By DENNIS WYATT
STOCKTON — I have never had an aversion to all things Stockton.
That point hit me after I had stepped out onto the balcony of the 12th floor jury staging area of the San Joaquin County Courthouse after overhearing a Tracy woman basically say her jury duty tour reaffirmed that Stockton was the pits.
I refrained the temptation to say that all communities had their own little hell holes including Tracy, but how can you combat the fact that many in this area that live outside of Stockton equate California’s 13th largest city to Third World status.
I took in the view looking west where the summits of North Peak and Mt. Diablo that I’ve crested more than a few times loomed on the horizon.
Before me was the charm of the Delta inlet that juts into the heart of downtown Stockton. It provides a unique urban setting for events or simply to enjoy a stroll. Next to it is the Banner Island Ball Park and the Stockton Arena — two clean and modern venues that have an abundance of family-oriented entertainment events and sports that are actually affordable and minutes away without the heart-stopping Bay Area traffic. That includes the Stockton Ports baseball team — an affiliate of the Oakland A’s – the Stockton Heat hockey team, and the Sacramento Kings’ entry in the pro basketball development league. California’s Sunrise Seaport, waterfront dining, the Children’s Museum and a host of other points of interest could be seen from the balcony.
I get that walking down Weber Avenue before it reaches the courthouse you feel as if you’ve stepped on the set for the next Mad Max movie. It’s a tad surreal at times, especially the loud proclamations and somewhat bizarre antics of a few of the homeless. Except for the numbers, the homeless I’ve encountered in Stockton are really no different than the ones I’ve come across in Tracy, Manteca, and even Ripon.
This is not intended to be an essay on homeless or comparing warts of the cities within the 209. We have plenty of both. It’s just that non-Stockton residents overlook the diamonds the city of 300,000 has to offer because they are so focused on the coal. And in Stockton’s case – unlike in Modesto — most of its blemishes are front and center along the freeways.
Don’t get me wrong. Modesto’s downtown is getting trendy with young people. They have the Gallo Center and a lot of positive attributes. But it’s not Stockton and that’s meant in a positive way.
My favorite place to go to the movies is City Centre Stadium 16 cinemas that open up to a plaza overlooking the waterfront. It’s pleasant being able soak in a view of the Delta including docked boats and even ducks occasionally navigating the water instead of walking through an ocean of cars in an asphalt covered parking lot. Afterwards there are a number of pleasant dining options you can reach on foot including the predictable New Age stuff such as the Starbucks that shares the plaza with City Centre Stadium 16.
There are a lot of top notch small restaurants to enjoy in downtown including my favorite — Xochimilco Cafe at 36 S. San Joaquin St.
While the place looked like it is from the 1950s, in terms of comfort Mexican food it’s a tough place to beat. The gravy is the absolute best in the 209 as far as I’m concerned.
Around the corner is the Bob Hope Theatre in the renovated digs of the Fox Theatre.
Between Bob Hope Theatre, the Stockton Arena, and venues at the University of the Pacific as well as one of the most impressive stages at a community college in the form of Atherton Auditorium at Delta College, Stockton serves up an extremely robust offering of entertainment, concerts and cultural events. They range from the Stockton Symphony and chamber music concerts to big name acts and shows such as Disney on Ice and monster truck competitions.
UOP also has high quality collegiate basketball.
Stockton is also home to its own live performance theater complete with its own building, the Stockton Civic Theatre.
The cultural offering list also includes the likes of the Haggin Museum that arguably gives Stockton one of the best art museums of a city of 300,000 people. And if that’s a little too stuffy for the young set you can always venture to Pixie Woods where a mini-world of low-key entrainment has been enchanting kids for generations.
North of the UOP campus is Stockton’s Miracle Mile – a mixture of brew pubs, dining spots, coffee shops, boutiques, stores and services that definitely have a collegiate town feel to them.
But if you are interested in retail options you may not get elsewhere in the 209, Stockton tops the list. Stockton has Dillard’s first and one of only three department stores in California and it does it very well throughout three floors.
Stockton has just about every expected national retailer but also has a sizable offering of boutique and specialty stores. They make have lost REI this year but farther up on Pacific Avenue is Lincoln Center with great dining and Papapavlo’s Bistro and Bar, other dining options, specialty stores such as Fleet Feet, Nothing Bundt Cakes, and the impressive specialty Podesto’s Market. There is also a Trader Joe’s and a Performance Bicycle Shop nearby.
Then there are various access lots to the Delta besides downtown that sets Stockton apart from other San Joaquin Valley cities.
All of that and more is an easy, relatively short drive away.
Yes, Stockton has scars. But if you can look beyond them you might just find out that there is a cultural, entertainment, and retail gem right here in the 209 that many overlook.