The Nut tree in Vacaville started as a fruit stand. In 1921 the original restaurant was opened by the Power family. It was named for a black walnut tree that shaded the property: planted in 1859 by Josiah Addison as he crossed the plains. He picked up the nut on the Gila River in Arizona. Unfortunately the walnut tree died in 1952.
In 1952 The Nut Tree added the Toy Shop and the Nut Tree Railroad which originally ran on a quarter mile of track through the gardens and orchards, but later stopped at the Nut Tree airport when it opened in 1955.
They added a new dining room in 1958 and by 1962 it was so popular that the US Post Office designated the area Nut Tree, California.
Its prime location just off of I-80 between San Francisco and Sacramento, allowed it to grow into a destination of its own by the 1970s. We used to stop there on our trips back and forth to college, but sometimes we used to just go there to eat and browse the art. The airport, at the rear of the property, serviced by the little Nut Tree locomotive made it even more accessible and a stop for local pilots looking for a destination and a delightful lunch.
Its closure in 1996 was sad for many of us who had grown up passing by and stopping in for a bit of shopping or lunch on the road. Later, The Northern California Renaissance Faire held its annual event on the site for a couple of years before it relocated to its current location in Casa de Fruta.
Now, there’s a new plan for the property that includes shopping, apartments, office buildings and a very small recreational area that showcases the train and the carousel from the Nut Tree theme park that recently closed. The Nut Tree Plaza is a beautiful shady retreat from the summer heat and the train runs its course around the outside of the little play area that houses the giraffe from the Toy Store and the beautiful carousel. Rides on either are $2.00 each.
As strip malls go, this one is quite attractive. It has some interesting architectural details that are not present in every other shopping area in the state. It still has many of the same shops that are present in all the centers in your own neighborhood. There is a Fenton’s; nice to see something a little different.
It will be nice to see the entire complex when it’s finished. It promises to be a well-rounded, well planned project for the city. It will never be the same roadside attraction that people flocked to see, but perhaps that’s the way things are supposed to happen. It had a beautiful run and we all have wonderful memories, but time has spun it in a new direction that suits the needs of the city and the travelers on the road today.