrupts moisture carried in clouds once they cross landfall from the Pacific Ocean helps create a Mediterranean-style climate ideal for farming once water is added. It is one of five such areas on the planet and only one of five areas that you can have success growing almonds.
A lot of people like to say they are “the heart” of California, but look at the map. We are smack dab where a heart would be in sizing up the length of California to a human.
The largest share of the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta — the only delta on the Pacific Coast on the Western Hemisphere — is also the most expansive stopover on the Pacific Flyway. The San Joaquin Valley National Wildlife Refuge is in our backyard, a short drive down Airport Way, across the San Joaquin River and then heading south. Yes, San Joaquin County really is for the birds.
Yes, there are a lot of low points and high points in San Joaquin County.
Among the lowest at 19.6 feet above sea level is French Camp.
It was in what we now call French Camp — the reasons why we do so will be obvious in the coming sentences — that one of the seeds that started modern California civilization was planted. Trappers from the Hudson Bay Company founded by French Canadian investors made it into this part of old Mexico (yes, California was once part of Mexico which explains the numerous Spanish names attached to our geography). They were drawn by massive herds of tule elk, California grizzly bears, and a seemingly endless supply of beavers. Credit the European elite back in the early 1800s that discovered beaver pelts were nearly waterproof making them ideal to fashion headwear for the establishment of the first non-native settlement in what we now call San Joaquin County.
Now for the high point: It isn’t to the east among the Sierra foothills. Instead you’ll find it if you look to the southeast from Manteca in the Diablo Range. It is the 3,621 foot high Mt. Boardman named for an Alameda County surveyor, W.F. Boardman. The apex of the summit is where four counties — Alameda, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara — meet. The peak is eclipsed by several feet by a peak slightly to the north that is 100 percent in Alameda County. And for the record, the imposing Mt. Diablo that everyone focuses on when you drive due west on the 120 Bypass through Manteca, the Crosstown Freeway in Stockton, or Highway 12 out of Lodi is four feet shorter than Mt. Boardman. You can hike, drive, or bicycle to the Mr. Diablo summit at 3,557 feet but Mt. Boardman is all private property.
There are seven cities in the county with Stockton being the largest at 307,000 making it the 13th largest in California and the 63rd largest in the United States. Stockton also boasts the eastern most sea-port in the Golden State. The other cities in descending order of population are Tracy, Manteca, Lodi, Lathrop, Ripon, and Escalon. Hamlets, places that are more than simply wide spots in the road, are Acampo, Lockeford, Linden, Mountain House, and New Jerusalem.
There are three rivers — the Stanislaus, the Mokelumne, and the San Joaquin for which the county is named — that flow through the county. Some 2.5 percent or 3.5 square miles of the county is covered with water whether it is a river, lake, or stream.
The Gold Rush gave birth to modern-day San Joaquin County that was formed in 1850 when California was fast tracked into the union. It is where a number of gold seekers made their fortune by realizing they could pursue their dreams of wealth by growing the food and producing the products that the miners that were flowing into California from all over the world needed in order to nourish their bodies and work the mines.
There are a lot of other pluses that you can come across by just venturing into county communities, especially its largest city.
Stockton boasts of one of the oldest civic symphonies as well as art museums (the Haggin Museum) in the West. The University of the Pacific is a top rated private university. There is a teeming selection of cultural offerings ranging from the Stockton Civic Theatre to the Stockton Friends of Chamber Music.
Venues such as the restored Bob Hope Theatre and the Stockton Arena are regular stops for many of the shows such as Disney on Ice and concert performers that grace stages in the Bay Area and Sacramento without having to go through the ordeal of a long drive coupled with tickets that can also be higher in cost.
You can go to a pro sporting event without busting the bank — the Stockton Ports and their riverfront stadium are affiliated with the Oakland A’s, the Stockton Kings are part of the Sacramento Kings organization, and the Stockton Heat hockey team is affiliated with the Calgary Flames.
If you’re fan of “The Sons of Anarchy” cable TV series you are already charmed with San Joaquin County given it is set in the mythical town of “Charming” with 14,679 souls located somewhere between Lodi and Stockton.
And if “The Big Valley” western drama TV series from 1965 to 1969 featuring the Barkley family was a favorite, then you’re already big on San Joaquin County.