The Accidental Lodi Tourist
By Kathy Chin Leong
Lodi came into my life quite accidentally last year. And I mean accidentally not as a negative thing but as a delightful happenstance. I usually don’t run into stumble-upons, as I am a person who plans trips down to the very last bathroom break.
But on one particular weekend, my father, who lives in Sacramento, decided we would spend the day in nearby Lodi, of all places, less than half an hour away. Months afterward, when a meeting was planned with new friends, unbeknownst to me, Lodi was the decided rendezvous point. And when I mentioned Lodi to pals in Colorado, one of our buddies commented that he had heard that was a hidden wine region. My supervisor told me in passing that her friends chose to retire in Lodi and run a bed and breakfast inn which is supposedly heaven on earth.
Lodi, Lodi, Lodi! Who would have thought that this sleepy town would one day lure wine enthusiasts around the world, families who want a low key getaway, and girlfriends who revel in great food, comfy digs, and spa dips? For years, Lodi has suffered from the reputation of the song, Lodi, by Creedence Clearwater Revival with the memorable lyrics, “Oh Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again.” Later it turns out that the songwriter, John Fogerty, never even stepped foot in Lodi.
Well aware of the insufferable song, Nancy Beckman CEO of Visit Lodi!, takes it in stride. Says Beckman, “Today, visitors from all over the world get ‘stuck’ in Lodi with our 85 wineries, multiple museums, performing arts theatre, great restaurants and shopping in our historic downtown.”
Tourism in Lodi’ is on the rise with at least two million annually and growing. Number One money maker comes from wine, and the Number Two slot goes to agriculture, followed by plastics manufacturing as Number Three. Population is about 66,000 in an area of less than 14 square miles.
Wine aficionados discovered Lodi at least five years ago, but now the area is getting on the tourist radar so much that the wine rooms are packed on weekends. The city is home to at least 85 wineries from this inland Lodi appellation where fog nestles on the grapes in the winter and sometimes in the summer as well. Who knew that this region supplies Napa county wineries with a bulk of its grapes? As the story goes, grape growers realized they could also capitalize on the wine frenzy by starting their own wineries.
The region specializes in zinfindels due to its temperate climate. Wine tasting is affordable and laid back. One the average, tastings go for $5 to $15. Like each wine, each winery tasting room features a different vibe and character. At Klinker Brick, a farmhouse with an outdoor picnic seating area tempts visitors with its Old vine zinfandel and syrah and rosé pours.
Meanwhile, the Michael David Winery offers a tasting room, café, outdoor seating, and produce stand. It’s where the bottle dubbed 7 Deadly Zins put them on the map. Ever try Portuguese wine? Head to St. Jorge Winery, which opened in 2009. This villa compound with a Mediterranean architecture features a slate of clone including tempranillo and Verdelho. Its 2013 cabernet sauvignon is from one of the oldest vineyards in Lodi that’s more than 108 years old. And at Acquiesce Winery, Sue Tipton is the owner and winemaker of white Rhone-styled wines. Turns out that you don’t have to have both reds and whites in your portfolio. She’s finding that she does just fine selling only white wines.
“Visitors tell us all the time that they come for the amazing wines and come back because of the experience,” adds Beckman. “With mostly boutique wineries, visitors are often tasting wine with the winemaker or owner who is uniquely invested in the experience of the customer. People say all the time how friendly Lodians are and what an amazing experience they have.” Where should a wine lover dwell during the experience? Wine and Roses Hotel Restaurant & Spa is a high-end, 80-room boutique property with all you need to be comfortable. Together with two eateries, a pool and spa, and lush garden grounds, you will be pampered and also delighted with its hideaway feel, but also accessibility to local services and stores. It’s also next to the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center where it offers wine tasting and promotes events such as the annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend held Feb. 9-10 and also the annual ZinFest weekend held every May.
While Lodi remains a vino lovers’ Disneyland in San Joaquin County, it’s a fun family venue when you want a crowd-free, stress-free, simple vacation, particularly for parents who have elementary school-aged kids and younger. It’s one of those places every family should land to reconnect and converse and play board games at night. Since the town is small and rural, you don’t have to waste gas driving too far to locations to enjoy activities.
Lodi is home to the 132-acre Micke Grove Regional Park. It offers a small zoo with monkeys, friendly tortoises, and those lovely, crusty-skinned iguanas. On site is Fun Town, which features old-fashioned rides such as its timeless merry-go-round. You can dream away the day away walking around the 3-acre lake with a 40-foot water fountain, and meander the bucolic Japanese garden with cherry blossom trees next to the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. The tree-lined park also features playground areas, horseshoe pits, softball fields, an 18-hold disc golf course, BBQ grills and picnic areas. When is the last time you played tag or hide-and-seek with your kids or grandkids? This place is well worth the five bucks you pay for parking.
Yes, Lodi is a subdued locale with unassuming streets and boulevards. It’s precisely that lack of too-much eye candy that forces you to appreciate where you are and who you are with. For families that crave nature, the unique Isenberg Crane Reserve offers bird sightings of cranes, egrets, and herons in abundance. Bring your binoculars, folks. Witnessing the migratory birds suddenly take off en masse in the wee hours of the morning (think 6 a.m. in 40-something degrees) is a once-in-a-lifetime sighting, worth the early rise.
If you require mental stimulation, head to the World of Wonders Science Museum, Lodi’s own version of the San Francisco Exploratorium for the Central Valley. You’ll find approximately 70 fun hands-on exhibits intended to delight, educate, and inspire the next generation of scientists. Created in 2009, the former 9,000-square-foot warehouse is a testimony of what community support can do when individuals sacrifice time and effort towards a common vision. Create clouds, freeze your shadow, conjure up a ghostly illusion, and let your imagination run wild. To satiate your tech-starved munchkins, maybe you can save this for the last event of the day.
Where to eat? A potpourri of cuisines from Thai to Italian to Mexican to Japanese and more is available at all price points. Of note is A&W, the root beer float chain that originated at this location about 90 years ago. The owner has keeps a glass showcase of A&W memorabilia here, and it’s worth a stop on your vacation to grab a bite and a beverage.
In Australia they call it a “hens weekend,” but whatever name you give female bonding time, you will find your dollars well spent in Lodi. For starters, you can head to the Inn at Locke House that gushes with accolade after accolade as one of the best in… girlfriend getaways, eco-friendly inns, homecooked breakfasts, historic charmers, wine country locations, friendly staff, and more. It’s no surprise the historic brick farmhouse is listed as a National Landmark and California Landmark, honors not easy to land.
The four guestrooms are filled with Civil War antiques and white clawfoot bathtubs. Each day comes with a full breakfast that can include homemade pancakes and fresh berries and whipped cream. Boutique shopping can be had in downtown Lodi on North and South School Street. You’ll unmine antique shops, second hand stores, design haunts, and more. And can there be any spa action in Lodi? Not a lot, but definitely yes.
Over at the Wine & Roses Hotel, its spa offers a slate of facials and massages so that you can indulge in a full and satisfying spa day. Its 90-minute Wine and Roses special with a scrub, shower, and massage will turn you into a fleshy noodle instantly. Yes, there are places to clean up for dinner after your spa day, and a plethora of fine dining experiences await. Over at the Town House Restaurant, the eatery offers a slate of New American , comfort food entrees in an elegant atmosphere. And the Zin Bistro, also for New American fare is where you may want to dress up a bit in this tony spot downtown. If John Fogarty were to come to Lodi in 2019, I’m sure he would rewrite the lyrics to say, “Oh great! I’m back in Lodi again!”
Visit Lodi! Visitors Bureau - www.visitlodi.com