My wife Sarah and I drove to Sacramento last weekend to do a little family tree exploring. When my great aunt Emily died in 1995, one of the things that I inherited from her was our family tree book from my mother’s side of the family, which claims that I am a fifth-generation Californian.

Sarah and I have sniffed around the state capitol before, researching things from my family’s past. Back in the ’80s and early ’90s we’d drive up and visit Emily at her 42nd Street home and take her out for history drives around the city that she knew so well.

Those tours got the wheels in our heads turning about the place and how my family figured into the bigger historical picture. Sarah has diligently scribed her version of the extended tree up to the present, which was no small task.


Dozens of buildings have been carefully restored to maintain the flavor of earlier times in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. (Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)

Our journey began Saturday as we left Santa Cruz just past noon on Highway 17. We tied into Highways 880, 680, 580 and 82, which sent us through Livermore. The dry grassy hills offered dramatic blankets of rolling yellows and browns, punctuated with sporadic gnarled oaks and stands of slender eucalyptus. Sprawling acres of vineyards stretched out in the heat flanked by fields of corn and rice. 

We pulled into the city of Manteca to get a feel for the old town and marveled at the aged brickwork and stone businesses. That’s when Sarah spotted Habibi’s International Market and Deli, 137 N. Main St., which tempted both of us for a lunch stop. The weather being close to 95 degrees, we were lucky to nab a parking spot in a pool on inviting shade.

The friendly woman at the counter seemed as though she’d been waiting for us. She invited us in and thanked us for coming by. Right away she explained the host of freshly prepared salads, dips, rolls, baked goods and the extensive Middle Eastern menu overhead. 

Through her friendly coaching, we ordered two falafel sandwiches, a cucumber tomato, and bell pepper salad and a potato pocket. All of it was was fantastic; freshly prepared and full of flavor. Owner and head chef Maher Othman asked about our journey and showed a keen interest in Santa Cruz. His market was packed full of Middle Eastern goods, from bread and crackers to all kinds of herbs and spices, condiments, olives, grape leaves, treats of all kinds and on and on. Our cold sodas in the tremendous heat were just the right touch to chase down our lunch.


Maher Othman, owner of Habibi’s International Market and Deli wraps up a Middle Eastern bread for a customer. (Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)

We paid them great thanks for their warm hospitality and bid farewell, hoping to return someday.

We headed north on Highway 99 a short distance to the Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Wat Dhammarara, which is an active temple that features over 90 colorful, larger-than-life jewel-encrusted statues that celebrate the life and story of the Cambodian Buddha. At the center of it all is a 50-foot long recumbent Buddha. We were speechless as we drove into the sprawling campus, surrounded by the sea of statues and incredible architecture. It was like wandering into a dreamscape, a fantasyland tagged onto the corner of the map between Manteca and Stockton. 


Scores of huge statues adorn the sprawling grounds of the Wat Dhammarara Buddhist Temple in Madera. (Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)

Some figures had snakes wrapped around their heads, while others were being gobbled up by huge sharks. Goddesses with four faces stared down from floating pyramids and bands of praying men lined up facing one god or another. The whole place was wide open and there were only three other people there. It took us a while to readjust to reality as we departed and swung back onto Highway 99 and bolted for the big city.

Our son, Stuart, and his wife, Lori, had secured a room for us at the Embassy Suites, perched right on the edge of the Sacramento River in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. As it edged above 95 degrees we were delighted to plunge headfirst into our freezing air-conditioned room that offered a fantastic view of the river and a slice of the Sacramento Valley from the eighth floor.

In the next part of this story we dine in the historic Delta King Pilothouse restaurant on the river, take in the richness of Old Sacramento and go family grave hunting before heading south and back to cooler days. 


The State Capitol was built between 1861 and 1874 in neoclassical style. (Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)

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