You will likely want to incorporate a day or two in Sacramento into any itinerary you plan for the greater Central Valley, which will help determine how much time you have left to visit its other, smaller cities, such as Yuba City, Stockton, and Modesto.
Yuba City, which is about forty miles north of Sacramento, officially turned 100 years old in January 2008. Its history continues to live in its downtown, which includes Plumas Street, lined with 1920s buildings that are now home to more than 100 shops and stores. On Second Street, you can see the courthouse built in 1899 as well as the county hall of records built in 1891. The city continues to be the seat of Sutter County.
As with most cities and towns in the Central Valley, Yuba City is the home of at least one major agricultural company: Sunsweet Growers Incorporated. It's the largest prune-packing plant in the world, though it's also known for dried fruits and juices made from apricots, pineapples, mangoes, and other fruits.
What sets Yuba City apart from its Central Valley neighbors is that it is also home to one of the largest Sikh populations outside of Punjab, India. If you plan your visit to Yuba City during early November, you can attend the annual Sikh parade, which draws tens of thousands of Sikhs from the United States, Canada, Britain, and India. There are also a couple of interesting attractions worth noting just outside Yuba City, including Sutter Buttes, the Sleep Train Amphitheatre, and the Bok Kai Temple.
Yuba City–based Sunsweet produces more than 50,000 tons of prunes each year. Its plant in northern California produces an average of 40,000 cases of Sunsweet products each year for distribution around the world. The company controls more than two-thirds of the entire worldwide prune market and buys prunes from more than half the growers in the Central Valley.
Sutter Buttes, located northwest of Yuba City, is the one place where the Central Valley isn't flat. It's a series of eroded volcanic lava domes that stretches for about ten miles from north to south. The highest peak is just over 2,000 feet tall — certainly not majestic when compared with northern California's major mountain ranges, but definitely impressive in the middle of the agricultural plains.
It's believed that Sutter Buttes was formed a million and a half years ago by a now-extinct volcano. Today, cattle and sheep ranchers control much of the land around the mountains, but you can take walking tours with groups such as the Middle Mountain Foundation, which incorporates local Native American lore about the mountains into its presentations. Learn more online at
Sleep Train Amphitheatre
If you head south of Yuba City for about ten miles along Forty Mile Road, you'll come to the Sleep Train Amphitheatre. It's an open air music center with about 8,000 seats plus an area where concertgoers can bring lawn chairs at a reduced price. The lawn area also includes a “Kid Zone” where smoking and drinking alcohol are prohibited.
For a look at the acts that will be there during your visit, go online to
Bok Kai Temple
It's not often that you find a significant Chinese monument that describes its location as “two buildings behind the Silver Dollar restaurant.” Such is the case with the Bok Kai Temple in Marysville, which is less than two miles outside the Yuba City limits, just across the Feather River.
The original temple was built in 1854, about five years after the first group of Chinese laborers arrived in California to work in the newly created gold mines. The temple that stands today was constructed in 1880 and remains the only one of its kind in the entire United States, since no other temples pay tribute to Bok Eye, the “water god” or “god of the dark north” who has the power to banish evil.
RAINY DAY FUN
You can tour the Bok Kai Temple, but only with an appointment because of continuing work to prevent the structure's collapse in the face of intense rainy seasons. The temple's Web site,
Even if you don't want to tour the temple, you can take part in the springtime Bok Kai Festival, whose date changes every year with the lunar calendar. The festival includes a parade filled with dancers and dragons, plus children's activities, food, and games. Learn more at
If you're a sports fan, then you know that Stockton is the home of the San Francisco 49ers training camp. It's about an hour and a half east of the bigger city, well within a day's driving range if you want to make Stockton your only stop in the Central Valley. A lot of people do just that every April, when the city hosts its annual Asparagus Festival.
Close to 300,000 people live in Stockton, which is home not just to agricultural companies but also to other industrial headquarters, helping to keep its economic base diversified. There are a few interesting highlights within the city limits, some geared toward adults and others designed to keep the whole family happy.
Bob Hope Theatre
Previously known as the Fox California Theatre, this venue has hosted musicians, dancers, and other acts since first opening its doors in 1930. It's received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for recent renovations and now has one of the most innovative sound systems of its kind.
When the Bob Hope Theatre first opened in 1930, it boasted a massive Wurlitzer pipe organ that cost $40,000, which is the equivalent of about $400,000 when adjusted for inflation today. The total renovations of the theater cost nearly twice that, including the addition of a first-of-its-kind Meyer Sound Laboratories electronic speaker system.
All kinds of acts still come here to perform, from big-name comedian George Lopez to dancer Michael Flatley and his Lord of the Dance troupe. You can also see musicals, musicians, and individual singers depending on what dates you're in town. For directions, a schedule of upcoming performances, and information about how to buy tickets online, go to
The Haggin Museum is a “grown-up” institution, focused on preserving great works of art instead of building interactive exhibits. Its art collection includes pieces by noted painters including Albert Bierstadt, while its history displays showcase the work done by local residents such as Benjamin Holt, who invented the Caterpillar-type tractor. There are also rotating exhibits with titles such as “PreColombian Art” and “The Age of Armor.”
The museum is open from 1:30
Children's Museum of Stockton
If your kids are more interested in playing with their art than looking at it, then you should skip the Haggin Museum and head straight for the Children's Museum of Stockton. It features a tiny “town” where kids can play at being everything from the local postmaster to the town's banker.
This isn't an all-day museum, but you'll find enough fun here to keep your kids entertained for at least an hour or two, depending on their ages. Admission is $4.50, with children younger than two getting in for free. Learn more at
Minor League Sports
If you can't get in to see the San Francisco 49ers train during their summer camp, then you might want to check out the local minor league soccer, baseball, ice hockey, and arena football teams.
The Stockton Ports are perhaps the best known. They are a minorleague affiliate of Major League Baseball's Oakland A's. The Ports play their home games at Banner Island Ballpark, which opened in 2005 and seats about 5,000 people. For tickets, go online to
The Stockton Arena is the home for minor league soccer's California Cougars, minor league hockey's Stockton Thunder and arena football's Stockton Lightning. For tickets to any of their games, check out the Web site
RAINY DAY FUN
Even if it's raining, you can still find your fill of sports in Stockton during most months of the year. The schedules for teams that play indoor games at Stockton Arena are: California Cougars soccer, October through April; Stockton Thunder hockey, October through April; and Stockton Lightning arena football, March through July.
Pixie Woods is sometimes called a small amusement park, and sometimes it's known as a children's playground. Regardless of its description, it's always fun, having entertained kids for more than half a century now. Located inside the city's Louis Park, Pixie Woods has rides like a Merry-Go-Round and a Pixie Express Train that are meant to put smiles on the faces of your youngest children.
Days of operation during the summer are Wednesday through Sunday, from 11
Modesto is one of the southernmost towns in northern California's Central Valley region, with a population just shy of 200,000. Getting here is easy by car or by train; the city grew up as one of the original stops on the earliest railroad lines. It actually developed quite a reputation for being wild with brothels and opium houses, which have been replaced during the past century with establishments of a more proper business nature — assuming that you consider wine to be in that category. The Gallo Winery is one of the biggest in the region, with its headquarters based in Modesto.
Before he went on to make the Star Wars movies, filmmaker George Lucas grew up in Modesto, which he used as inspiration for one of his earlier groundbreaking films, American Graffiti. His hometown pays tribute to him by calling its downtown area George Lucas Plaza, where you can have your picture taken with the bronze sculpture that was dedicated in his honor.
Gallo Center for the Arts
Giving back to the community where its headquarters is located, the winemaking Gallo family endowed $10 million to help create the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. It opened in September 2007 following a decade's worth of research and planning.
The facility has two venues, the 1,250-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Family Theater, both named for patrons of the center. Events include live theater, music, dance, corporate gatherings, and wedding receptions. For a list of upcoming shows and ticket availability, go online to
The Gallo family also has quite a lot to do with the existence of the McHenry Mansion, which the Julio R. Gallo Foundation bought and donated to the city of Modesto in 1976. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion dates back to 1883, which is the period from which its current antiques are taken. It's open for tours as well as special events such as weddings. Learn more at
Great Valley Museum of Natural History
The Great Valley Museum of Natural History is part of Modesto Junior College. It has permanent as well as rotating exhibits that focus on plants and animals. A “discovery room” lets you look at a snake skin under a microscope, work on a five-foot puzzle, and more.
RAINY DAY FUN
The Great Valley Museum of Natural History offers many classes and tours, including some that are geared toward children between three and twelve years old. “Science for Tots” is one such program, teaching nature and science through arts and crafts. To see a full events calendar as you organize your personal travel dates, go to
Note that the museum is closed during the month of August (remember, it's part of a college campus). Its regular hours are 9