Road Trips near San Joaquin County with Hikes, History

Before late spring and summer sets in with temperatures in the 90s and above, consider local road trips with short hikes, history, and stunning scenery. All of these options are within 10-50 miles of Stockton and can be done in a day.

Our first destination is the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, with scenic towns such as Walnut Grove, Locke, Rio Vista and the Delta Meadows Trail.

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Start your tour heading north on Interstate 5, then head west on Walnut Grove/Thornton Road to Walnut Grove.

The town developed as a bustling river town, mixing farming and travel, as river ferries provided the most efficient transportation in the late 1800s. Just north of Walnut Grove is the more interesting town of Locke , founded in 1883 by George Locke, a smaller and more humble town.

When Walnut Grove Chinatown burned down in 1915, Cantonese-speaking Chinese migrated to Locke to create their own town. The city has built its reputation for illicit entertainment and gambling, earning it the nickname “Monte Carlo of California”, with numerous amusement arcades, brothels and speakeasy.

Visitors to Locke are advised to first stop at the north end of Main Street, where the Old Boarding House is now the Locke Boarding House Visitor Center, offering historical insight and is free. Other attractions include the Chinese Association Museum, former home of the Jan Ying Benevolent Association, Locke Chinese School, a language school opened in 1926, Locke Memorial Park and Monument (which honors Chinese people who worked in the agriculture and helped build the dykes and railways at the turn of the century) and the Dai Loy Museum (showing game accessories). Two notable restaurants are the Locke Garden Restaurant and Al the Wop’s Saloon and Restaurant (which was previously also a brothel).

The lovely Delta Meadows Trail begins at the border between the two cities (use the AllTrails smartphone app for details on hikes like this). The mile-long trek begins along levees built by Chinese workers over 100 years ago, through riverine forests, swamps and grasslands with a heady dose of quiet solitude. Despite our assumption that almost all of the delta had been developed for agricultural crops or livestock grazing; we discovered to our surprise large portions practically untouched by man.

Continuing your Delta road trip, passing through new vineyards and several wineries, follow Highway 160 northwest of Walnut Grove to the Grand Island Mansion, stroll through the estate’s beautiful classical gardens and plan a back to one of the Delta’s most stately former residences, now home to an acclaimed weekend brunch.

The Real McCoy II is one of two free auto-ferries that cross the scenic Delta wetlands.

Continue your winding tour of the delta by heading south along Grand Island Road and taking the first of two free auto ferries through Steamboat Slough to Hwy 220, then west to the Highway 84, then south (crossing Cache Slough on the second free ferry) to Rio Vista. Stroll through historic Old River Town, stop at the monument on the Sacramento River to Humphrey the Humpback Whale, then stop for libations and a bite to eat at Foster’s Big Horn Restaurant, with the mounted heads of big game put on bagged by the restaurant owner in the 1930s and 40s.

Even closer scenic destinations with memorable hiking options include the Cosumnes River Preserve just north of Thornton and Caswell Memorial State Park just south of Ripon. The Cosumnes River Reserve includes riparian forest along the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers, once the location of the port town of Mokelumne City. In the 1850s Mokelumne City became the county’s second largest town and second largest port, behind Stockton. But the “hundred-year-old flood” of 1862 swept the old town into the Delta, which was never rebuilt; today, only the ghosts of the town’s former inhabitants guard the beautiful banks.

An egret takes flight at Cosumnes River Preserve.

A similar preserve just south of Ripon is Caswell Memorial State Park, with a riparian oak forest along the Stanislaus River. Within Caswell’s 258 acres are a lovely campground and hiking trails along the languid river. The park is home to several endangered species such as the riparian brush rabbit and offers ancient wooded groves where Native Americans and Yokuts alike gathered acorns, hunted, and fished.

Finally, one of the most interesting road trips takes place in your backyard. The Downtown Stockton Alliance offers a self-guided historical tour, including the Stockton Hotel, the Sperry Flour Mill, Weber Point, the Bob Hope Theatre, formerly known as the Fox Theatre, and more, depicting the emergence of the historic port city as one of the most robust trading, banking and agricultural empires 150 years ago.

Friends of Fox Theater Board Chair Marilyn Togninali Rates Upcoming Classics “The Breakfast Club” May 20; “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world”, June 12; “Independence Day”, July 15; and “Cool Hand Luke,” August 14. Combine a downtown walking tour with a classic Fox movie, and you’ll have a memorable hike wrapped in the city’s history and spectacular views.

For Sunday afternoon Fox Matinees, a special bonus includes an in-depth tour of the nearly 100-year-old burlesque cinema and theater hosted by renowned theater impresario Matias Bombal.

Matias Bombal, theater impresario, acts as emcee and directs theatrical tours at the Bob Hope Theater in downtown Stockton.

More information: Cosumnes River Preserve,; Caswell Memorial State Park,; Downtown Stockton Alliance,; Fox/Fox Theater Friends,, Locke, nps/gov/places/locke-historic-district.htm; Rio Vista,; Walnut Grove and other Delta cities,

Contact Tim at [email protected] Have a nice trip out west!

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