The Delta Loop, Brannan Island and Rio Vista; views, history, adventure, just 30 minutes away!

Brannan Island State Recreation Area; view from campground looking into the vast Delta region

Fishing, hiking, water, camping, cabins, restaurants, year-around comfortable climate, unspoiled, wildlife, wondrous news, tranquil sunsets. Where can you find a 10 mile slice of this wonder, just 20 miles from Stockton? It’s the Delta Loop, just west on Highway 12 from Lodi, offering its special allure for nothing more than a short drive.

Here you will find more scenic views, marinas, camping, cabins, restaurants, shops, RV Parks, boats and boat rentals – concentrated in tight proximity in a beautiful Delta setting.  Follow the Brannan Island Road to favorite stops including Perry’s Boat Harbor, Korth’s Pirates Lair and Cafe, Spindrift Restaurant/General Store, the Lighthouse Marina and a host of others.

You’ll see thousands of pleasure boats and more than a few historic craft in boat sheds that extend for miles.  Harnessed with stunning views of water and wildlife around almost any turn, this is the Delta built for exploring.

Moore's Riverboat II Restaurant is on the Delta Loop waterfront, about two miles off Hwy. 12 on Brannan Island Road.

Our favorite restaurant is Moore’s Riverboat II; all four of the Loop restaurants are on water with docks where boaters can pull up for lunch or dinner. Boat and kayak rentals make for wonderful family adventures and fishing expeditions.

Just a few miles further west is the Brannan Island State Recreation Area and historic river city of Rio Vista, connected by meandering Delta backroads and two free auto ferries (yes, free; the J Mack, just north of Rio Vista, and the Real McCoy II) to places like Isleton, Walnut Grove, Locke and the Ryde Hotel.

Thousands of boats ring the Delta Loop, like the 'Dog House' and others in boat sheds near the Riverboat II Restaurnat.

Brannan Island State Recreation Area, a few miles west of the Delta Loop, is a glistening oasis of green on the Delta waterways. It offers a huge campground including births to tie up your boat, boat launching, picnic areas and walking trails alongside the water, fishing and expansive views galore. Both sunrise and sunset photos are there for the taking!

Rio Vista, on the mighty Sacramento River, is a town built by agriculture, steamboats and its close proximity to both water and land transportation. It is a city that treasures its history, and offers a marvelous self-guided walking tour of the historic waterfront and old buildings lining the quaint downtown. And, an every Saturday Farmer’s Market (starting up later in the spring) draws both locals and visitors to the historic Main Street blocks.

Warren Rucker, volunteer at the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce, suggests picking up a tour map at the Chamber or City Hall or go online: Plan a picnic or a snack along the river waterfront with several fishing piers and clean restrooms nearby. Sandy Beach County Park is just west of town on the river, offering camping and boating opportunities.

Foster's Bighorn Restaurant is the iconic eatery in Rio Vista, with 250-some mounted big game heads from the owner's 1930's hunting exploits.

You may remember Humphrey the Humpback Whale. Rio Vista offers a waterfront monument to Humphrey, who appeared in the area in 1985, was stranded on a mud flat, rescued by the Marine Mammal Center and reappeared again in 1991. He’s not been seen since in the area, but kids are ever-vigilant!

The town offers several noteworthy choices for food. The iconic Foster’s Big Horn Restaurant, 143 Main Street, displays well over 250 stuffed animal heads from owner Bill Fosters big game hunting in the 1930s, a huge bar and tasty food like oyster shooters, the bison burger, steaks and more. Nearby is the historic Striper Café (210 Main Street) in the old Hotel Rio Vista, another lively and tasty option.

The first Rio Vista bridge was not completed until 1919 – until then ferries and steamboats crossed the wide Sacramento and plied about every corner of the Delta. The town, in days before the bridge, was site of two of the worst steamboat disasters in state history.  The steamer Washoe’s boiler exploded just north of Rio Vista in September, 1864, killing 16 and injuring 36.

Rio Vista Bridge, opened in 1960, carries Hwy. 12 across the wide Sacramento River.

Thirteen months later, the huge steamboat Yosemite, 283 feet in length and hauling a ton of gold and silver from the mines, was pulling away from Rio Vista landing when her boiler blew, killing 13 Americans whose names were listed in the Alta newspaper.  Following the racial prejudice of the day, the paper noted, additionally, “there were 29 Chinamen killed by the explosion”.

The current steel truss bridge was completed in 1960; the Italian freighter Ilise, navigating in dense tule fog in 1967, struck the bridge’s eastern span, shutting bridge traffic down. The ship suffered only modest damage, though the bridge fared worse. With east-west traffic halted, CalTrans repairs took just 22 days, demonstrating the importance of Highway 12 to the regional economy.

The Real McCoy II is one of two free auto ferries near Rio Vista that connect meandering roads in the Delta area.

If you have additional time in the area, other nearby historic river towns beckon. Isleton, with a cute historic district and several restaurants, Walnut Grove, Locke, the Ryde Hotel and Grand Island Hotels can make for an additional day of exploring amongst the meandering Delta waterways and picturesque roads that follow them.

Pack a lunch, or pack a bag, and explore these scenic destinations and historic places, so near to your home.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north, then Hwy. 12 west and watch for the well-marked Delta Loop (turn right on Brannan Island Road); to find Brannan Island State Rec Area and the town of Rio Vista, continue west on Hwy. 12.

What to bring: Plenty of warm clothing should weather be chilly; fishing gear if a fisher-person, binoculars and your camera, of course!

For more information: The Delta Loop,, (916) 777.4945; Brannan Island State Rec Area,, (916) 777-6671 ; Foster’s Bighorn Restaurant, 143 Main Street,, (707) 374-2511;  The Discover the Delta Foundation,, (916) 777-4442; for info on operating hours of the two CalTrans free auto ferries, call the ferry update line, (510) 622-0120.

The Steamboat Slough Bridge, circa 1927, is typical of scores of historic bridges taking local traffic between the Delta's many islands.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

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