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The only thing that northern California and southern California have in common is that together, they fill a state’s boundary lines. The attitude and culture are so different; they could easily be two separate states. California’s capital city of Sacramento is in the north, as is San Francisco, a city with a rich history which has also been immortalized in song. Let’s not forget the world-famous wine country of Napa-Sonoma! But that’s not all; not by a long shot.
As we head north on the I-5, we come upon the city of Stockton, which features something for everyone. It’s rich in California history, dating back to the Gold Rush. Stockton is located on the San Joaquin Delta, so be sure to take advantage of the Delta River Cruise. One- and two-day cruises are available; the vessel is a 149-passenger catamaran, with a full-service galley and bar.
Four professional sports teams play baseball, football, hockey and soccer at the Downtown Stockton Events Center. The city also offers live theater and musical performances such as the Stockton Opera and Stockton Chorale, as well as multiple art galleries and a world-renowned museum for those looking for a more cultural experience.
Annual events in Stockton include the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival in February, and the Stockton Asparagus Festival, which has been running for over 20 years and features more than 70 food vendors and over 100 merchandise sellers – not to mention one of the finest celebrity chef cooking demo kitchens. Whatever you do, be sure to sample some of the best deep-fried asparagus you’ll ever taste. It’s good enough to bring you back year after year.
Once we’re back on the road, the city of Lodi is just a quick cruise up the I-5, and is a great prelude to a trip through California’s Wine Country. Throughout the year, there are many events that showcase the great-tasting, locally-grown vintages. The festivities kick off just in time for Valentine’s Day, with the Wine & Chocolate experience. The finest wines are combined with the richest chocolates for a tasty, potentially romantic experience. The Spring Wine Show provides attendees with the opportunity to sample the most delicious wines from local wineries, drawing several thousand visitors annually. At harvest time, the Grape Festival is held at the local fairgrounds, and has the flair and feel of an old time country fair. Quilting, pickling, and pie-baking are all part of the program, as is a messy-but-fun Grape Stomp – so kick off your shoes and get to it!
Continuing up the I-5, we reach the state capital of Sacramento which, in addition to many other attractions, is the home of the Cal Expo State Fair. The State Fair is held annually, running from late August to early September, and has been running for over 150 years. It’s been described as being a “city within a city,” providing a varied mix of food, culture, and entertainment to hundreds of thousands of well-satisfied attendees.
Previous attractions at the Cal Expo State Fair have included musical acts such as American Idol’s Chris Daughtry, Chicago, and Weird Al Yankovic. Interactive exhibits featuring such diverse subjects as agriculture, the science of weather, and even toys, are on hand. Of course, there are dozens of food vendors, presenting every type of delicious treat to suit anyone’s taste. The Magnificent Midway offers rides and games to keep children from nine to ninety entertained for hours. All in all, the Cal Expo State Fair is not to be missed, being an incredible experience to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Another great family experience is the Jelly Belly Candy Tour, just a short ride down the I-80. Go east at Highway 12 to the city of Fairfield, and you’ll see signs guiding you to the Jelly Belly Factory. It’s probably the closest thing to Willy Wonka’s that you’ll ever see. On arrival, we’re greeted by an array of costumed jelly bean characters that parade around a giant inflatable jelly bean in the central courtyard. Inside, we move through the Jelly Bean café, where pizzas and hamburgers are for sale – all in the shape of jelly beans, naturally. Intricate portrait mosaics, created entirely with jelly beans, line the walls. The walking tour runs approximately 45 minutes, and takes us above the factory, where we can see the actual production of the multitude of jelly beans. A tour guide gives us an extensive profile on how the jelly beans are colored, flavored and shaped. After the tour, we make a stop in the gift shop that offers clothes, toys, and accessories, all shaped like – yep, you guessed it! – jelly beans.
A few miles down the I-80 awaits the city of Vallejo, which is home to the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Like all Six Flags parks, Discovery Kingdom provides rides, thrills, and attractions to please even the most jaded thrill-seeker. Among the more than three dozen rides, we find the Cobra, a family-friendly rollercoaster designed to keep us screaming for more. Kong is a suspended-track coaster, where our feet dangle below us for the duration of the ride, and a series of loops keep our senses spinning and our hearts pounding. For those who are absolute, daring adventurers, challenge your nerves by taking a ride with the Medusa…a ride as terrifying as the legendary creature herself. She’s the tallest and fastest coaster in all of California, with over 3,500 feet of gut-wrenching track shooting us 150 feet in the air. The three-minute ride takes us through seven inversions at over 60 miles an hour, including a ruthless series of back-to-back loops called the Sea Serpent, geared to challenge your intestinal fortitude and daring you to ride it more than once.
Now that our adrenaline’s up, it’s time to relax with a nerve-calming trip to the luxuriant Napa Valley. It’s a speedy twenty-minute trip up the northbound Highway 29 from Vallejo, at which point we can pull over and hop on a shuttle bus that takes us on a guided tour of various wineries in the area. Obviously, this is Wine Country, and it’ll take several days to see all the wineries, if that’s our goal. We’ll find vintages of all types, and will no doubt sample a variety that we’ll want to take home. If we don’t want to take a case or two with us, the wines can be shipped depending on our state of residence. Best check with your local regulations first.
If wine-tasting isn’t your thing – and even if it is – Napa offers many different activities for the vacationer. One of the most breathtaking is a hot-air balloon ride over the vineyards; try to time it to occur at sunset, and be sure to bring along a picnic basket to snack while you soar. It’s one of the closet things to Heaven on earth that you’ll ever experience.
For something a bit more down-to-earth, there’s nothing like a bike tour around the lavish winery estates. We can rent bicycles, complete with a tour package that includes a knowledgeable guide, a gourmet picnic lunch and a day of wine country exploration, followed by a rich, five-star dining experience. Some tour companies also provide kayaking and hiking, so whatever your recreational sporting taste, it can be found with little to no effort.
Napa is also famous for its spa culture, with dozens of facilities providing mineral and mud baths, along with wraps and massages geared to make the stresses of the world melt away. Couples’ treatment rooms are available, staffed by fully trained and highly skilled therapists, who will relax and rejuvenate your body and mind, making your trip to Napa a most memorable experience.
Other Area Sponsors in California:
Campland on the Bay
Capitol West RV & MH Park
Far Horizons 49er Village RV Resort
Napa Valley Expo RV Park
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort
Tradewinds RV Park of Vallejo