It's a blur on the landscape for many -- a cow town ignored on a speedway toward greener pastures -- like the Bay Area and Tahoe.
Yet Davis is a destination in its own right, with a vibrant downtown and a bicycle culture that makes it the most freewheeling city in the country.
"There are more bikes than bipeds," claims one of the many websites describing Davis as a college town and home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. "Ever since the University of California campus opened in Davis in 1908, the town has had a love affair with bicycles," says Bob Bowen, the city's Public Relations manager. "It's a flat town. A lot of starving students come to town, and the only way they can get around is by bicycle."
As one of the Hall of Fame's founding members, Bowen knows bicycles. "There are 11 square miles of town and over 100 miles of bike lanes or paths," he states proudly. "Wherever you want to go here -- to school, to work, to shop -- you can get there by bike without crossing a major intersection."
In fact, Davis was the first U.S. city to have bike lanes, when the rest of the country was keen on cars. "In 1967, we were developing the specifications about how wide bike lanes were," says Bowen, who says there's a whole science to the flow of bike, car and foot traffic.
After hearing for years how much parents liked visiting their college-aged students in Davis, I finally spent a day there, myself, last month. I checked
It was a sleeveless blouse evening -- still cool by Sacramento Valley standards -- and al fresco diners cast shadows in the light of a pale mid-May moon. The downtown seemed seductive -- like a women naive to her beauty. Every block offered music and art -- even poetry. The energy was palpable, and I walked back to the hotel that night -- a 20-minute stroll through quiet, tree-lined streets and neatly kept neighborhoods.
The slap of an early morning shower had me ready for my first bike ride in Davis, before the heat of the day set in. I borrowed one of the hotel's free cruisers and rode leisurely through the UC Davis Arboretum, a 100-acre stretch of land along the banks of Putah Creek. I pedaled past 31,000 plants and trees, passing geese and their goslings and an eclectic mix of bikers and babies in strollers. The whole ride took less than an hour.
After breakfast I launched out again on a bike path that ambled past 26 architectural landmarks. I saw a Spanish Colonial church flanked by cypress trees grown from seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane; a Mission Revival style Southern Pacific Depot -- still operating today; the Queen Anne-style Schmeiser Home, complete with a swastika pattern on the chimney; and the Avenue of Trees, a 1.25-mile stretch of the old Lincoln Highway lined with Black Walnut trees.
Through it all, I felt like a kid again -- like a student on spring break with finals behind me. A bicycle will do that for you.
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