By DENNIS WYATT
If I had a day to show off a friend who has never stepped foot in Manteca before why I like living here I’d start it with an easy jog.
Assuming it is late February, we’d head out just before dawn skirting the eastern edges of Manteca along Austin Road enjoying the sweet elixir with every breath we take while visually feasting on the lush green grasses and the numerous trees and shrubs starting to bud. And if we time it right we’ll be able to see the sun awakening in the east over the snow-covered Sierra as we look across freshly plowed dew covered fields or peak through almond branches laden with pink and white blossoms.
I’d offer a choice of two breakfasts. One would be at home feasting on the bounty of the Northern San Joaquin Valley with everything from almonds and apples grown in nearby orchards to yogurt made with milk from dairies that contract with area farmers. But if they are more into the traditional American breakfast I’d take them to the Mangy Moose. (I would also make sure to double my normal run mileage beforehand.)
The proverbial hole-in-the-wall café a half block east of Manteca High on East Yosemite Avenue defines traditional hearty American breakfasts. The omelets are off the charts. But more importantly it is cooked and served in proportions that remind me of breakfast on a working ranch.
It also helps that you can see the cooks prepare your breakfast and the fact the staff — and customers — are friendly.
From there we’d hoof it downtown for a quick tour of the murals and duck into a shop or two.
The first stop would be at the Yosemite mural that I liked the unique watercolors style so much that I ended up spending $495 to get a print of another panting depicting a spot near Sonora Pass done by artist Don Peterson. It now hangs in my front room.
We’d cut across the street to the German Glas Werks to provide them with an idea of artistic talent and entrepreneurship that can thrive in the valley.
As we walked down Yosemite I’d point out one of the things I love about Manteca — the community’s deep respect for those that have served their country. As they are looking at the murals honoring those that served in World War II, the Korean War and the Global War on Terror I’d explain how eight times a year volunteers place 2,400 flags along Manteca’s main streets on days honoring Martin Luther King, the Armed Forces, 9-11, Flag Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and more.
I’d make sure they notice some of the classic century-old valley architecture as well as take note of the Tidewater-style traffic lights and lampposts.
A tour downtown wouldn’t be complete without Library Park — a small town-style gathering place where history and art are celebrated in a series of murals as well in the design of the water play feature. Besides how else could they see my favorite mural — “Manteca Snow” — depicting a whimsical massive window looking out at an almond orchard in February with three kids frolicking in the gentle falling almond blossoms that’s located across from the park.
I’d take them across the tracks to the Manteca Historical Society museum so they can get a sense of what Manteca evolved from. The museum still amazes me after 25 years given I’m hard-pressed to find many other California communities under 100,000 that have such a rich collection and vibrant volunteer staff.
I’d make sure they saw the Spreckels Sugar collection, The Towering Inferno movie poster that was in the sidewalk display case the night the El Rey Theatre burned, and the anti-smartphone — an old-fashioned switchboard from Manteca Telephone back in the days when people has two numbers. I’d also take them into the Museum Annex to see the farm implements but it would be more of an excuse to see Manteca’s second fire engine, a 1927 American La France.
After that we’d hop in the car and head south to Caswell Memorial State Park. This jewel of nature is often underappreciated by people in the area. Not only is it the largest surviving stand of riparian oak woodlands that once lined valley rivers — experts say 98 percent of them are gone — but it also gives you a chance to see the Stanislaus River up close after a short hike through the woodlands.
On the way there and back I’d point out various farming operations from Fredrik’s Nursery to various family-owned diaries educating my friend that despite misconceptions most farmers in this country — and all farmers in the Manteca area — are family farmers and not corporations. They’ve been farming the same land for generations and are only able to do so because they are good stewards of the land.
The next stop would be Delicato Vineyards’ wine tasting room. As they enjoy sipping the Gnarly wine offerings I’d note how the Northern San Joaquin Valley is home to a third of the 12 biggest wineries in the country and that San Joaquin County is the biggest wine grape growing county by tonnage in the United States — not Napa, not Sonoma, and not Monterrey. I’d also explain some friends that were self-described wine snobs who live in San Francisco turned up their noses once when I told them in lived in Manteca where Delicato Vineyards is located. A few years later when I gifted them with wine under a different label and they raved about it, imagine their surprise when I told them it was from Delicato Vineyards that owns the fabled San Bernabe Vineyards in Monterey County.
From there I’d go down Union Road past Del Webb at Woodbridge to point out how Pulte Homes opted to build in Manteca when it came up on surveys they conducted as the place that future Bay Area retirees would like to live while pursuing active lifestyles thanks to the community and its proximity to San Jose, San Francisco, the Sierra and Yosemite.
Since its nearing mid-afternoon, I’d drive by the Altamont Corridor Express station to hammer home that Manteca is unique as it is a California city served by commuter rail. We’d also go by Big League Dreams sports complex just to toss in another unique amenity before heading to “the spot.”
“The spot” is Bass Pro Shops where first-time visitors act as if they are tourists snapping photos of everything from the towering walk-thru redwood tree and the aquarium filled with Delta fish to the various wall displays of nature. Besides it is a good excuse to stop by the Bass Pro fudge shop.
If they’re ready for dinner, the call is a little tough.
Contrary to popular belief Manteca has a slew of good mom and pop or independent restaurants.
They run the gamut from Ernie’s that is a dining experience that is so good it draws patrons from the San Francisco Bay Area to places such as New China and the Hong Kong to small India cuisine options.
But since this is Manteca and having guests is a chance to hit a Mexican restaurant, I know what type of food we’ll be eating but where is anyone’s guess. When it comes to Mexican cuisine styles there are a lot of options in Manteca and you can’t go wrong with most of them.
I’d probably end up selecting El Jardin only because nowhere else can I get a large vegetarian burrito with fajita-style vegetables that is consistently off the charts.
But if they’re packed and we’re not in the mood to wait, there are other top notch places such as Las Casuelas and Taqueria Yvette to name a few.
Manteca isn’t San Jose. It’s not San Francisco. It’s not Sacramento. And it’s not Yosemite Valley.
But it is a good place to live with low-key things to do while savoring living in California. And when you want to mix it up you’re an hour away from the urban offerings of arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Also — with a two-hour drive in either direction — you can take in the Pacific Ocean and its beaches or hike in Yosemite National Park.
It doesn’t get much better.