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Whether you crave the respite of serene waters or the thrill of adventuring unknown expanses, a houseboating trip along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta promises an enjoyable vacation.
Unlike many local, well-frequented houseboating alternatives – such as Lake Powell and Shasta Lake – the Delta offers more than 1,000 square miles of traversable river channels that stretch through Sacramento, Stockton and part of the Bay Area. The conjoined set of waterways passes through seemingly endless landscapes of rich, green agriculture, which once existed as marshland.
Most of the Delta’s houseboating vacationers are welcomed during the prime spring and summer months of May through late September or early October, when the air and water temperatures are warm — if not blazing — according to Bill Wells, California Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau executive director.
The allure of the Delta as a houseboating destination varies based on whom you ask, Wells said.
“There’s deep waters for fishing and creeks for exploring,” Wells said. “Some like the isolation and peace you can find on the Delta; others like the excitement and crowds. One minute you can be enjoying the sound of calm water and thousands of geese taking flight, and the next you can be surrounded by a crowd at a river bar.”
Beyond the typical list of houseboating activities — which includes water skiing, barbecuing and fishing — the Delta offers a variety of sites and stops.
For those who seek a break from the water, a number of small, rustic towns line the river, serving as ideal locations to anchor and explore the surrounding territory. At the top of the list to visit are Locke, Isleton and Clarksburg, Wells said.
Locke, a town along the east bank of the Sacramento River, has provided a respite for visiting boaters for nearly a century. The town, which was founded by Chinese Americans in 1915, remains reminiscent of its cultural roots and retains an authentic Old West feel, according to Wells.
Boat House Marina in Locke offers a place to dock for gas, ice, bathrooms, showers and a view of the river, but is a historical landmark itself and just a walk away from a handful of restaurants, bars, art galleries and book shops. Al’s Place Restaurant, a mainstay of the quaint town, provides visiting boaters a landing spot for a hearty Italian meal, as well as stories of Locke’s rich history.
Just downstream on the western banks of the Sacramento River is a charming town, home to around 800 residents, according to the 2010 United States Census. Isleton, which formerly housed at least five canneries in its prime, is a boating stop popular for its restaurants and art galleries. During late October, Isleton hosts the annual Delta Thunder, a series of high-speed boating races.
Just southwest and across the river in Rio Vista is a restaurant and bar called Foster’s Bighorn, a quirky joint not for the faint of heart. The place was founded in the early 1900s by avid hunter and bootlegger Bill Foster as a means to display his prized taxidermy collection. Today, Foster’s Bighorn showcases more than 250 specimens of African and North American animals, in addition to a 65-foot bar, several brews on tap and a heavily meat-centric, bistro-style menu.
“It’s certainly not politically correct, but Foster’s is interesting and full of history — definitely worth the stop for houseboaters on the Delta,” Wells said.
Those seeking wine tasting are in luck in the Delta. The town of Clarksburg, at the far southern boundaries of Yolo County, offers more than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms.
For those who seek to explore the Delta’s nooks and crannies, the Meadows — just north of Locke — provides a serene anchoring spot for houseboaters to escape the crowds. The Meadows’ waterways, which are coated with pond lilies and other aquatic flower species, and teeming with native animal life, including swans, snow geese and beavers, are a glimpse into what the Delta was like nearly a century and a half ago.