In The Delta

In The Delta
In The Delta

Monday, July 9, 2012

On June 25, 2012 I got on the 5 North and headed for The Delta. Unlike previous trips, this one wouldn't include a transfer from the car to a houseboat. This was a solo trip and, without my husband, I thought navigating a 42 foot houseboat would be a bit much. It was a surprisingly quick drive.

 I arrived in Stockton just after lunch, checked into my motel and went exploring. First stop the downtown waterfront. After a wrong turn which took me to the Port of Stockton, a restricted area, I found my way to the Downtown Stockton Marina. The Waterfront Marina is beautiful, with a long promenade along the Stockton Deepwater Channel past slips housing a variety of boats. My timing was fortunate. Moored at the guest dock is the Casino Royale, a 162 foot private motor yacht. Actual tours are not available but you can enjoy photos of the interior in a virtual tour online. Just go to and check it out.

 The Waterfront Warehouse is still home to several restaurants and some businesses, but it has been severely impacted by the downturn in the economy, as has the City. While there, I got the news that the City had become the largest city in the country to file for bankruptcy.

 The Village West Marina is another place worth a visit. Take the Benjamin Holt exit West and look for the signs on your right. I enjoyed a delightful double portion of the Grilled Prawn Cocktail from the Appetizer menu for dinner. Enormous garlicky prawns grilled over a wood fire are served with homemade salsa and guacamole. Outstanding with a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio, followed by a dessert of Hunter's Ice Cream Cake.

 Just North of Stockton, I drove Eight Mile Road west until it dead ends at the Venice Island Ferry and visied Herman and Helen's Marina on Little Potato Slough. The cafe was only open for breakfast and lunch when I was there on a weekday. The owner/manager? said dinner is served on weekends as business is slow during the week. Another sad result of the economy as, when we went houseboating there, we were able to get dinner any night of the week, even in the winter. I walked the levee road to where it ends at Light 11 for a look at the Deep Water Channel which takes you to downtown Stockton. One of the highlights of houseboating was to overnight at Lost Isle, accessible only by water so I was unable to enjoy it this time around.

 Got an early start on Tuesday and took the 5 North to Highway 12. I detoured into Tower Park Marina thinking I would have breakfast there. Again, found another victim of the economy. The restaurant is only open for breakfast on weekends. The boat dock was empty as well even though it was the end of June.

 I left Tower Park and continued on State Road 12 which crosses the junction of Little Potato Slough and the South Fork of the Mokelumne River. I exited on Andrus Island and drove the Delta Loop, passing B and W Resort (no vacancies), Lighthouse Resort and Willow Berm Marina. I had to stop at Riverboat Marina, formerly Moore's Riverboat, because it was a favorite destination for us as houseboaters. Some years back, the original place burned down, but it has been rebuilt and looks the same from the outside. Guest docks are available and the bar and restaurant look the same although there are no longer panties hanging from the ceiling. (No, I don't know how that tradition got started or why it was not continued when the place was rebuilt. Perhaps we are too politically correct nowadays).

From there I went to another favorite spot Korth's Pirate's Lair, at the junction of the North Fork of the Mokelumne and the San Joaquin Rivers. I enjoyed breakfast at the cafe there. It is one of many idyllic spots in The Delta. The Delta Loop continues past a number of Marinas, including another favorite of ours, Happy Harbor, where we put in one winter day after a particularly harrowing trek on the San Joaquin River. We felt truly happy in their snug harbor and woke in the morning to dense fog. (See the cover of In The Delta - the picture was taken on that long ago winter morning.)

 Completing the Loop, I crossed highway 12 and drove through the lovely little town of Isleton, worthy of a real visit in the future. Now I was on Isleton Road along the bank of the Sacramento River, and in no time I found myself at my destination, the towns of Walnut Grove and Locke. If you've read my Delta Mystery Series, you are already familiar with the big Green Bridge over the Sacramento from one side of town to the other and Boon Dox where Jessie ties up her boat when she goes shopping at The Big Store. Yes, those are real places and they haven't changed in the years since my last visit.

 Since I did not have a houseboat, I needed a place to stay in the heart of this, my favorite part of The Delta. That place is The Ryde Hotel, where Nick and Jessie had their wedding, and a romantic tryst in a later book. The Ryde is located just outside Walnut Grove on the Sacramento River. It was built in 1927 and retains the charm of its beginnings. Little has changed in the decades since. There are no elevators, air conditioners, telephones or televisions in the rooms, although there is a lounge with a television, if you must know what's going on in the outside world. My third floor room overlooked the River and a ceiling fan kept it relatively comfortable during the heat of the day. Evenings, open the window for that Delta breeze and you'll never miss the air conditioning. There is an outdoor swimming pool and those beautiful grounds for weddings and other special events. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed during the week I was there, open only on weekends like so many places in the region. These are the things you don't notice when you are boating and eating a lot of meals on board.

 Once I was settled, I headed straight over to the adjoining Chinese community of Locke, a picturesque step into the past. It is not Disneyland. Many buildings are empty and decrepit, but its charm persists for those who love it like I do. The place to see in Locke is Al The Wop's, the bar/restaurant that is the setting for Nick and Jessie's first meeting and that infamous dance. It was built in 1915 and features those dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. You have to give the bartender a dollar to find out how they got up there. I love sitting at the bar and having a cold bottle of Bud and talking to the local people. I was fortunate enough to have a new friend waiting for me there. (Thank you Lori). Our dinner there was delayed until Thursday as they were not serving food on our initial visit.

 We headed over to Giusti's, another Delta historic wonder, built in 1910, it features the original bar and is still a family owned business. Instead of dollar bills, the ceiling is festooned with over 1200 hats. The service is friendly, the food is great served family style. Like most places in The Delta, no credit cards or checks are accepted but there is an ATM machine.

 Wimpy's Marina on the South Fork of the Mokelumne River was always a favorite place to dock our houseboat and within two minutes of arriving there, I remembered why. It is scenic, peaceful and welcoming. The restaurant serves great food and the people there were pleased to find that I had used the bar as the party place in The Delta in my books. Visiting here again was one of the highlights of my trip.

 On my last day, I enjoyed a yummy Chinese lunch at Locke Garden, built as a beer parlor in 1912. There is real history everywhere here.

 I spent my days driving levee roads, checking out the little town of Courtland, The Grand Island Mansion, and my personal favorite island, Sutter Island, a real place that is the setting for the fictional home of Nick and Jessie Red Cloud.

 I followed levee roads that narrowed to one lane. U Turns were scary, with the water on one side, and a drop off to agricultural fields on the other. The lure of The Delta is for me, in large part, the waterways - rivers, sloughs and little inlets. I grew up on Green Bay, an inlet of Lake Michigan and although I love my home in southern California, the closest I am to water is the L.A. River, which is pretty much a concrete flood control channel, except for a little stretch a block from our home called the Glendale Narrows, which, thanks to a natural bottom, has given rise to islands of greenery and many wonderful birds. It's not enough for a person who was surrounded by water, not only Lake Michigan, but the myriad rivers and lakes that Wisconsin and Upper Michigan are famous for.

 Part of my trip was a search for a place that might become a second home for us someday, if we found ourselves fabulously wealthy, or even remotely able to afford two places. There was such a place on Sutter Island itself, on the banks of Steamboat Slough, a wonderful old two story house with a wrap around porch on the second level, frontage along the water, and a little over 13 acres of agricultural land. Ah, heaven. A little out of our price range, but we can dream. On my second night at Al's, while I was enjoying that cold Bud, and chatting with the gentleman on the barstool next to me, I happened to mention that place on Steamboat Slough. "That's my grampa's place" he said. "My dad was born in that house." It's a small world in The Delta.

1 comment:

Sooz said...

Love the blog, Joan! You make it sound like such a lovely, historical place that I think I would like to visit there as well.Thanks for posting the photo of me & Pen.......he is still the light of my life.In fact, one of his shoes will be imbedded into the cement wall at our new equestrian area.