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Elk Grove Citizen

A Delta Day Trip

Mar 13, 2024 11:03AM ● By Dannah Nielsen, travel writer, photos by Dannah Nielsen
Bridge over peaceful water…Freeport Bridge in Clarksburg.

CALIFORNIA DELTA REGION (MPG) - The California Delta: home to many school geography lessons you vaguely remember, and if at any point you took a casual drive through the region, you might think California as a whole vaguely remembers the Delta. There are no fancy main streets, no fabulous exclusive neighborhoods, no prime retail experiences that Californians have come to expect. To put it bluntly: the Delta doesn’t care to dazzle any tourist, and for the overstimulated, distracted locals that we are, this suddenly sounds mighty nice. The Delta is sleepy? Meandering? Humble? Indifferent? Count us in. 

We’ve driven from Sacramento to Antioch on a regular routine for years now, and this means having the opportunity to focus on the simpler Delta life with the many pit stops along the way. With that said, we love to share the hidden-in-plain-sight gems we have found in the many small towns that dot the path. 

First and foremost, we must pay homage to the bridges. You can twist and turn all across the delta on various brightly colored and uniquely-engineered bridges. There is even a ferry you can ride from here to there, and if you’re lucky to catch a large boat passing through, you can also watch as the bridges twist and turn to let them pass. 

No matter where you begin your day trip, there is a relatively easy path to follow: just go up one way along the Sacramento River on Highway 160 and then down the other side and you’ll have basically touched it all. For this travel reference, Freeport is the furthest north and Antioch is furthest south. 

Clarksburg: Many weekend warriors will head straight to the Old Sugar Mill for a one-stop shop of a dozen local wineries, and if you’ve never been, it’s definitely worth checking off your list at least one time. But for those who want a little more out of Clarksburg, we suggest a walking tour of sorts — the architecture of many of the homes and schools easily bring us back to The Wonder Years nostalgia, with the old growth trees shading the streets confirming the timeline. There is also a colorful community garden to stroll, and a pit stop at Husick’s Restaurant to grab an iced tea. There we admired the pickup truck that also came to its final resting spot out front during those years.

Isleton probably has the most revitalized main street along this entire drive, still keeping with the Chinese heritage mixed with some classic and eclectic shops to peak your curiosity. Mei Wah Bar Room boasts one of the few opium dens in the region, The Mcboodery sandwich shop has residents raving, and a combination of antiques, museums and a coffee shop make for a perfect jaunt to admire it all. And while some of the classics have sadly gone out of business, the nostalgia is holding strong with neon signs, vintage buildings and land markers of crawdads. Also worth spotting? The colorful gazebo in the town center and businesses that are “coming soon” (make mental note for when you return).

Mainstreet Isleton crawdad mural

 Mainstreet Isleton kicks off with a giant crawdad mural.

Locke: In our humble opinion, Locke is by far the most unique and exciting town on the Delta. Unlike any other town we have come across in California, Locke is a historical landmark dedicated to preserving the history and contributions of our Chinese citizens. It has been preserved just as it was built some 100 years ago, and walking the Main Street is like taking a walk back in time, and in China. The buildings are nothing like the typical gold rush/Victorian homes we tend to see. They bend, they lean, they are chipped away, but still they stand.

There of course is a Chinese restaurant, an eastern medicine shop, some souvenirs, a museum and antique stores but most famous: having a drink at Al the Wop’s. This town is an absolute must-stop and explore and needs to be on every California travel bucket list.

Mainstreet Locke

 Mainstreet in Locke.

Courtland: Pear capital of California. Maybe? We haven’t verified that. But what we have verified is the lovely slow winding drive through walls of pear orchards with the ultimate stop: Hemly Cider tasting room. Cider sampling for adults and kids, this family-friendly destination is set inside an old hangar with sweeping views of growing crops all around. A tasty-sweet way to appreciate our state’s abundant agriculture. 

Hemly Cider Courtland

 Hemly Cider is found in Courtland.

Antioch boasts the most regional parks, wildlife preserves, and fishing docks to choose from on this route. Notably, Black Diamond Preserve with its dozens of trails and historical landmarks to check in on, but one could also spend time bird watching and picnicking at the Delta Discovery shoreline & museum. Both offer fantastic educational experiences. And of course, the Antioch bridge is one of the most exciting: on a foggy day it can feel as if one is ascending into the clouds with the sharp climb up over the Delta waters. 

Ironworks Walnut Grove

 Ironworks in Walnut Grove.

For more Delta day trip ideas, follow on and enter hashtag link for the California Delta.