Rollin’ on the River: California Delta Travel Guide

The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, also known as the California Delta, is a massive series of waterways in Northern California. Rivers that begin in Sacramento and Stockton meet inland and wind their way out to the San Francisco Bay. Small towns and marinas dot the shoreline.

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Above: Cruisin’ along the Delta

My family and I have been visiting the Delta every summer for around 15 years. 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.)

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Above: The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta

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 travel guide for a perfect escape on the California Delta.

Where to Stay

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.

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Above: A cabin at Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Tower Park

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. Its central location also serves as a great jumping off point to explore the rest of the area.

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Above: The main street in Locke

What to Do

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. Once out on the water, you have miles of glassy water for water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and so forth. Even if you’re not into water sports, the best way to move about is by boat, so just stick to cruising if that’s your style.

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Above: Leaning buildings in Locke

While you’re out on the water, pay a visit to Locke. Locke is a small historic town near Walnut Grove. The community 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.

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Above: An old stand at Steamboat Landing across the way from the restaurant 

Where to Eat

There are several great places to eat along the Delta’s waterways (see the map at the bottom of the article for reference). 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. Further up the river is Steamboat Landing, near Courtland.  It’s a deli, bakery, and restaurant that serves up lots of fresh, local fare. For Italian food, head to Giusti’s Place, also near Walnut Grove.

Aside from these usual haunts, we prepare and enjoy the rest of our meals at the campsite. And we always remember our s’mores fixins, of course.

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Above: Exploring the Delta

Perhaps the best part of the Delta is just seeing where the river takes you (just make sure you have a map). Its blue skies, open waters, and relaxed atmosphere serve as a perfect family getaway. Cheers!

Delta

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