Known as The Cowboy Capital of the World – by virtue of the number of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association champions who at one time called the community home – Oakdale nowadays offers much more than boots and spurs.
There is, of course, the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo Grounds on the east end of town where the PRCA Rodeo still welcomes thousands of visitors to town for competition, but the community also features the sweet-smelling Sconza candy factory on its south side, the Stanislaus River winding its way through on the north end and a dog park utilized by furry friends and their owners from many surrounding communities on the west side. Also on the north side, just before crossing the river, the award-winning Oakdale Cheese and Specialties shop is known for its Best in the World Gouda cheese, which you can see being made on site, and you can settle in for a picnic on the grounds and feed the farm animals or just enjoy watching koi swim in the pond.
In between, the downtown heart of the community serves up an array of historic buildings, is crisscrossed by railroad tracks, features a wide variety of eclectic shops, longstanding businesses and two different museums. A mural featuring famous bull Bushwacker can be seen as you come into town from the west on F Street, while southbound travelers on Yosemite Avenue will be greeted by a large mural complete with a cowboy and an almond orchard in bloom, a colorful welcome to the community.
Suffice to say, there won’t be a shortage of things to see and do should you choose to visit.
Several antique shops line F Street, which is the main east-west thoroughfare through town. Yosemite Avenue serves as the north-south highway and, where they meet at the main intersection, the convergence of Highways 108 and 120, take a look up at the clock tower atop the Oak Valley Community Bank building; the clock has to be wound by hand every week to keep the time accurate.
“The First National Bank of Oakdale building, current home of Oak Valley Community Bank, is the more notable landmark of the downtown area. This building is recognized on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places,” noted Oakdale Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Trisha K. Brown. “Completed in 1909, this building continues to stand strong, with the Oakdale Lions Club doing all that they can to ensure the clock tower keeps on ticking.”
Heading west on F Street, you will run in to the antique shops and, a few blocks farther, the Oakdale Museum and History Center. That is located in the Sydnor-Prowse House, a former private residence that now offers a plethora of information, memorabilia, photos and artifacts of years gone by. Operated by the Friends of Oakdale Heritage, the museum was built originally as a home in 1869. It was converted into a museum in 1985. It is the oldest building in Oakdale.
A collection of businesses, from the longstanding Bordona’s Furniture and Appliance to shoe repair and a watchmaker, add to the unique mix of downtown offerings, interspersed with clothing shops, gyms, restaurants, gift boutiques, a dance studio, a hobby shop and more.
North Third Avenue is home to the uniquely named House of Beef, which is a restaurant, catering and retail butcher shop; it has both indoor and covered outdoor dining and often welcomes in live music for weekend diners.
Many locals and visitors alike start the day with a stop at the historic Moss Rose Bakery, also on North Third Avenue, where pastries and breads have been “baked on the bricks” of the brick oven for decades. The shop also has an extensive lunch menu if you want to sit and dine instead of just taking a dozen doughnuts or a box of turnovers and bear claws to go.
“Moss Rose Bakery has been an Oakdale landmark since 1904. This is one of my favorite pieces of knowledge regarding the history of the downtown area. Knowing that the bakery still produces delicious baked goods in the original oven from when it all started is pretty special,” Chamber CEO Brown said. “Along with shopping and entertainment opportunities, these (OVCB building and Moss Rose) are just two of the historical treasures Downtown Oakdale has for visitors from all over to learn about and enjoy.”
Oakdale Mayor Cher Bairos said it is the blending of businesses that make a visit to the Cowboy Capital memorable.
“Our downtown Third Street offers a wonderful combination of old, new, traditional and contemporary shopping and dining opportunities. The home of our Farmer’s Market, which starts back in May, every Wednesday,” the mayor explained. “Moss Rose Bakery, Roberts Ferry Nut Co., Suzey Belen’s Mexican Restaurant, Oak Valley Community Bank, Boutique’s at Tiffany’s and so much more. Third Street in Oakdale is a wonderful example of how Oakdale blends both new and traditional businesses in our community.”
And while there is no officially named ‘Main Street’ in town, motorists and residents typically consider Highway 108 as having that distinction, as it cuts through the heart of the community and connects to hiking, fishing, skiing and more.
“Residents may remember, just 30 years ago there was just one single stop light in Oakdale, at the corner of Yosemite and F Street, our ‘main intersection’. The ONLY Stop light in the entire town,” Mayor Bairos noted.
As you travel eastward on F Street, the former train depot by the railroad tracks has been converted into the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, where the city’s rich western heritage is on full view. Rodeo legends, prize saddles, champion bucking bulls – information about all of this and more can be found with a stop at the old depot. It even has the iconic Yesterday Is Tomorrow cowboy sculpture by well-known artist Betty Saletta in the courtyard between the museum and the H-B Saloon. The saloon – which sees a line of revelers snaking down the street and around the corner come rodeo time waiting for their chance to get in – is another mainstay and features the brands of many cattle ranches from the area burned in to the walls as decoration.
“Nearly every single corner or intersection in Oakdale ‘looks different’ than it did 30 years ago; however, there will always be those landmarks that are part of Oakdale’s history and tradition. On ‘main street’ you will see many family-owned businesses that have been part of Oakdale’s history for generations,” added Mayor Bairos. “Most all of these businesses are still run by the families that founded these businesses that are currently being run by second, third and even fourth generations of the same family. That’s one of the many things that Oakdale is known for … Tradition and Family.”
Oakdale marks its 150th anniversary during 2021, having been founded in 1871 as the Stockton-Visalia and Copperopolis railroads met during the Gold Rush era.
It was named for its abundance of oak trees and is now also known for almond production, farming and ranching as well as being home to many industries, such as ConAgra Foods and Sconza Candy, which moved in to the former Hershey Chocolate plant in 2008.
The community always seemed to be bustling, especially in the early days when it was a stop along the way for those heading a little further east to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada hoping to strike it rich by finding gold.
Oakdale continues to be a perfect stopping point for tourists, needing to take a break in their travels to either Yosemite to the east or the San Francisco Bay Area to the west. It also remains firmly rooted in its agricultural and cowboy history.
“While we have seen many changes and improvements over the years, our town continues to maintain that small town feel, where you’re sure to see someone you know at the grocery store, bank, post office or one of Oakdale’s many parks,” Mayor Bairos summarized. “Welcoming, warm and friendly is what people get in Oakdale. A sense of pride, tradition, family values, compassion, dedication, hard work and desire to thrive are the core values of Oakdale.”