LODI — It is without a doubt the crown jewel of the San Joaquin County Park system.
It’s a place where you can see a snow leopard, catch a merry go-round ride, play disc golf, frolic in the water, take in the serenity of a Japanese garden, explore the history of the Central Valley, or just savor the shade of stately oaks on a summer day.
“It” is Micke Grove Park, a 132-acre family oasis midway between Lodi and Stockton west of Highway 99.
If you are expecting the San Francisco Zoo, the Golden Gate Park or the carousel on Pier 39, forget it. Micke Grove is true to its San Joaquin County roots. It’s low key and accentuates the valley. It isn’t a glamour place, but rather a gathering spot for friends and a respite from the daily routine for families.
The fact it isn’t something you’d find west of the Altamont Pass is its charm.
Its open expanse and soaring trees weren’t part of a design that man made like Golden Gate Park where the landscape was imported to convert 1,017 acres of sand and shore dunes into what has become one of the nation’s most recognized and used urban parks. The basic landscape at Micke Grove is true valley.
There’s little doubt it got a lot of help. That’s especially true with the three-acre Japanese garden. It was designed with the influence of three religions — Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism — through the use of stones, islands, and lanterns.
Its luscious landscape is encircled by 60 Kwanzan flowering cherry trees. In the central area of the garden, you’ll find five Akibono flowering cherry trees.
There are bridges, a pavilion, and an impressive entrance gate as well as a koi pond.
The solitude and beauty of the garden is worth the trip alone.
The Japanese Garden is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as Fridays through Sundays including holidays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
If you have kids in tow, they’re going to want to hit the zoo.
It may be a small zoo but it packs a lot into its five acres. It features native animals as well as species — more than a few of which are exotic — from around the globe. There are a number of endangered species that include the Black and White Ruffed Lemur as well as the Cotton Top Tamarin.
Keep in mind animals are most active in the morning and late afternoon especially on days when the temperature heats up.
The zoo is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last admission at 4:30 p.m. Adults are $5, ages 3 to 13 are $3 and those under 2 are free.
Next door is Fun Town at Micke Grove featuring 10 kiddie carnival rides such as a coaster, train, and tilt-a-whirl that will re-open in the coming months.
My favorite Micke Grove Park destination is the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.
The museum’s 18 acres include four historic buildings including the 1866 Calaveras School that periodically hosts school children to experience what the classroom was like 156 years ago as well as the 1848 home of the man who founded Stockton — Charles Weber.
There are eight exhibit buildings showcasing much of the museum’s 50,000 items that are in the collection. The agricultural equipment collection — tractors of yesteryear and more modern implements — is impressive along with autos, horse drawn carriages and all the implements of 19th century transportation. The museum has taken care to create a varied exhibit experience ranging from Native American artifacts from the Miwok and Yokuts Indians, items from the Weber family such as furnishings, early settlers, and remnants of days gone by including textiles, clothing, firearms, communication forms, toys, sports equipment, blacksmithing, woodworking, household items, personal items, Chinese theatrical costumes, and more.
There is also a children’s activity area.
The grounds include the Delta Water Path as well as the living exhibit of native habitats along the Sunshine Trail. The museum features rotating special exhibits.
The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
There is a child’s water play feature as well as a three-acre lake with a 40-foot water fountain. Micke Grove Park also includes an 18-hole disc golf course, picnic tables, BBQ grills, horseshoe pits and softball fields.
Entrance fees to Micke Grove Park per vehicle are $5 weekdays, $6 weekends and holidays and $10 for special holiday weekends such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. Pets are $1 each and must be on a leash. Discounted multi-day passes are available. They accept credit cards.
There is an annual park pass available for $100 that allows parking at the county’s six regional parks including Micke Grove, Oak Grove, Mossdale Crossing, and Dos Reis. Those wishing annual passes that include a towed vehicle typically to enter the water on the San Joaquin River at Mossdale Crossing or Dos Reis are charged an extra $50 for the annual pass.