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This little city to our south rolls out the welcome mat for visitors seeking a day trip with not too much driving and plenty of food, wine and fun.
Everyone’s heard the old Creedence Clearwater Revival song about being stuck in Lodi, and the boosters at the Lodi Conference & Visitors Bureau and the Lodi Chamber of Commerce likely cringe whenever it’s mentioned. After all, these organizations have worked long and hard to market Lodi as a prime wine-tasting destination with a spiffed-up downtown, a pretty lake, a memorable regional park and dining options galore. Fact is, getting stuck in Lodi isn’t such a bad thing.
Take, for example, Wine & Roses. The combination inn-spa-restaurant-wedding venue-wine resource center is beautiful and, from many aspects, the crown jewel of Lodi. Stay here, and you’re wrapped in luxury—feather beds, fireplaces, flat screens, soaking tubs, courtyards. Go for dinner, and indulge in the likes of golden beet and spinach salad, crab cakes, osso bucco, risotto and a bottle of one of Lodi’s fine Zinfandels. Visit the spa for a hot stone massage or a seasonal body wrap (which includes a rinse in a private outdoor shower). Or just stop in to the Wine & Visitor Center to pick up a wine-tasting map and start your tour at the on-site tasting counter.
Lodi Lake sits practically adjacent to Wine & Roses, and lures visitors to canoe or walk the nature trails. It’s also the site of some of Lodi’s wine events, including next month’s Zinfest (May 13–15), a food-and-wine event that draws crowds every year. Wine & Roses photo by Gabriel Teague
Although wineries surround Lodi, try working your way around downtown, where tasting rooms are interspersed with shops and restaurants. At Lodi Wine Cellars, the Zin Train introduces tasters to a flight of three Zins, and live music on weekends keeps the place hopping. The Dancing Fox Winery & Bakery, in the thick of the action on School Street, serves not just wine, but handmade pastries and
wood-fired artisanal breads and pizzas. Several Lodi vintners pour tastes at Cellar Door, and at Grands Amis (“great friends” in French), the moniker aptly describes the tone and warm atmosphere of the tasting room.
While you’re in downtown Lodi, a couple of spots not to miss: Tom’s Used Books, where two cats, Cassandra and Elizabeth, lounge around the checkout counter—tabby Cassandra is a welcoming committee all on her own—and the book stacks extend back, back, back into the far reaches of the space. It’s one of the largest used bookstores we’ve seen, with ample selection that’s well-organized and
easy to explore. For lunch, hit Scooters. Next to the movie theater,it’s a casual, order-at-the-counter spot with super-fresh fare: zesty turkey burgers, inventive wraps (ever had a pear, pecan and chicken wrap?) and salads crunchy with crisp lettuces and veggies. Check out the scooter art sprinkled throughout the place.
On Kettleman Road, in a new Mediterranean-style shopping center, the charming Artist Palette Cafe invites writers and art enthusiasts to do coffee in its art-themed environs. Paintings and other pieces adorn the walls and the tables appear paint-splattered. Crank up your laptop, sip on a latte and see if you can pump out a best-seller. The patio, within earshot of the center’s fountain, is a nice spot to enjoy a panino on a sunny day.
For one of the best dinners for the best price in town, brave the Wine Country Cardroom on Cherokee Lane—it’s ugly on the outside (think early ’70s) and dim on the inside, but the steaks are big and cheap, the clam chowder quite possibly the best this side of San Francisco. Stay for a few games of Baccarat, Texas Hold Em or Blackjack.
Anyone who loves Mexican food will find a wealth of options. The grandest: Rancho San Miguel on Cherokee Road. A combination Mexican market and restaurant, Rancho San Miguel is a one-stop spot: carniceria, panaderia, tortilleria, salsa bar. The fresh corn tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole are specialties; for a hot meal, visit the cocina for a chile verde burrito with a side of rice and beans. Lodi also holds a reputation for its taco trucks—scout the corners along Lodi Avenue, Cherokee Lane, and Turner Road. Nearly 20 taco trucks are registered to operate in the city of Lodi, and most of them park between Lower Sacramento Road and Cherokee Lane. With $1 tacos and $4 burritos, it’s the cheapest and most authentic Mexican fare around. (If you’re spice-sensitive, ask for a light touch).
Finally, stop at Micke Grove Regional Park, where a small zoo houses several endangered species. Ogle the snow leopard and green iguanas, and marvel at the Chilean pudu, which—with its short legs—looks like a deer that’s standing in a hole. Across from the zoo, wander across the vibrant red bridge in the lush Japanese Garden or thrill the kids with rides at Fun Town. The San Joaquin Historical Museum is on site, too, and a wealth of infor-mation about Lodi’s past.
Leopard photo courtesy of Micke Grove Zoo
Two Wineries Worth a Stop
On Saturday afternoons between noon and 4, stop by Fields Family Wines on Woodbridge Road for Old Vine Zin, Tempranillo, organically grown Syrah and other bold reds. Fields makes its wine in small, hand-crafted lots. A favorite: Big Red, a blend that won the gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for 2011.
Friday through Sunday starting at noon, come to Viaggio on the River Estate & Winery in Acampo for Vita Di Vita, an opportunity to taste Viaggio’s wines and meander around this gorgeous riverside estate. The outdoor patio is anchored by a glorious fireplace—we recommend an evening visit, when pretty lights make the landscape even more spectacular.
"Big Red" wine bottle photo by Gabriel Teague
Burger on the Road—The Squeeze Inn, one of Sacramento’s favorite burgeries, runs a location in Galt, on Industrial Drive at Pringle. Get one of the renowned one-third pounders with a skirt of cheese. Photo by Gabriel Teague
Take a Dive—Pop into the Parachute Center off Highway 99, plunk down $100 and tandem up with an instructor to skydive from 13,000 feet above the Central Valley vineyards.
Photo from shutterstock.com