What are the most romantic places in the 209?
For me it’s hands down the Mist Trail climbing out of Yosemite Valley along the Merced River where I fell hopelessly in love shortly before noon on April 10, 1993. I didn’t need the rainbow arching over the falling water from Nevada Fall behind Cynthia as we had our first kiss while the mist pelted us to know it was the real deal. Forty-eight days later we were engaged and 81 days later were married.
It lasted 12 years … the marriage that is. I still love Cynthia even though a lot of people still don’t get it. I’d like someone to show me where it is written that when people grow apart for a multitude of reasons that it is mandatory to turn a loving relationship into a real life “War of the Roses”. To this day once in a while someone will ask one of us for dirt on the other or make some stupid innuendo. Neither dignifies a response because I seriously doubt such a person that could ask such a question or who assumes there’s a “wink, wink” somewhere could begin to understand how you can still be the greatest of friends after a divorce.
Many of us can’t even be civil anymore to people who simply disagree with us. That’s why it is a stretch to think they could fathom that a divorce isn’t a precursor to hatred.
Since Valentine’s Day brings love and relationships to mind, I thought it might be appropriate to make some suggestions for unique 209 romantic spots to visit, keeping in mind that any spot can be romantic if your hearts are into it. You also don’t need the backdrop of Valentine’s Day to enjoy the experience.
First I thought I’d bore you with what might be considered credentials to make the case that I’m at least semi-romantic.
I proposed to Cynthia at Drakes Beach at Point Reyes Seashore. I did it with eight roses — two yellow for friendship, two pink for love, two white for purity and two red for passion. The ring was a ruby stone in a heart shape in a nod to her love of “The Wizard of Oz.” Jan Brown of Allen’s Jewelry made it possible on short notice. The toast in champagne glasses filled with Tahitian Punch — a favorite she hadn’t drank for years — required dozens of calls and a trip to Sacramento to secure. It was followed with a packed lunch we enjoyed on a blanket spread in the same area where elephant seals last month commandeered the beach for birthing during the government shutdown.
The evening was capped with an aborted cable car ride up Powell Avenue from Fisherman’s Wharf. I don’t recall much about the dinner except we had the time of our lives despite being drenched.
That’s because as we stood on the running board of a cable car prior to dinner it starting raining. Two blocks later the cable car stalled for some reason. A French tourist — I assume he was from France as he spoke French — who was seated and apparently we were blocking his view as we kept kissing — uttered a few words in French that I know basically meant “stupid Americans.” So much for assuming all French supposedly are incurable romantics. We could have cared less about the rain. The Flamingos nailed it with “I Only Have Eyes for You”, the song that comes to mind when I recall that rainy Memorial Day weekend evening in San Francisco.
It did not matter the conductor said they were shutting down the cable car service due to an issue. It was still the best cable car ride of all time.
As for our first Valentine’s Day, I wanted to make it special. So I ordered her favorite sandwich from Subway along with the essential Pepsi and chips and picked her up at work for lunch in a horse drawn carriage. She had other ideas. Instead of Subway, we headed to the drive-thru window at the Yosemite Avenue Taco Bell.
Nothing beats being in an open carriage drawn by a horse through downtown Manteca while enjoying Taco Bell with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. I would have preferred El Jardin but a 30-minute ride does require some concessions.
Now for my list of 209 romantic spots: Be warned that they all — except for one — entail packing a picnic. It takes a little bit of thought and effort, more than just texting Blue Apron or making a Run for the Border. As for restaurants being romantic places, I guess they can be since we went to the String’s restaurant in Modesto for our first date. But the romantic level is a bit higher with a more personalized setting.
I might as well digress here and tell you how our first date ended so you will know I can be a klutz in such situations.
When we went back to her house and the time came for “the” good-night kiss I got nervous.
We were on her back patio when I noticed slugs on the cement.
Trying to make conversation I asked if she had ever killed snails with salt.
She looked at me like I was nuts. (Yeah, I know. It’s not the greatest line to set up a first kiss.) Not knowing what to say next after I blurted that tidbit of information I asked if she had some salt.
We spent the next 15 or so minutes laughing as we went around the patio and nearby rose beds sprinkling salt on slugs watching them “get small” as Steve Martin would say with no thought given the act of cruelty could put us on the Top 10 Most Wanted list issued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
We were laughing our heads off.
One little problem: I forgot to clear the mess up afterwards as I was so swept up in the moment. Let’s say she wasn’t a happy camper the next morning when she walked out onto the patio. I consider myself lucky that I got a second date as I don’t think a lot of relationships start off by killing slugs and leaving them to mar your date’s patio the next morning.
Back to list of romantic spots in the 209 of which none involve killing off gastropods.
*YOSEMITE VALLEY: I can’t believe the number of people I come across in Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, Modesto, and Turlock who have never been to Yosemite Valley. You do not have to go for a hike. Instead you can stroll in meadows, up to the base of thundering waterfalls, and to mirror-like lakes while surrounded by soaring glacier-carved walls while the Merced River rushes thorough the lush valley that more than 4 million people flock to see each year. The best time to do this is late March (assuming there’s no snow) or early April when the waterfalls are in the full glory and the crowds are at their lowest ebb for fair weather months. If you can’t find a romantic spot to picnic in Yosemite Valley you are a lost cause.
*LODI LAKE: The city-owned lake that connects to the Mokelumne River is reached by taking Turner Road west from Highway 99 in Lodi. It has an abundance of stately trees and plenty of grass along the water’s edge. It also has paddleboats for rent. You can top the day off by walking across the street from the park’s main entrance to get a chocolate and vanilla twist soft-serve frostie from the Sno-White Drive-In.
*WINE & ROSES: I know I said restaurants weren’t on my list but this is more of a complete package. Located just beyond Lodi Lake is Wine & Roses. This is the real deal when it comes to an intimate hotel, relaxing spa, and romantic dining in a setting on a scale of 1 to 10 is an 11. It terms of spa-hotels it puts some in the Napa Valley to shame without the arm and leg price and the drive. There is a reason one of my best friends Gary chose Wine & Roses to marry his sweetheart Michele. That was a number of years ago when it was impressive before a major redo that made it incredible. And if you are into it, you can combine it with a tour of the Lodi Wine Country starting with dropping by the Lodi Wine Country Visitors Center next door to Wine & Roses.
*CASWELL STATE PARK: Located along the Stanislaus River at the southern end of Austin Road west of Ripon, the 267 acres of woodlands is perfect spring, summer, winter, and fall. The summer crowds can be a tad hectic. For a quiet getaway this time of year you can’t beat late February when nature starts to come out of its slumber of the early days of spring when nature’s blooms create a pleasing scent. Winter is a quiet and reflective time while fall is a kaleidoscope of colors.
*MAVIS STOUFFER PARK ALONG THE STANISLAUS RIVER: This is a city park located in Ripon off Manley Road just north of where it T-intersects with East Main Street in Ripon. The park is usually a lush green with ample trees to provide shade. The real attraction is the sound and sight of the Stanislaus River flowing by.
*MCHENRY RECREATION AREA: Of all the Stanislaus River Parks operated by the Army Corps of Engineers from Knights Ferry in the east to Orange Blossom and down river toward Ripon, this is by far the best for a spring or summer escape when the temperature can kill any romantic venture outdoors. The heavily wooded McHenry Recreation Area is located on a bend on the Stanislaus River. It can be a bit hectic during summer and three-day weekends but most of the time it is lightly populated. Take River Road and drop down to the river at the entrance just before the Escalon Sportsman’s Club and the Escalon wastewater treatment plant. Both are a world away once you drop into the thick wooded area along the riverside. If you don’t turn into the park off River Road you’ll reach McHenry Avenue in a half mile where a left turn takes you into Escalon and a right turn takes you across the river toward Modesto.
*DONNELLY PARK: I know, I know. Donnelly Park in Turlock is basically a large city park with a manmade lake in an urban setting. Still it’s a great picnic spot that allows you to get a bit silly as well as romantic as long as you bring along plenty of bread to feed the ducks, geese, and catfish. Hands down, it is the best place for entertainment from tearing apart a loaf or two or three in this part of the 209.
None of these ventures require much walking.
I left off three 209 spots that require a bit of semi-hard core hiking to reach — Sonora Peak, Mt. Dana, and Kennedy Lake out of Kennedy Meadows.
The right time is the late spring and you’ll have incredible vistas of wildflowers, endless panoramas, fluffy clouds, and blue skies although you should be warned your hiking date may fall more in love with the offerings of the high Sierra than they do you.