Yes, the Delta. Not the Mississippi Delta, but the California Delta! Some of you know of where I speak. Others have no idea that this magical landscape – thousands of watery miles, dozens of islands, wildlife expeditions galore, recreational wonderland – is out there waiting for you!

For many years, good fortune allowed me to explore the California Delta. My first encounter, sometime in the late ‘70s, left this East Coast native in complete awe. No other experience as a point of reference! Unfamiliar with the region, I had no hint where we were as we headed to Tower Park Marina. I just remember the many drawbridges, the topography, tiny river towns, and winding levee roads that brought us to our final destination: a sunset Delta cruise. I fell in love with the Delta time and ways.

For more than 50 years, the Delta love affair has grown stronger. By some standards, I am a layperson. As much as I have seen, it’s an immense area of specialty and a mere drop in the Delta bucket. Each time I venture out, I come away with something new, something more, and something extraordinary. And that’s the thrill of this Delta wonderland. Those who have made this a lifetime pursuit will say the same.

A few billowy clouds, blue sky, a small breeze, and the Delta stretched out before you. This is not about winning the race, but enjoying life at a slow and peaceful pace.  And enjoying life the way it used to be; the Delta ways are a trip back in time. Keep your eyes open for two local ferries – the Real McCoy and J-Mack – transporting trucks and cars from island to island.

A maze of winding roads, turning and tilting drawbridges, sloughs named Potato, Snodgrass, Georgiana, and Steamboat, and more than 1,000 miles of waterways, the California Delta is an astonishing haven. Just miles from Sacramento and the Bay Area, urban cares are forgotten along scenic highways and peaceful country lanes lined with orchards, vineyards, hamlets, and marinas. Always special, autumn colors and harvests make this drive truly magical.

The wildlife is bountiful. Canada geese, coots, cormorants, great and lesser egrets, great blue herons, night herons, raccoons, kestrel, red-tail hawks, ducks, and sandhill cranes. With binoculars and a camera close at hand, watch land mammals come and go from the shores. The West Coast’s largest estuary, it’s world-renowned for its bass population (small and largemouth and striped) and home to salmon, sturgeon, and catfish.

Reclaimed historic buildings feature wine and olive oil tastings. Sheltered by giant oaks, Consumnes River Farm Winery in Thornton may require your GPS. At Grand Island Vineyard in Walnut Grove, every bottle is 100% estate-grown. Journey to the Hemly Cider Hangar near Courtland featuring estate-grown or locally sourced fruit ciders.

Legendary Delta dives have cult followings. For 90 years at Foster’s Bighorn, locals and tourists have dined under the watchful gaze of hundreds of wild game trophies. Equally renowned, Al the Wop’s garlic steak sandwich with peanut butter is available by special request. Steamboat Landing Bar & Grill has been reborn with a fantastic Chinese menu and full bar.  Outdoor dining is a big plus!  Numerous backwater havens – Korth’s Pirate Lair, Rusty Porthole, Viera’s Resort – are accessible by boat or car. Reserve in advance for Sunday brunch at the Grand Island Mansion, northern California’s largest private estate.

Vestiges of notable Chinese and Japanese American communities remain.   A once bustling Chinatown, Locke is a designated National Historic Landmark District.  Built in 1927, the Walnut Grove Buddhist Church still serves the community.  Originally a Chinese gambling hall, brothel, and opium den, Mei Wah Tap Room in Isleton features 24 curated craft brews (many local), as well as kombucha, cider, seltzer and nitro coffee.

There is a delicate balance necessary to protect the California Delta. Natural and manmade invaders threaten the health of the Delta. Invasive water hyacinths, quagga mussels, mitten crabs, and a kelp-like forest of Egeria densa (a popular aquarium plant) grow thick. Many intruders were brought innocently to this delicate ecosystem as hitchhikers aboard freighters and boats that ply this labyrinth of rivers. Some, deliberately, by human hands.  Either way, we must work to protect this Delta gift, which is (literally) the lifeblood of water for most of California

Arriving by land or water, California Delta websites and maps help you chart your course. Proceed with caution along narrow levee roads. Always call ahead to confirm days and hours of operation. Remember, you’re on Delta time.
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Barbara Steinberg

Barbara Steinberg is a freelance travel writer and omni-local. Recognized as a California travel authority, she’s been exploring and writing about the Golden State for more than 30 years. She is everywhere you want to be in California – off road and on, urban and rural, 5-star resorts and hidden hot springs, gourmet or dive, but never happier than when she's exploring back roads. Barbara has been a member of California Watchable Wildlife for more than 25 years and serves as their Outreach Coordinator representing the organization at wildlife and nature festivals throughout the state. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Sacramento with a BA in Communications Studies. She is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California and California Roundtable on Recreation Parks & Tourism and Subaru Ambassador.


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