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Exploring the Delta: Wet and a little wild

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Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:00 am

It’s easy to spend a day on the water without leaving San Joaquin County. The California Delta is a unique 1,100-square-mile area located west of Lodi. The inland river delta is rich in history and abundant in activities. Whether you want to get in the water or prefer to enjoy water views from dry land, the Delta has enough activities to fill your day — or your week.

Go fish. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon of relaxation or a thrilling competition, Delta fishing holes offer sport for both amateur and professional fishermen. The Delta is home to an array of watery prey, including crawdads, American shad, salmon, black bass, catfish, sturgeon and, the most popular, striped bass. Visitors and locals can bank fish at public piers or parks with fishing access, or get out on the water by renting a boat from a nearby marina.

The grand derbies are a can’t-miss experience. Picture this: 300 boats simultaneously speeding off into the water, fiercely attempting to locate the coveted black bass in a race against every other fisherman on the Delta. But the high-caliber fishing competitions shouldn’t scare off amateurs looking for an easy day on the water. Bait shop owners are happy to help first-timers choose the right bait and tackle to make their first catch.

Anglers get creative. They grant their fishing holes descriptive names that can’t be found on a map. Check out the California Delta Chambers, and Visitor’s Bureau website for a list of appropriately-named hot spots, like the Clam Bed, Daus Cliff Haus and the Power Lines, and a little history behind each one.

Get wet. Stretching from Sacramento to Stockton to Pittsburg, the triangular waterways offer prime water real estate for sports like waterskiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing and windsurfing. Safety is the priority here, as boats and people share the waters, which is why locals and experts often choose to take to the Delta in the morning or during the week when boat traffic is limited. Equipment rentals are plentiful, with a variety of businesses throughout the Delta offering rentals of Jet Skis, wakeboards, boats, etc. CaliforniaDelta.org/water-sports offers a list of locations along the Delta — including Railroad Cut, Steamboat Slough and Whiskey Slough — perfect for water athletes.

And while water sports may be a given along the Delta, few know how popular windsurfing is in the area. Windsurfing aficionados head to the Rio Vista area that extends downstream on the Sacramento River to the tip of lower Sherman Island, where there is a county park with boat launching. Sherman Island Levee Road West boasts most of the informal windsurfer launching areas, with more local-given names, such as The Jungle and Refrigerator Beach.

Spend the night. Visitors to the Delta have the opportunity to sleep near underwater wildlife. Houseboating.org offers three options for water lodging that sleep 6 to 13, depending on the accommodations, and each has at least one full bathroom. The cottages at sea give visitors the opportunity to fall asleep to the rocking lull of the Delta, and wake up with a swim in the early morning water. It’s a unique way to spend a weekend on the water. Many house-boaters bring other water toys — or rent them at local businesses — to truly maximize their vacation. Others simply come for the party. Summer rates can cost up to $2,900 for a weeklong “water-cation,” but visitors can save some serious dough by renting in the off-season — mid-August to early June — and avoiding Memorial Day weekend.

Don’t feel like a houseboat is the right fit for you? Some areas around the Delta offer waterfront rentals on land.

Watch the Birds. Birding enthusiasts can be wowed by the more than 200 species of birds that occupy the Delta throughout the year. The resident fish and extensive agriculture lure great blue herons, pelicans, Sandhill cranes and snowy egrets, to name a few. Other eye-catchers? Snow geese, great white swans and hawks. With approximately 10 million birds passing through the Delta each year, birders have plenty to see year-round, though prime season runs from mid-October to mid-February. During peak times, local spots offer tours for fanatics, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers Sandhill crane tours in various areas around the Delta.

However, there’s more to do than just watch the birds. Many hunters flock to the Delta to bag ducks and ringneck pheasants at duck clubs or from duck boats and other camouflaged craft. The CDFW also offers hunting programs for an assortment of fowl throughout the year.

Visit Locke. Not far from one of the waterways is a town called Locke. Rich in history, Locke offers museums, a garden, a memorial park and more. Visitors can check out the Dai Loy Museum, an exhibit of Chinese gambling paraphernalia, or the Chinese Association Museum, former home of the Jan Ying Benevolent Association. Both museums offer a look into Chinese culture and the historical importance of Locke.

Tourists can continue their historical adventure with the Locke Chinese School, a Chinese language-teaching school started in 1926, or the Locke Art Center, which features pieces imported from mainland China. Grab a bite to eat at Locke’s well-known eatery Al’s Place Restaurant, famous for its steak and pasta, or step inside Foon Hops, the 1915 grocery store-turned-gift shop. Other attractions worth a visit include Connie’s Toilet Garden, a collection of planters made from discarded toilets of past residents, or Lockeport Hotel, the first building ever built in the town.

Pick blackberries. Many of the California Delta waterways have banks covered in wild blackberries. People looking for a quiet afternoon activity can pick the wild fruit, but the activity requires some skill. For safety, the California Delta Chambers and Visitor’s Bureau suggests long-sleeved shirts or blouses, trousers or slacks, and gloves. Berry-pickers can drive their cars right up to the berry bushes and pick the fruit on foot, or they can take advantage of the nearby waterways and collect their blackberries from a boat. Hidden in the depths of the bushes are the berries the casual picker misses. Seasoned berry-pickers construct a foldable walkway to carry on their boats or bring a section of carpet that can be laid on top of the berry bushes so pickers can get the hard-to-reach places where berries hide and can be collected after the easier-to-reach options are gone. The earliest bird gets the berries; blackberry-picking season starts in June.

Hit the links. Serious golfers will be happy to hear they can hit a few balls while visiting the Delta. There are a variety of clubs along the water, most of which are private but that non-members can play at as guests of a member. The Discovery Bay Country Club, the Stockton Country Club and Brookside Country Club are just three of the private, waterfront options surrounding the Delta. Public 9-hole and 18-hole golf courses are also available, with noteworthy options in Stockton, on Bethel Island and in Freeport. The Ryde Hotel in Walnut Grove offers a unique opportunity with night golf.

There are a plethora of golf courses located all around the Delta waterways, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a course that matches your needs. With varying costs based on course and time of play, there’s not just a course to match your skill-level, but one to match your budget, as well.

Ride a bike. Many visitors find riding their bikes to and along the Delta to be a refreshing way to get around. The San Joaquin and Sacramento waterways offer trails for biking and walking, many of which are mostly flat. The Big Break Regional Trail offers access to bikers, hikers and equestrians. The area is home to 70 species of birds and a variety of other wildlife, which can make for unique sightings during your outing. The Delta Discovery Experience trail is a light, half-mile, mostly flat terrain perfect for families and children.

If you’re looking for a longer journey, bikers, hikers and horseback-riders can make their way to the Marsh Creek Regional Trail and eventually hook up with the Delta de Anza Regional Trail. That trail connects to Oakley, Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg and Bay Point.

As is true with most of the Delta, the area offers some serious history. Originally inhabited by Native American tribes, Spanish explorers and Chinese immigrants also populated the land at one point or another during its history.

Sip local. Touring the Old Sugar Mill is Clarksburg is one way to pass the time during your trip to the Delta. Ten wineries have tasting rooms at the Old Sugar Mill and offer tours and tastings where visitors can sip wines from local vineyards. The traditional standing and/or walking tour is 45 to 60 minutes. It starts in the Old Factory with a brief overview of the mill’s history. Then, visitors learn about the future renovation of the Old Sugar Mill. The tour ends in the Custom Crush Facility of the Clarksburg Wine Company, where participants explore how wine is made.

Each of the 10 participating wineries offers tastings, usually for a $5 fee that can be applied toward the purchase of wine during your trip. Check the calendar before you head off for your day at the Delta, because the Old Sugar Mill and the individual tasting rooms often host special events that are open to the public.

Sacramento and San Joaquin counties offer a number of other local wineries that boast some of the best wine in California.

Get on the water. Houseboats, ski boats and fishing boats aren’t the only way to get around the Delta waterways. Many parts of the Delta are ideal for kayaking and canoeing. The biggest obstacles for people who want to paddle along the Delta are the waves caused by powerboats. The Delta waters are typically smooth enough for these activities, so if you can avoid powerboats, you should be able to kayak or canoe without complication.

The California Delta Chambers and Visitor’s Bureau makes recommendations for some of the best kayaking and canoeing destinations along the Delta. The suggested locations offer little to no access for powerboats or less-than-ideal powerboat conditions. Visit the website to learn why Sevenmile Slough, Old River, Middle River, Cosumnes River, Mokelumne River and Lost Slough are some of the best locations for kayak and canoe enthusiasts.

Don’t own your own equipment? Scour local shops for rental equipment, or take one of Brannan Island State Park’s guided canoe trips, where the canoes are provided. Delta Kayak Adventures in Antioch offers tours in various areas around the Delta as well as kayak rentals.




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