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As summer vacation winds down, here are 11 must-do activities in and around Modesto

It's hard to believe, but it's true -- summer's flying by at a breakneck pace.

The days are getting shorter, back-to-school goods are crowding store shelves and you absolutely meant to get out to a MoBand concert this year -- but guess what? MoBand is done for the season and you missed it.

Don't miss out on anything else this summer. There are plenty of experiences to enjoy before fall takes over -- and they're right here in your own back yard. Here are 11 must-dos before the leaves start to change.


1. Visit Columbia State Historic Park. And hurry. It could be a boarded-up real-deal ghost town by Labor Day if our Legislature can't find a better way to get some cash flowing through California. The park, off Highway 49, is filled with Gold Rush-era treasures, with plenty of sights and shops to help wile away a summer day. Visitors can make a candle or purchase Columbia made-soap, wooden toys and old-fashioned clothes, or dress-up for a photograph. There are museums, stagecoach rides, gold panning, a working blacksmith shop and a family-friendly saloon that serves mugs of sarsaparilla.


2. Ride the rails at Railtown 1897. And, um, hurry for that, too. Columbia isn't the only place you'll need to check out fast if the budget ax falls on California's parks system. Railtown 1897 also is on the short list for closure, so get your tickets and get on board. Vintage steam-powered excursion trains every weekend at Railtown from April to October. They depart on the hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets for the six-mile, 40-minute round-trip ride through the scenic Sierra foothills are $8 adults, $3 youths ages 6-17, ages 5 and under free. The Railtown complex includes an authentic railroad roundhouse with operating turntable, functional blacksmithing area and belt-driven machine shop. Guided roundhouse tours are available daily for $2 adults, $1 youths ages 6-17, ages 5 and under free.


3. Stroll Modesto's downtown art galleries during the Third Thursday Art Walk. Check out locally created art while enjoying refreshments and chatting with art lovers. Galleries, downtown restaurants, the State Theatre and other businesses stay open until 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month for the walk. And -- good grief, there seems to be a theme at work here -- August will hold your final chance to view the works at the Mistlin Gallery on J Street. The Central California Art Association will shut the doors to gallery at the end of that month.


4. Take a nature walk at Knights Ferry, which is off Highway 108/120 about 12 miles east of Oakdale. The recreation area's Russian Rapid Trail starts just past the Sonora Road bridge and goes west to the Stanislaus River's Russian Rapid. It's an easy, one-mile walk through shaded woodland, and on weekends, you're likely to see river rafters. The level trail makes a nice walk for a family with young children, says park manager Angie Wulfow of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Canyon Trail starts at the historic covered bridge, goes east and features scenic views of the Stanislaus River canyon. This trail is hilly and rocky and would work better for families with children 12 and older, Wulfow says. To reach the Knights Ferry Information Center, call 881-3517.


5. Use some pedal power and enjoy the outdoors on one -- or all -- of Modesto's four paved off-road paths: the 5.5-mile Dry Creek trail between Claus Road and La Loma Avenue, the 3-mile Hetch-Hetchy path between Sisk Road and Semallon Drive, the 2.5-mile route in Tuolumne River Regional Park near the Modesto Airport and the Rotary Centennial trail by Roseburg Square shopping center on Virginia and Roseburg.


6. Pack up a basket and have an old-fashioned picnic in a park. Whether you go traditional with fried chicken and potato salad or go more gourmet with a menu out of Martha Stewart Living, a few hours in the park with family or friends is a lovely way to spend a summer day. Modesto has about 75 parks, with a range of amenities from pools to basketball, tennis and horseshoe courts. See www.modestogov.com/prnd/parks for more information.


7. If dining al fresco sounds good, but having someone else do the cooking sounds better, then make a reservation or stop by any one of several Modesto restaurants with outdoor dining options. Sip a glass of wine outside at Tresetti's and watch the downtown Modesto night life get started, enjoy a martini on the Fuzio patio and view the action at Tenth Street Plaza or relax on the more private terrazzo at Galletto Ristorante and catch up on conversation. There are a number of other Modesto restaurants where al fresco dining is enjoyed -- for lunch or dinner.


7. Listen to a concert in the great outdoors. OK, so MoBand is a done deal for 2009, but there are a number of other weekly outdoor music options all over the region. On Fridays, you can head to Oakdale for free concerts in Dorada Park, 6:30 to 8 p.m. (847-2244); to Sonora's Courthouse Park, 6 to 8 p.m. (588-9625); or to Mariposa County Art Park for Cousin Jack's Mariposa Evenings, 7 to 10 p.m. (966-2456). On the first Friday of the month only, Murphys offers concerts at Murphys Park beginning at 5:30 p.m. (728-9012). And on Saturdays, head over to Eproson Park in Twain Harte for Concerts in the Pines beginning at 6 p.m. (586-4482).


9. Like the idea of outdoor entertainment? Want more options? Then catch a free outdoor movie. The city of Modesto Teen Movie Nights lineup, shown in Mancini Bowl in Graceada Park, is: July 23, "Pink Panther 2"; July 30, "Hancock"; Aug. 6, "Coraline"; Aug. 13, "Mamma Mia!"; and Aug. 20, "Get Smart." Showtime is 7:30 p.m. The city of Modesto Family Movie Nights in Mancini Bowl are: Aug. 21, "Kung Fu Panda"; Aug. 28, "The Tale of Despereaux"; Sept. 4, "Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa"; Sept. 11, "Hotel for Dogs"; Sept. 18, "Journey to the Center of the Earth"; and Sept. 25, "Marley & Me." Showtime is 7 p.m.


10. Hit the water! Modesto and Woodward reservoirs and Turlock Lake are great places to swim, sail, water ski, jet ski and picnic. Pack your camping gear and make it an overnighter. A little farther for valley folks, but well worth the trip, is Pinecrest Lake, where pontoon boats, paddleboats and kayaks can be rented, and a swim is a refreshing way to conclude the roughly 5-mile walk/hike around the lake's edge. All four have marinas/stores for supplies and rentals. There are campsites and RV hookups (and Pinecrest has cabins). Woodward is on 26-Mile Road north of Oakdale, and Modesto Reservoir is near Waterford (for both: www.co.stanislaus.ca.us). Turlock Lake is near La Grange (www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=555), and Pinecrest is in Tuolumne County (www.pinecrestlakeresort.com).


11. No need to spend the gas and time traveling to San Francisco or Oakland to see the boys of summer. You already know that the Modesto Nuts are right here in our own fair city, why not give the team a try? Head out to John Thurman Field for an evening of professional baseball and all the other things that make the game America's favorite pastime. Find details on our city's minor-league team -- including game schedules and special promotions -- at http://modesto.nuts.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t515.

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