The Delta is located in North Central California and is called the “Delta” because it forms a triangle of waterways from Sacramento (North) to Stockton (South) to Pittsburg (West).
History records that some men disillusioned by their unsuccessful quest for gold, saw gold of another sort if the rich swamplands of the California Delta could be protected from inundation. The first crude levees were built by hand in the early 1850s, but most of them held for no more than a season or two. In the 1870s, the clamshell dredge was developed. It could take solid bottom mud (“slickens”) from the waterway bottoms and deposit it ashore to construct levees of some substance. The California Delta’s reclamation pace soon quickened and by the 1930s it was considered complete.
Tidal action from the Pacific Ocean extends to the Delta, to above Sacramento on the Sacramento River and to above Mossdale on the San Joaquin River. The variation between high and low tides can be as much as 8 feet, but more typically is 4 to 6 feet. Tide tables indicating the times and amounts of change are available for around $1. The Delta is comprised of fresh water. As you cruise toward the Delta from San Francisco, the salt content of the water gradually decreases. Depending on the rainfall for a given year, you will leave the salt water somewhere downstream of Pittsburg.
Fishing and boating had always been a favored pastime for outdoor enthusiasts. After WWII, Californians began to discover the Delta’s recreational possibilities. The regular waterway dredging for levee maintenance, also deepened the waterways, making it possible for deep-draft cruisers to explore the off-beat waterways of the Delta sloughs, rivers and channels. The Stockton Deepwater Channel was completed in 1933, and since then freighters from around the world have been calling on the Port of Stockton. The dug Sacramento Ship Channel was completed in 1963, firmly establishing the Port of Sacramento (located in West Sacramento) in the shipping business. Channels for both of these ports have been further deepened so the ports could handle larger ships.
ANTIOCH, sits at the juncture of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. It was founded in 1849 by brothers William and Joseph Smith, and at one time boasted large asparagus canneries. In times past, coal was mined in the hills behind Antioch and brought down to its wharf by locomotives. The first Antioch Bridge to Sherman Island, a tower bridge, was built in 1926. Antioch has plenty of marine activity, marinas, boatyards, several yacht clubs and more. There is a public fishing pier in town and another out near the Antioch Bridge. Marinas in the bridge area include Lauritzen Yacht Harbor, run by third-generation family members, members. A neighboring marina is Driftwood Yacht Harbor.
BETHEL ISLAND, a unique island community in the Central Delta. Much of the perimeter of this island is ringed with marinas, resorts, and private waterfront homes. Bethel Island has boatyards, chandleries, bait shops, RV parks, a golf course, waterside restaurants, dry-boat storage, and more. It is a resort community, the most populous of the inner Delta islands. Access is over a single two-lane bridge over Dutch Slough leading to the island. Next to Bethel Island is Franks Tract “Lake,” island farmland that was inundated in 1938 and never has been recovered. The lake now is an undeveloped part of the State Parks system. It provides good fishing and duck hunting.
BIRD'S ISLAND, near Montezuma Slough, is a little fly-speck of a town, the smallest town in the U.S.A. with a post office. Here you will find Mel’s Saloon offers a comfortable respite. The ghost town of Collinsville is a neighbor.
Brentwood, a growing community near Antioch, with no water access to the Delta. There are U-pick orchards in the area, and the town stages an annual Brentwood Cornfest. Chamber, 912/634-3344.
Byron, is a small town in the South Delta established in 1878 as a railroad stop, but that later flourished as an important agricultural town. In earlier times, a nearby resort area was Byron Hot Springs, where during WWII some important Nazi officers were interned and questioned. Nearby Discovery Bay has a Byron address, and its growth in some ways has made Byron a less-quiet (but no less fun) place. There are U-pick farms in the area.
CLARKSBURG, on the west bank of the Sacramento River, was first settled in 1849 by Judge Robert Clark. It is located on Merrit Island, on which one of the Delta’s earliest levees was built. Later, much of the property in the area was purchased by the Holland Land Company, which introduced its country’s levee-building techniques. Today, Clarksburg is a sleepy agriculture town occupied by folks who have a high regard for the town. Grapes are grown on some of the nearby property along Elkhorn Slough, which dead-ends at the Sacramento River’s stout levee, and there is at least one quality winery in the area. It is fun to prowl the area by automobile.
COLLINSVILLE, on the lower portion of the Sacramento River across from Pittsburg, formerly a thriving fishing village of Italian immigrants. Now it is virtually a ghost town.
COURTLAND, on the east bank of the Sacramento River is a quiet river town, with boating access. This is in the heart of pear orchards that thrive alongside the river. At one time Courtland had a sizeable Chinatown.
DISCOVERY BAY, a community (the first new home here was built in 1972) of waterfront homes in the South Delta on Hwy 4. It bears the Byron mailing address. Boating is a way of life here and nearly 4,000 families call it home. Most homes are built next to dug “bays,” have private boat docks at their back yards, with deepwater access to the Delta and beyond. It has a private country club with an 18-hole championship golf course. It boasts a modern marina with about everything you might need (Discovery Bay Yacht Harbor) and it was here that the Delta’s first dry-stack boat storage system was installed.
FREEPORT, sits on the east bank of the Sacramento River downstream of Sacramento, was founded in 1862 by the Freeport Railroad Company with the plan that it actually would be a “free port” that would avoid the taxes then being levied in Sacramento when passengers and freight were transferred from trains to riverboats (or vice versa). Its grand plans to eclipse Sacramento never materialized, but Freeport remained an important agricultural center anyway. This is a comfortable little town, even though residential and business construction from neighboring Sacramento have marched down the river to its outskirts. Access to Freeport by boat is easy via Freeport Marina. There are restaurants, bait shops and other facilities in town. Just downstream of town is the Freeport Bridge, a bascule-type drawbridge of considerable importance to most everyone living in the area.
FRENCH CAMP, a growing community south of Stockton, which got its beginning when French trappers came here in 1832. It was named after Hudson Bay Company trapper Michael la Frambois, who came here in 1832 and in many subsequent years. The town predates neighboring Stockton. It sits at the end of French Camp Slough, a marshy slough that feeds into the San Joaquin River above Stockton. Although the slough at one time supported some traffic comprised of small paddlewheel riverboats, it no longer is considered navigable.
HOOD, on the east bank of the Sacramento below Freeport, was founded in 1909 by William Hood, a construction engineer for the railroad. Today it is a sleepy town, with a large produce packing shed fronting on the river, but with no access for boaters.
ISLETON, a comfortable river town on the east side of Sacramento River, founded in 1874 by Josiah Pool. It was a regular stop for the paddlewheelers, and at one time there were at least five canneries in the area. Isleton’s area of influence is considerable, and the many resorts and marinas on Andrus Island enjoy an Isleton address. Isleton is a fun little town with at least a half-dozen restaurants. Old buildings in its Chinatown are slowly being renovated, and there shops, antique stores, arts & crafts shops and other interesting businesses are being located. Guest docking and a launching ramp (fee) are located in town.
KNIGHTSEN, is a sleepy one-time farming community along Hwy 4 in the West Delta, originally established as a stop on the railroad, which even today runs through town. There are some U-pick farms in the area, and Knightsen at one time was known for the walnuts grown in the area.
LATHROP, south of Stockton, is growing in leaps and bounds, even though it does not have a great deal of identity as a town. Its borders extend to the San Joaquin River and beyond. And it is within Lathrop that the ambitious Gold Rush City project is proposed.
LOCKE, on the east bank of the Sacramento River a mile upstream from Walnut Grove, was built by and for the Chinese in 1915. The town is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the county has done much to help preserve it. It has two restaurants, a store, gift shops, a gambling museum, and Boathouse Marina on the river side. The state has established a rustic park on the “back side” of Locke, along what is informally called Railroad Cut or Locke Slough. At one time, there was a large cannery upstream of Locke.
LODI, this gentle town of 52,000 sits on the banks of the Mokelumne River at Hwy 12 and Hwy 99. Along with its neighbor, Woodbridge, it has become well known for its vineyards and quality wine. Lodi was founded as a railroad stop in 1869 as Mokelumne Station, but three years later received its present name. In earlier times, several paddlewheeler steamboats made voyages to Woodbridge, but navigation this far up the river never became reliable. Today, a dam at Woodbridge prevents downstream craft from reaching Lodi. But the dam does form Lodi Lake, which includes a park and is a popular recreation area. There is launching, and boaters water ski and run PWCs on this upper portion of the river.
OAKLEY, is a once-sleepy West Delta town founded in 1897 as a railroad stop. It has been rapidly growing in recent years. The marinas along Dutch Slough across from Bethel Island have an Oakley address but identify with Bethel Island. One other marina nearer to town is next to Big Break, farmland that was inundated in 1929 and was never recovered. Many black bass tournaments depart from this area.
PITTSBURG, on the Sacramento River just below its juncture with the San Joaquin River, was part of a big land purchase in 1849, and was surveyed by Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman as New York Of The Pacific. It was settled later that year and became known as New York Landing. When coal was discovered in nearby hills, its name was changed to Black Diamond, and then again to Pittsburg in honor of a steel mill located there. Pittsburg has always had a strong Italian heritage. Most of the early Italians there were commercial fishermen, and that became a mainstay of the community, which later supported several canneries. Commercial fishing was over by the 1950s, but Pittsburg survived quite nicely anyway. There are two marinas located downstream in what until recently was known as West Pittsburg but now is Bay Point. The city has a huge marina in town, replete with everything needed by the boater.
RIO VISTA, a beautiful river town on the west bank of the Sacramento River below Cache Slough. Founded by Colonel N. H. Davis in 1857, Rio Vista originally was located upstream near Cache Slough, but soon was wiped out by floods and moved to its present, more amiable location. No levees sit in front of Rio Vista to spoil the view, and its backdrop is formed by the Montezuma Hills. Its most noted landmark is the beautiful twin towers of the Rio Vista Bridge. This friendly town has a small city guest dock and a downtown launching ramp, although most owners of larger craft prefer to dock just downstream at full-service Delta Marina Yacht Harbor, an easy stroll to town. Rio Vista has shops, restaurants and most anything else you might need, including the nearby Baumann Airport. Fishing is king around here, and this area offers perhaps the best fishing in the Delta. Rio Vista has good bait shops. Rio Vista really got on the world map when it was visited by Humphrey The Wayward Whale in 1982, and again by two other whales in 2008. The town also is noted for its excellent Windsurfing.
RYDE, population 40, was established in 1891 when W.H. Kessner purchased 40 acres on Grand Island and on it built a small hotel. A settlement grew around it and one of the former land owners was from the Isle of Wight and suggested it be name after a town named Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Although at one time there was a cannery nearby, the 32-room Ryde Hotel hosts most of the action here. It includes a nice guest dock and a small 9-hole golf course. There’s a road that slices across Grand Island, for an easy drive to nearby Hogback Park on Steamboat Slough, with launching and picnic areas. Walnut Grove, Locke and Isleton also are handy to Ryde.
SACRAMENTO, where it all started, traces its humble beginnings to 1839 when Augustus Sutter sailed up the Sacramento River in two small ships and established New Helvetia. The embarcadero that he established at the site of what is now Sacramento, just grew like mushrooms once gold was discovered in 1848 and the rest of the world began to find out about it and head for Sacramento in anything that would float. Sacramento had 150 residents in April of 1849 and over 2,000 by October of that year. Old Sacramento today does not look too much different than it did during those Gold Rush years. You can boat in, enjoy new guest docking, shop or dine in Old Sac, or even tour the state’s fine railroad museum. You’ll find marinas both upstream and downstream of Sacramento, including a beauty run by the city.
STOCKTON, on the San Joaquin River home of the Port of Stockton. Stockton was established in 1847 by Captain Charles Weber. It grew quickly after the discovery of gold, as boats heavy with Argonauts arrived and headed for the Southern Mines. Soon, it also was established as a strong agricultural center for the farming that took place in the nearby reclaimed islands. Stockton also had a lively shipbuilding industry, some of which thrived on through the Korean conflict. During WWII, ten shipyards in Stockton were busy turning out boats for the military. Recreational boating is strong in Stockton today. Two of the finest paddlewheeler steamboats ever built, the Delta King and Delta Queen, were constructed in Stockton. More marinas and yacht clubs are located in the Stockton sphere of influence than in any other part of the Delta. The long-established River Route mail delivery emanates from the Stockton post office. Mail is delivered six days a week on a 65-mile water route beginning at Herman & Helen’s Marina.
SUISUN CITY, is located at the end of Suisun Slough, where a wonderful new marina occupies the sweeping harbor area. In earlier times, Suisun City was an island, linked to neighboring Fairfield by a causeway. Sailing scows and other commercial traffic called on the port. Suisun means West Wind, originating with the Patwin Indians. The first Americans to sail in were John Baker and Curtis Wilson in 1850. There are plenty of activities in the marina area, including Dixieland Jazz concerts, bathtub races, opening day boat parades, and Christmas lighted boat parades.
TERMINOUS, located at the juncture of Hwy 12, the Mokelumne River’s South Fork, and Little Potato Slough, exists only as a memory these days, although there is considerable evidence of its vibrant past. It virtually was a ghost town in the 1969 when Tower Park Marina was established in the old Western Pacific waterside produce packing sheds that line Little Potato Slough. From here, Delta produce was shipped by rail to all over the nation. Workers lived in a “boxcar” village where Tower Park’s 400-site RV park is located today. Between the marina and the neighboring Tower Park Village, on a warm summer weekend, doubtlessly more people reside here than there ever did during Terminous’ heyday. Two ferries were located at this site, one to Staten Island and the other to Bouldin Island, the latter one being replaced by a swing bridge in 1936. Marine repair, groceries, marine canvas, new and used boat sales, dining, and much more can be found these days in the Terminous area.
TRACY, in the South Delta, stretching out to include some waterside properties, first established as a railroading town. Tracy might not consider itself a Delta town, but its sphere of influence extends out to many of the Delta waterways, including Grantline Canal, home of Tracy Oasis Marina.
WALNUT GROVE, on the east bank of the Sacramento River, the only town downstream of Redding situated on both sides of the river. There is definitely a small-town flavor to this wonderful little village. Although agriculture seems to rule here, the Walnut Grove-Locke area is one of the favorite stops for visiting boaters. Marinas and marine facilities abound here, and a new “merchants” guest dock is was completed offering boat docking for visitors. Both Walnut Grove and neighboring Locke, a mile away, have “front doors” facing on the Sacramento River, and “back doors” facing on Snodgrass Slough and other waterways. This back door includes The Meadows anchorage area, as well as Lost Slough and the Mokelumne River, all areas favored by boaters. The two “door” areas are connected by the dug Cross Delta Channel, which has gates that often are closed. When they are open, the channel provides a handy shortcut between the two areas for boats with a height of up to about nine feet.
WEST SACRAMENTO, (formerly Broderick) across the Sacramento River from Sacramento, home of the Port of Sacramento, has been almost like a part of Sacramento from the beginning. By wheeled vehicles, you can flit back and forth across the river via either the handsome Tower Bridge or the venerable double-decker I-Street Bridge. There are plans to build a large marina project (two, as a matter of fact) there on the west side of the river.