Most every time in California we go on a ride we either head north or south. To either the beaches or to wine country. But now that the weather is cooling down a bit there’s a less frequented spot farther east toward the Central Valley: the California Delta. My friends from the SoCal Watercraft club and I gave jet skiied countless miles of the delta without ever once getting lost on account of having a local with us. Without a local or a good Garmin forget about it – you will get your self lost.
Arriving from San Francisco via a motorcycle, I’d suggest a visit to old Sacramento first before moving on ti Isleton and ending via a loose loop at Rio Vista.
Route 160 is one of those scenic byways the interstates made obsolete. A highway was put back in when we still called paved roads “motor routes.” The road follows the Sacramento River, paralleling levees, then drops into towns where it melts into Main Street — historic small towns like Isleton, Locke, Hood, and Freeport.
Towns that don’t even merit an exit sign from highway 80. Towns where a dog could fall asleep on the main drag without disrupting traffic.
Rio Vista was founded in 1858 and was a popular stopover point for mariners and miners traveling between San Francisco and Sacramento. Nearby, Rio Vista Ferry – its now free takes you back and forth to Ryer Island.
J-Mac Ferry – the free ferry that takes you across Steamboat Slough.
Locke came to be in 1915. It is a town that was built by Chinese for the Chinese population of workers after many were displaced as a result of a fire in nearby Walnut Grove.
In August of 1970, Locke was added to the National Registry of Historic Places due to its unique status of being the only town in the United States that was built entirely by Chinese for Chinese.
Camping – With over 50 campgrounds and RV parks in the Sacramento River Delta area, having a nature-based weekend at the Delta is easy. There is a mix of public and private camping areas, most of their camping sites are right along the waterway.
What is it? The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, is simply known as the California Delta, an expansive inland river delta and estuary in Northern California.
What is there: Great riding on roads less traveled with the occasional orchards, the occasional silo, farm stands, and decaying farmhouses with ramshackle barns. We’ll travel over sparse and lonely river levees and visit towns that still contain taxidermy shops, biker bars, and bait shops.
If we head north over the high arch of the Antioch Bridge, we arrive inland on Highway 160 in the heart of the delta. This is where river byways and white windmill roads lead to marshy creeks with names like Prospect Slough, Potato Slough, and Steamboat Slough.
HISTORY: On August 1, 1839, John Augustus Sutter, a Swiss immigrant, along with three German carpenters, two mechanics, and eight Hawaiians, began his journey in the labyrinth that is the DELTA in search of land for other migrating Europeans.
Departing Yerba Buena (San Francisco) he outfitted three boats and set sail through an area populated then only by Indians and mosquitoes.
Journeying closer to what is now Sacramento, it took Sutter twelve days to find the entrance to the American River, landing at what would become the Capitol City.
California, at that period of time, was a sleepy land until that fateful January day in 1848. A carpenter, James Marshall, set off the most frenzied gold rush in the history of the world and the greatest mass migration of human beings ever known by his discovery of gold.
The name “California” soon became a household word throughout the world. The entire nation suddenly got gold fever. Thousands upon thousands of prospectors headed West. Many engaged passage on ships that would take six months to reach San Francisco.
If they survived the yellow-fever, they would sail on to Sacramento.
The first steam vessel on the Sacramento River was the “Sitka”, leaving San Francisco on November 28, 1847 and arriving in Sacramento on December 4th.
This paved the way for the hundreds of paddlewheelers that followed. Staggering under as much fuel as they could carry, one steamer after another would start from New York or Boston on down to Rio, braving the Pacific.
By the end of 1850 there were 28 steamers Voyage prices between San Francisco and Sacramento was $10.00, which included only the fare with cabin. Meals and liquor extra and freight went for $8.00 a ton.
There were many unique riverboats plying the Delta Area, but one of the most interesting was the “New World”.
Completed in 1850 on the Eastern coast, her red-plush upholstery, marble-topped tables and glittering chandeliers were the latest and best obtainable.
Just as the vessel was to embark, the owner’s creditors attached the ship. Outwitting the creditors, however, the owner retrieved his ship, and three months later landed in San Francisco.
For years the “New World” was a favorite on the Delta, making her way to Sacramento in record time five hours, 35 minutes.
The most luxurious vessel to travel in was the “Chrysopolis”. Built in June of 1860 and running the Delta for over 60 years.
Another speedy favorite was the “Antelope” that had the honor of carrying to San Francisco the first mail to be delivered by Pony Express in Sacramento.
Adjacent to the Sacramento River, the 28-acre Old Sacramento Historic Area holds monuments of the 19thCentury that have been authentically restored. The romance of the riverboats, the transcontinental railroad, the Gold Rush and the Pony Express are still alive in this area.
John Sutter’s fort, dates from 1839, and is just 27 blocks away from Old Sacramento.
In 1839, John Sutter settled in what is now Old Sacramento. After gold was discovered in 1848, the area drew influential parties from all over the country. A group of men known as the Big Four set up shop and later planned the first transcontinental railroad.
Almost every delta town has its bait shop, marina, diner, and — the liveliest business in town — bar. Of course, there are some things that can be reached or experienced only by boat, and many businesses have limited hours.
The delta is known for its river crawdads – mini lobster-like crustaceans also known as crayfish or crawfish in other parts of the country — that are best served close to a body of water with an icy cold beer.
After the Gold Rush, Walnut Grove was one of the earliest Sacramento River settlements, and it’s still the largest town in the delta, with a population of approximately 1,500. It sits at the fork of the Georgiana Slough, occupying both the east and west banks of the Sacramento River.
If you walk through the small side streets of town, you’ll see echoes of its past — in particular, its Japanese and Chinese residents, who came to the delta for its agriculture.
Although many buildings are now shuttered, there are still signs touting Asian merchants, gambling houses, and old-time bunkhouses.
This is a family-style Italian restaurant with checkered tablecloths and a fantastic bar in front displaying a massive collection of baseball hats. Giusti’s feels like a time capsule from another era, providing a taste of the region’s authentic delta charm.
And now that the basic planning for this ride us done all that is left us to schedule some time in the ride calendar and go for it. A three day ride should about do it.
So to quote a great motorcycle rider by the moniker of GPSkevin. “Every day you say no to a ride that is one less ride in life”.