Explore: Lodi

Vineyards, parks and a pretty downtown provide plenty of reasons to visit.
explore lodi
Photo by Stephanie Russo/Lodi Winegrape Commission

Anchored by a renovated old town and lots of wineries, the Lodi region (which includes the communities of Woodbridge, Acampo and Lockeford) lies about 40 minutes south of Sacramento. It’s an easy drive for a day of wine tasting or a weekend getaway. From the freeways (you can get there via Highway 99 or Interstate 5), it might not look like much more than a little Central Valley rural town that swelters in the summer and shivers under tule fog in the winter. But especially on the back roads, you’ll see vineyards just now greening up from winter bare, some of the vines beefy and gnarled from more than a century in production.

Then, as you poke around, you’ll discover more gems: cool winetasting rooms, restaurants dishing up farm-to-plate fare, shops and galleries downtown, a charming zoo and a river that winds behind wineries and into the town’s central lake. Things you might not expect: an upscale inn-restaurant-spa that blends the historic with the contemporary and draws besotted couples to exchange vows during wedding season; a Thursday-night summer farmers market that gathers residents in downtown’s streets for locally made sausage, nearby-grown fruits and veggies, and live music; a museum/store packed with snakes, lizards, frogs and big hairy spiders; beautiful valley sunsets . . . Here are some ways to experience the Lodi region.

Michael David Winery in Lodi
Michael David Winery

Taste Wine—Let’s start with the obvious. Wine started in Lodi in the late 1800s, and the region’s reputation as a wine-tasting venue bloomed big after the 1980s, when it got approval as an appellation and the marketing gurus got down to work. Nowadays, some 80-plus wineries in multiple appellations dot these flats where loamy soil, hot daytime sun and evening Delta breezes combine to help stress grapes into prime ingredients. Thick, black, craggy vines produce thick, dark, “old vine” zins, a Lodi specialty; chardonnays, cabs and lots of other varietals crowd tasting room shelves, too. LODI WINE & VISITOR CENTER makes a great first stop. Located in the WINE & ROSES compound, it includes a demonstration vineyard, a vast selection of wines to try, maps and all kinds of information to help you plan your day. Word to the wise: Call and/or check websites before you make the trip. COVID has made it a little tougher to just pop in. Among many, to follow are a few to consider. At VIAGGIO, a sprawling estate with vineyards and walnut orchards on the Mokelumne River, a vintage red phone booth tempts tipsy visitors to pose and grin. The wrap-around patio off the tasting room is a comfy spot to relax over a few good glasses, and if they’re doing pizzas in the outdoor wood-fired oven, you’re really in luck. ACQUIESCE WINERY makes small lots of hand-crafted whites and rosés—award-winning ones, in fact (four Best of Class awards in this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition)—and holds its tastings in a 100-year-old barn. JESSIE’S GROVE is a great stop, in part for its vast grounds, friendly goats and historical mementos. (The winery has been around since 1868.) Similarly, BERGHOLD VINEYARDS ESTATE has a big collection of Victorian antiques, including an 1890s chandelier from Paramount Theatre in New York—and the tasting bars themselves. MICHAEL DAVID WINERY has a cafe (omelets, burgers, sandwiches, house-baked pies!) and gorgeous grounds centered by a pond and a vast, stone outdoor tasting bar. CALIVINES WINERY AND OLIVE MILL combines two favorites wine and olive oil—and serves flights of either or both in its airy tasting room or outdoors at umbrella-shaded tables. A couple of newish wineries include BLOCK 21, with a
patio overlooking the vineyard and locally created artwork available for sale, and INTERCOASTAL, where they make something called Pinotage Bianco—a white wine created by proprietor Mitch Spaletta and described as having the essences of a delicate white flower, crisp citrus, lemon grass, white peach and honeycrisp apple.

Lodi Wine and Visitor Center
Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Photo by Stephanie Russo/Lodi Winegrape Commission.

Walk the Streets of Downtown—The main drag is School Street, with brick streets, informational kiosks and colorful planters, and anchored by LODI STADIUM 12 CINEMAS. Your best option is to just park the car and explore on foot. Along School and the surrounding streets, you’ll find the visitors center (ideal place to start), wine-tasting rooms, a cheese shop, a couple of coffeehouses (the couch at INSPIRE is a lovely place to sink in and fuel up), the WORLD OF WONDERS SCIENCE MUSEUM (bring the kids!), TOM’S USED BOOKS (an hour-eater, for sure), vintage shops and plenty of restaurants. Just opened, THE OXFORD serves dishes inspired by Britain, including English-style fish and chips (or chips and curry), Oxford shepherd’s pie, a classic beef Wellington and “Great Britain” chicken tikka masala. EL PAZCIFICO MEXICAN GRILL & CANTINA is expanding—more room for more people to devour combination plates and specialty Mexican seafood dishes (and margaritas!). THE DANCING FOX, with its beautiful vine-covered exterior, is a restaurant, brewery and winery, a family operation with a varied menu of sandwiches, pizzas and main dishes that include pasta, tacos, ribs and burgers. A couple of blocks beyond downtown’s main center, PAPAPAVLOS—the popular Stockton-based Greek eatery—has opened a Lodi location, bringing its brochettes, casseroles and all-important lemon-chicken soup. Also, an illustration of the fact that Lodi’s not all wine: SCOTTO’S has cider tasting, too; BRIX AND HOPS has local craft beers and wine; and several brewpubs—including LODI BEER CO., MOKELUMNE BREW HOUSE and FIVE WINDOW BEER—pour a rotation of beers. Several galleries and boutiques grace the area, including FRENCH AT HEART HOME & GARDEN (all kinds of French-inspired goods), THE LOCAL COLLECTIVE, a fragrant little spot opposite the transit station (you’ll fi nd a careful curation of soaps and lotions, home décor and more) and ENDLESS BLOOMS (formerly Wood and Wick) with an inspiring collection of forever florals, candles, jewelry, baked goods and home décor. When you’re tired out, there’s nothing like a chocolate shake from MOO MOO’S BURGER BARN to perk you up. Finally, it’s a bit too far to walk, but GUANTONIOS, outside the downtown limits on W. Lockeford St., is a recently opened wood-fired pizza place that’s garnering rave reviews. It’s located in a former Texaco station, and pizzas are made with local organic flour, Cortopassi tomatoes (out of Modesto), Calivirgin Olive Oil (see Calivines Winery and Olive Mill above) and seasonal produce from area farms. Visit a Small Zoo—Oh, how we have loved the pudu at MICKE GROVE ZOO, a small, 5-acre compound within MICKE GROVE REGIONAL PARK. The Chilean pudu is a member of the deer family, and it seems to never grow up. Its baby face and short legs send spectators’ voices into the upper reaches as they croon over the softeyed creature. Don’t scare a pudu, though, or it may scramble up a tree—a seemingly impossible feat for a stump-legged deer. The zoo also has reptiles, birds, primates, lemurs, a bobcat and a snow leopard to admire.

Lodi Beer Co.
Lodi Beer Co.

Seek Peace at the Japanese Garden—Cross the bridges and wander among the topiaries at the Japanese garden in Micke Grove Regional Park, across from the zoo. With vibrant koi, cherry blossom trees, lanterns, stones and islands, the 3-acre garden is especially serene in springtime, when the azaleas bloom against walls of green.

Oxford restaurant's fish and chips
The Oxford’s fish and chips

Learn Lodi’s History—While you’re at Micke Grove, pop in to the SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM to learn more about Lodi’s background as an agricultural hub, the Weber and Micke families and the region’s earlier wine industry. Check out historic buildings such as the Charles Weber Cottage from 1848 and the 1866 Calaveras schoolhouse. “In the Fields of the North,” an exhibit honoring migrant workers, will be on display until April 10.

Papapavlos’s mussel and clam pasta
Papapavlos’s mussel and clam pasta

Create Nightmares at the Serpentarium— The first thing you notice at the LODI SERPENTARIUM is the smell: moist and green and dense. Aquariums line the walls, lids locked down tight (thank goodness). You’ll see frogs (some brilliantly hued and deadly), tarantulas, scorpions and roaches. Snakes coil in corners and lizardlike things such as iguanas, bearded dragons and geckos cling to branches. Each step deeper into the place reveals something new to gasp over: severe-looking beige spiders or putty-colored pokey reptiles with beady darting eyes and tongues that zoom out longer than their bodies.

Take a Treatment—The plunge pools, hot tubs and courtyard at WINE & ROSES SPA have been updated, so what better excuse to make an appointment for a massage, mud wrap, facial, scrub or wax? Afterward, have lunch or dinner at Towne House Restaurant on the premises—menus change daily, but you can expect upscale wine-country cuisine. If the house-baked brioche with maple-bourbon butter is on the menu, order enough for the whole table.

Paddleboarding in Lodi Lake
Paddleboarding in Lodi Lake

Go to the Lake—At LODI LAKE—created by the small Woodbridge Dam in the Mokelumne River—you can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards from HEADWATERS starting April 1. On April 23, Paddlefest takes place, with food trucks and live music and all-day paddling fun. Headwaters runs tours as well—sunrise, sunset, starlight and full-moon paddles showcase the lake’s tranquility with nature’s best mood lighting.

An egret at a Lodi nature preserve
An egret at a Lodi nature preserve.

Preserve Nature—Several nature preserves exist in and around the Lodi area, including WOODBRIDGE ECOLOGICAL PRESERVE (also known as ISENBERG CRANE RESERVE) in Lodi, STONE LAKES NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE in Elk Grove and COSUMNES RIVER PRESERVE in Galt. The main attraction among the flora and fauna: birds. During late fall and winter, the freshwater habitat draws sandhill cranes and other migratory waterfowl. Local birds populate the areas year-round, and the trails and boardwalks invite visitors to wander and watch. Bring binoculars and you’ll see ducks, red-winged blackbirds, kestrels, pheasants, hawks, herons and many others. Springtime is an opportunity to spot babies.