By DENNIS WYATT
STOCKTON — It is a place where one can watch a professional baseball game in a modern, waterfront park designed with families in mind.
You can see professional hockey action, enjoy a concert, watch ultimate sports competition, and even catch Disney on Ice in a 21st century arena that is easy to access and doesn’t require a second mortgage to pay for parking.
If you like, you can stroll along the water on a promenade, partake of an event at Weber’s Point where your kids call cool off in the interactive water play feature or take in a movie and stop by unique restaurants afterwards. You can even catch touring singer and comedians in a classic, restored entertainment venue.
Downtown Stockton — while it’s not downtown San Jose — is far from being a Third World city.
It isn’t a shopping Mecca and it’s not overrun with restaurants. The last major big league employer — Washington Mutual Bank — left before the recession. There are more than a few empty structures in need of TLC that were built in the early 20th century when Stockton was one of California’s go-to cities. While there are a lot of warts, downtown Stockton has a lot to offer.
In fact, the entire City of Stockton does.
The Rodney Dangerfield of California cities — it’s even tagged with an unlucky number as being the state’s 13th largest city with 306,000 residents — has a lot to offer especially if you are looking for something to do.
Downtown Stockton has four event venues and other “destinations” worthy of checking out.
And given the fact that you as a taxpayer have just sunk $308 million into downtown Stockton in the form of the new 13-story San Joaquin County courthouse, it’s a good time to check the place out.
*BANNER ISLAND: The 5,200-seat (4,200 of them are fixed) stadium on the edge of the Delta is home to the minor league professional Stockton Ports, an affiliate of the Oakland A’s. It includes two picnic areas. If you are into going to ball games occasionally as a fun outing or want to get into a team, Banner Islands is perfect. Ticket prices are reasonable and so are the concessions. Parking is a breeze. And the best part you can leave your home in Manteca and be in your seat in 45 minutes or less. For more information got to www.stockton.ports.milb.com
*STOCKTON ARENA: The 8,600 to 12,000 seat Stockton Arena is next to Banner Island Baseball Park and also overlooks the waterfront. It is home of the Stockton Heat professional minor league hockey team affiliated with the Calgary Flames. There isn’t a bad seat in the house when it comes to watching hockey.
Upcoming events include Banda El Recodo on Aug. 12, the wildly popular StocktonCon on Aug. 19-20. JAMZ Reload on Oct. 22, Alabama on Nov. 10. The Toughest Monster Truck Tour March 30-31, and a slew of hockey games. To check out upcoming events go to stoktonlive.com/venues/detail/Stockton-arena.
*THE WATERFRONT: What would a waterfront be without a marina? The Stockton Marina isn’t your run-of-the-mill waterfront with its inverted “tent canopies.” It has broad promenades ideal for a leisurely walk. It also is the home of the outdoor events center — Weber’s Point — with its interactive water play feature. It is an easy stroll to restaurants, coffee shops, and a cinema.
*BOB HOPE THREATRE: The elegantly restored former Fox Theatre has as many as four concerts — music and comedians — in any given month. It even has the Young Frankenstein musical booked for Nov. 5. What makes catching a show at the Bob Hope Theatre even better is an excuse to hit Xochimilco. The restaurant at 36 South San Joaquin Street is hole-in-the-wall throwback to the 1950s. But they serve Mexican food my neighbors did growing up. It sticks with you. You might describe it as heavy but is killer when it comes to taste. It is so filling that you can easily be sleepy in an hour. It’s a treat I partake in at least twice a year. For information on upcoming Bob Hope Theatre events go to www.bob-hope-theatre.tickets-center.com
*STOCKTON’S CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: It’ a great place for children to use their imaginations and be kids while being educated a bit in the process. For an admission of $6 for every age 1 and over, a hands on experience awaits kids who can do everything from see themselves anchoring the news on TV, riding a police motorcycle, trying on six 16 tennis shoes, creating art, walking inside a human eye to climbing over a fire truck. It was born out of a desire to create a safe place for kids following 1989 Cleveland School shooting in Stockton where a gunman using an assault weapon killed five students and injured 30 others. For more information go to www.childrensmusuem.org
*OTHER DOWNTOWN POINTS: There is also the stately Stockton Civic Auditorium that handles its share of events as well as more than a few historical sites.
It is clear that downtown Stockton — for now — is more of an events place although spending time on the water front and hitting a nearby small café is a great way to spend a lazy, low key weekend afternoon.
There are a lot of other parts of Stockton worthy of checking out that are 45 minutes or less from Manteca.
*HAGGIN MUSEUM: The art and local history museum in Victory Park on Pershing Avenue has been open since 1931. It often has traveling exhibits that are worthy of cosmopolitan cities. For more information go to hagginmuseum.org
*PIXIE WOODS: It’s a world created for kids with a train, boat, and carousel rides along with plenty of slides fashioned with fairy tale imagination. It’s open Thursday through Sundays in the summer and on weekends in the fall and spring at the end of Monte Diablo Drive. For more info go to Stockton.gov.com/government/departments/comunityServces/places/pixieWoods.hmtl
*STOCKTON CIVIC THEATRE: Dating back to 1950, the live theatre company has had its own 300-seat theater on Rose Marie Lane since 1980. For more information go to sclivetheatre.com
My favorite stretch of Stockton might just be along Pacific Avenue from the Miracle Mile to Lincoln Center with March Lane tossed in for good measure.
It is here you will find the University of the Pacific — the oldest private university in California — and its rich repertoire of cultural events such as the world-renowned Brubeck Jazz Festival. The UOP campus is on the northern edge of Stockton’s architecturally rich Country Club neighborhood with roots in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It is also near the Miracle Mile — a collection of small shops, dining options, and services.
North of UOP you will find Delta College with its own cultural offerings. It is also home to the Stockton Symphony, California’s third oldest orchestra. Across the street you will find two malls with the biggest anchors being Macy’s and the only Dillard’s west of the Rockies.
My two favorite centers are a bit further up on Pacific Avenue.
The first is Stonecreek Village. It has a Mimi’s Café, DeVega Brothers, Five Guys, BJ Brewhouse, Rubio’s, Boudin SF, and Kyodai as well as a Hometown Budge plus plenty of true specialty shops. It even has summer concerts. But the rea reason it is my favorite center is the fact it is anchored by REI.
A short drive farther north you come to Lincoln Center where you will find what I consider the best boutique market in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — Podesto’s — and home to one of my top three celebration restaurants of all time — Papapavo’s Bistro & Bar. It also helps that Lincoln Center has a Fleet Feet, Performance Bicycle Shop, Trader’s Joes, and a number of unique specialty stores, restaurants, and bakeries.
And if you’re looking for a different take on Chinese cuisine, there’s David Wong’s on March Lane.
To be honest Manteca has more than a few good Chinese restaurants — Hong Kong and New China — to name two as well as solid Mexican restaurants. But is always nice to mix it up.
And when you’re looking for something a bit different, Stockton can fill the bill.