If you looking to explore a sleepy river town, then Isleton is the perfect place to spend a few hours.
You can tour their historic downtown, buy catfish by the pound and get an up-close look at the winding Sacramento river. If catfish isn’t your thing, there is a gourmet deli, a Mexican/Chinese/Italian restaurant and a steakhouse known for its prime rib all within walking distance.
The town that used to be “the Little Paris of the Delta” has shrunk in population over the years to about 800. When Isleton was established in 1874, Chinese laborers began migrating to the town, and the remnants of their culture is still felt throughout Main Street.
Isleton residents highlight the small town’s food, river offerings and laid back atmosphere.
“You can get away from the big city rat race. It’s like a little Mayberry. You can be a stranger and people will say hi to you on the street,” Isleton resident J.P. Morgan said.
What should I check out?
• The Isleton Museum and Chinese history: Isleton has a deep, rich history as a river town, and the city’s museum, located in the middle of Main Street, showcases the settlers that founded and migrated to the small city.
Near the museum is also the Chinese Laborers Memorial Pavilion. The gazebo and small playground were constructed in 1993 and features artwork of Chinese scenes as well as words like “love” written in both English and Chinese.
As you stroll down Main Street, there are many details — like small flags in windows and a Bessie Toy Chin Memorial Garden — that show the town’s history. Also, while walking through, make sure you look at the buildings across the street to see the decorative architecture that has been preserved over the years.
• Stained glass gallery: One of the main stores still open on Main Street is the studio and gallery of Karen Franscioni and Ross Peters. The two have owned the studio for 18 years and live in the Montezuma Hills.
The gallery features the couple’s bird and flower stained glass artwork. The couple occasionally teach classes, repair stained glass pieces and make their own creations. While visiting, you might even run into the couple’s cat, Osaki, who likes to walk through the gallery.
Franscioni has seen years’ worth of changes in Isleton, but said its history is what make the city unique.
“It would be a great place to start a Delta adventure or end a Delta adventure. You get the Delta flavor without the crowds,” Franscioni said.
• Isleton Cajun Festival: If you happen to be in the area June 18 to 19, you should go to the Isleton Cajun Festival. The festival will be similar to the Crawdad Festival, which used to attract thousands to the tiny town to eat crawdads, dance to Cajun music and enjoy the Delta.
The city plans to keep some aspects of the festival and revive it under a new name.
There also will be the Delta Boat races on Oct. 1 and 2. The town holds a Chinese New Year celebration around the beginning of the year.
• Experiencing nature: Jean Yokotobi first came to Isleton when she was in college and fell in love.
“I was driving in and it was one of those beautiful spring days with the fruit trees in bloom, and I knew I would live here,” she said.
Yokotobi owns a deli in downtown Isleton and lives above it, often enjoying the nature all around her. When ducks are migrating, she is so close she can see their feet in flight.
She recommends walking around Isleton, having a picnic and enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of the area.
“It so quiet and peaceful. People in the city don’t experience those things. There are so many natural things out here untouched,” she said.
If you want to go take pictures or sit near the river, there is a public dock on Highway 160 across the street from the “Welcome to Isleton” sign.
• Boating: You can also enjoy a day of fun on the river by renting a fishing boat, a kayak, a pedal boat, a WaveRunner or even a house boat if you want to stay on the river overnight.
For those wanting a more guided tour, there are also sight seeing excursions that include the history of the region, animal and plant life and the environmental issues facing the Delta.
The California Delta Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau has a list of places in its business directory to rent boats or join tours. Go to www.californiadelta.org and click on the business directory.
The skinny on food
Isleton has several places to chow down on your Delta adventure.
Isleton Joe’s: You probably saw the large mural of a crawdad on the side of the restaurant’s building when you came into town. The bar and restaurant features crawdads in 1-, 2- and 3-pound buckets. They also have Philly cheesesteak, burgers and other bar food.
There is a large outdoor patio where regulars have nailed ball caps to the beams and a mural of the river decorating one wall.
Peter’s Steak House: This restaurant focuses on prime rip offering it as a dip, melt or sandwich. They also serve filet mignon, rib eye steaks and salmon and trout filets. Plus, it has a balcony overlooking the river.
25 Main Street Deli: Aside from sandwiches, the deli features gourmet, local food for sale, including Bruno Peppers, Genova Bakery bread and Gunther’s Ice Cream. You can also buy goat cheese, pasta sauces, jams, jellies and dried fruit.
Rogelio’s: This restaurant’s menu includes more than 90 different dishes, including Mexican, Chinese and Italian food. Some of their top dishes include jumbo prawns, Mongolian beef, chile verde and carne asada.
Pineapple Restaurant: The Chinese restaurant has more than 80 items on the menu, and offers dinner specials for larger groups. The food is served family style, and some of the top dishes include the garlic shrimp, potstickers and the pineapple and orange chicken.
Directions: Take Highway 12 (Kettleman Lane in Lodi) and turn right at Highway 160.