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The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, also known as the California Delta, is a massive series of waterways in Northern California. Here, local rivers meet inland and wind their way out to the San Francisco Bay. Small towns and marinas dot the shoreline.
My family and I have been visiting the Delta every summer since the early 2000s. We pack up the car, hook up the boat, and head north for a long weekend of water sports, exploring, and relaxing, with only the occasional spattering of palm trees to remind us we’re still in the Golden State. Surprisingly, it seems like not too many other Southern Californians know about the Delta, so it’s quite the hidden gem for us.
With all the open land and meandering rivers, it’s a peaceful place to be. Aside from a few low structures huddled around the marinas, it’s nothing but blue waters and open skies. (Maybe I’ve just been in Los Angeles too long, but I swear the sky is somehow bigger up there.)
If you enjoy camping and boating, the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta should absolutely be on your list. Compared to other rivers and lakes in California, it’s uncrowded, and if water sports aren’t your thing, there are lots of on shore activities to keep you entertained.
Considering the magnitude of the Delta, this guide only focuses on the area around Lodi and Walnut Grove.
Here’s your quick travel guide for (some areas of) the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, or the California Delta.
Where to Stay at the Delta
Given the massive size of the Delta, there are many different areas where you can stay. Most of the accommodation options are campsites, many of which are located at marinas.
Terminous is a waterside area close to Lodi and it’s a convenient home base for exploring the Delta. After trying out a couple different areas over the years, this is the family favorite.
Nearly every year we camp at Tower Park (Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Tower Park).
It’s just off Highway 12 near Lodi, so it’s easy to get to (note that this is also a great opportunity to hit play on CCR’s “Lodi”). Plus, it’s recently undergone renovations and has lots to do.
The park has a few accommodation options — RV/trailer campsites, tent campsites, and cabins — plus a pool, restaurant, ice cream shop, and general store.
Throughout the summer they have tons of family friendly events and activities. Additionally, on our last visit they were working on a water park and mini golf course.
Overall, it’s a centrally located campsite with lots to do that serves as a great jumping off point to explore the rest of the area.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Tower Park is located at 14900 CA-12, Lodi, CA 95242.
What to Do at the Delta
Naturally, the most popular thing to do on the Delta is boating. You can launch your own boat or find one to rent from a local shop (more on that later).
Once out on the Delta, you have miles of glassy water for exploring. The thin waterways wind around and seem to go on forever. At wider sections, you might pass large freight boats headed for the San Francisco bay. Other times, you’ll go quite a while without seeing another boat.
With all this open water, the Delta is great for water sports. Visitors can spend the day water skiing, wake boarding, wake surfing, tubing, and so on.
In addition to all the water sports, the Delta is a great way to simply explore. Simply cruise around and see what you find. Just make sure to always have your map with you! (Honestly, even with it, you’ll still probably get lost at some point.)
While you’re out on the water, pay a visit to Locke. Locke is a small historic town near Walnut Grove on the Sacramento River.
The community of Locke was built in the early 20th century by Chinese immigrants who originally came to the area for levee construction work. Today, several of the town’s old wood buildings are leaning with age.
Walking down its narrow main street makes you feel like you’ve wandered back in time.
Make sure to have a drink at Al the Wop’s, which has served as a local watering hole since the 1930s. The bar is full of quirky details, from the uneven floors to the ceiling covered in dollar bills. It’s a great spot to get out of the sun and grab a cold beer.
Al the Wop’s is open daily at 13943 Main St, Walnut Grove, CA 95690.
Locke is located along River Road near Walnut Grove. To reach Locke from the water, you’ll need to dock your boat and walk a bit. You can tie up your boat at the Walnut Grove Public Dock and walk from there. It’s about a half mile walk along River Road from the pubic docks over to Locke.
Where to Eat on the Delta
There are several great places to eat along the Delta’s waterways. While it’s nice to have snacks and drinks on board, you’ll still want to get out of the boat for a bit to stretch your legs and have a meal (and, let’s be honest, another beer). Plus, you’ll probably eat most other meals at your campsite, so this is an opportunity to try out some local spots.
One place we always end up is Wimpy’s Marina and Restaurant near Walnut Grove. It’s basically classic bar food served right on the water, which is perfect after a long morning of boating.
Wimpy’s is located at 14001 W Walnut Grove Rd, Walnut Grove, CA 95690.
For Italian dishes, American cuisine, and bar food, head to Giusti’s Place, also near Walnut Grove. This funky lakeside spot is great for a bite near the water.
Giusti’s is located at 14743 Walnut Grove-Thornton Rd, Walnut Grove, CA 95690
For a sweet treat in Walnut Grove (which you’ll need after that walk to and from Locke), visit Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream. They’ve got coffee, baked goods, and ice cream, of course.
Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream is located at 14131 River Rd, Walnut Grove, CA 95690.
Further up the river is Steamboat Landing, near Courtland. It’s a deli, bakery, and restaurant that serves up lots of fresh, local fare.
Steamboat Landing is located at 12414 CA-160, Courtland, CA 95615.
How to Get to and Get Around the Delta
Traveling to and around the Delta requires a combination of driving and boating. First, you’ll drive to your campsite and boat around from there.
The first step is getting to the Stockton area on Interstate 5. Then, you’ll take a smaller highway off the five to reach your camping area. For instance, if you’re staying at Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Tower Park, you’ll get off The 5 and take highway 12 over to the campsite.
The best (and most fun) way to get around the Delta is by boat. (I mean, that’s the whole point of visiting the Delta, right?!) You can bring your own boat with you, which you can launch at the marina closest to your accommodation. You an also rent a boat at a few places in the area, such as Sugar Barge RV Resort & Marina.
Delta Safety Tips
As with any trip, particularly those with outdoor activities, there are some safety tips to keep in mind.
- Carry a map. Seriously. I said it before and I’ll say it again, bring your map when you’re out boating. The Delta is a massive area of interconnected waterways with few landmarks. It’s very easy to get lost. Make sure to have a map on hand to help guide you.
- The Delta is a water source. As such, there are pipes going into and under the water. Be mindful of these pipes and don’t get to close to them.
- The Delta is an active transportation area. You might pass boats much, much larger than yours while you’re on the water. Freighters, yachts, houseboats, and all manner of large boats pass through to and from San Francisco Bay. Watch out and be prepared to get out of the way.
- Be mindful of what’s around the bend. There are plenty the curves in the river, plus rising and falling water levels, so you can never be sure who or what awaits you around a curve. With all the miles of waterways, it can be easy to feel like you’re the only ones out there. Be mindful and boat safely.
There’s so much to enjoy about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. From water sports to unique waterside restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend a few summer days. Really, the best part of the Delta is just seeing where the river takes you. Its blue skies, open waters, and relaxed atmosphere serve as a perfect family getaway. Cheers!