Davis: A great diversion close to home
The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Davis. (Photo by George Medovoy)
DAVIS — Who hasn’t traveled Interstate 80 from Fairfield to Davis?
But how many have actually stopped to explore and spend some time in Davis?
If you haven’t done so recently, now might be a good time. The town has seen an upsurge in downtown activity in recent years, with locals and visitors taking advantage of a bustling downtown scene, including restaurants.
Whether they come as students, on an academic sabbatical or just as visitors, one of the attractions of Davis is that it’s the home of the northernmost campus of the University of California.
With Putah Creek meandering past sloping lawns, the campus still includes some of the original wood-frame buildings dating to the very early part of the 20th century, when what would later become the University of California, Davis was known as the University Farm – a kind of stepchild to the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Agriculture.
Today, the Davis campus stands on its own, boasting some of the finest academic and research specialties in the world, from medicine and genetics to plant physiology and the arts.
One of the latest additions to UC Davis, the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, is named for the well-known California winery and plays host to top American and international performers.
Over the years, many of the world’s leading winemakers have trained in the university’s Viticulture and Enology Department, whose spacious, state-of-the-art, new facility borders 12.5 acres of experimental vineyards off Old Davis Road.
The department’s in-house winery, used by students in their studies, attracts international notice for path-finding, sustainable features, including a system that captures rainwater to irrigate the winery’s landscaping.
An example of the many international researchers who have come to Davis is Yosi Shalhevet, who served as chief scientist of the Israel Ministry of Agriculture.
Shalhevet spent a yearlong sabbatical in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and later became Israel’s first official representative in Beijing, serving as director of the Liaison Office of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities – a prelude to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and China in 1992.
The international presence in Davis is reflected at International House, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes international student interaction with activities like free international movies, potlucks and art shows.
While it’s well-known as the home of UC Davis, the Central Valley town is also famed for “bike power.”
Often called the bicycle capital of America, Davis pioneered the concept of suburban bike lanes, many of which weave their way gracefully through suburban greenbelts.
If you’re interested in doing some serious biking, you can also head out along Russell Boulevard, past historic, arching walnut trees, to enjoy the area’s flat terrain and go all the way into farm country and the small town of Winters, about 14 miles away.
For the “very serious” bikers, there’s always the Davis Double Century, which is sponsored by the Davis Bike Club in May. The event is open to a maximum of 1,000 riders.
With all the emphasis on bikes, it’s no coincidence that Davis is also home to the U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame, housed in a modest building next to Central Park, where crowds gather for the ever-popular Davis Farmers Market.
For a peek at some of the town’s colorful history, you can always take the easy bike loop past historic Davis buildings.
Among my favorites is the old Davis city hall, a Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure dating to 1938, which once housed city hall and the fire department and is now the very cool City Hall Tavern, next to Bistro 33, which offers both indoor and patio seating.
Another stop I like along this route is the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer Mansion, a two-story Italianate dwelling, circa 1871, at one time the home of William Dresbach, the first postmaster of what was then known as Davisville.
Next door is the classic Varsity Theater, whose art deco, red-and-blue neon sign lights up the Davis night.
The Varsity is one of three movie theaters in town, but its distinction, besides the wonderful signage, is that it screens films you won’t generally see in other theaters.
A short hop away on this loop is the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, built in 1913 in Mission Revival style, where Amtrak trains pull in and where you can also hop a commuter train for the San Francisco Bay Area.
Davis also has a rather unique way of getting around that isn’t tied to bikes at all – it’s Unitrans, a university-operated bus system with student drivers, whose fleet includes vintage double-deckers from London with many of the original stops, like London Bridge Station, posted on the outside of the red buses.
Whatever you choose to do in Davis, don’t forget to make time for a relaxing cup of coffee at one of the town’s numerous cafes.
It’s yet another way to savor small-town living in a very special place called Davis.
George Medovoy writes on travel at www.postcardsforyou.com.