Driving Tours

Rio Vista-Ryde Loop

This is the coolest wheeled trip in the Delta, which can be accomplished in an
easy couple of hours, but could ideally occupy most of your day if you stop to tarry a bit. (Portions of it also are very popular with folks on bicycles.) Heading west on Hwy 12 over the Rio Vista Bridge, take the first right turn after crossing the bridge and follow the signs to the Ryer Island Ferry. This free-running, Real McCoy diesel-powered ferry will take you over Cache Slough to Ryer Island. The ride is free. You might see a freighter either heading to or returning from the Port of Sacramento.

Turn right after exiting the ferry and follow the winding levee road. It will lead you to the lower end of Ryer Island. It then makes an easy U-turn to take you up the waters of historic Steamboat Slough, where in the 1850s noted paddlewheel steamboats such as the Yosemite and the New World enjoyed the slough for the shortcut it provided over the longer route on the Sacramento, then referred to as “the old river.”

You’ll pass Snug Harbor on your right, a comfortable Marina and RV park, situated on a tree-shaded island accessed by a private bridge. It has a small store and snack bar, and overnight cabins called “Snuggle Inns”. If you continue along the levee road, you’ll come upon the J-Mack, a cable-guided ferry that will give you a free ride across Steamboat Slough. (RVs can safely cross on these ferries without difficulty.)

After exiting the ferry on the opposite shore, you can turn right and proceed for a mile or so to the county-operated Hogback Park, a beautiful tree-shaded park with launching and areas ideal for picnicking. Hog’s Back, as it was called in the old days, was a nefarious sandbar that in its time snagged many a steamboat. The early steamboats used to try to plan their schedules so they would pass Hog’s Back at high tide.

Backtrack now, passing the ferry landing heading upstream on Steamboat. You’ll pass the 58-room Grand Island Mansion, straight out of a movie about the antebellum south. These days, it is the site formany weddings. You can enjoy Sunday brunch there as well. It also has a boat dock.

Continuing up the slough, you will meet the Sacramento River at the mouth of the slough, crossing the slough over an aged double-leaf bascule-type drawbridge, and then proceed upriver, now on the west bank. Next, you will take a right turn over the Paintersville Bridge, named after Levi Painter, who it is said kept his riches in postholes underneath the fence posts. On the far side of the bridge, if you turn left and take a little aside, you’ll find sleepy Courtland, the pear capital of the universe (or so Courtland folks like to say). They stage the Courtland Pear Fair here every year the last Sunday in July.

If you instead turned right after crossing the bridge, you would meander along the river on Hwy 160, bound for the Chinese hamlet of Locke. The town was built by the Chinese in 1915 when their Chinatown in neighboring Walnut Grove burned. There are art galleries in Locke, and one of the best known saloon-restaurants in the Delta, Al-The-Wop’s. Here, you’ll find a jar of peanut butter and a jar of marmalade on every table. Here too is the Dai Loy museum, a resurrected Chinese gambling hall.

Another mile down the “asphalt slough” brings you to Walnut Grove. There is a collection of interesting restaurants here, and places to shop. Cross the green bascule bridge to the other side of the river, and take a left. You are bound for the two-dog town of Ryde. You can’t miss it. There’s a big water tower by the 32-room Ryde Hotel, a good place to dine, or stay for a day or a week, to maybe play on its smallish 9-hole golf course.

Continue downriver, and at the next golden-colored bascule bridge, turn left onto the bridge, and once again cross the river. Then turn right to Isleton, home of the annual 3-day Isleton Crawdad Festival on Father’s Day weekend in June. Isleton has an active Chinatown, with many renovated shops. The Hotel Del Rio is the favored watering hole in Isleton. Continue down river some more, passing Vieira’s Resort, established long ago by immigrants from the Azores and a fun resort to visit (they have rental cabins as well as an RV park). Continue down stream, until you see the towering Rio Vista Bridge. You have come full circle, crossing five drawbridges and two ferries in the process.

Windsurfers Paradise

It’s just a short easy drive, but when the wind is blowing, the drive is like entering into another world. From the Rio Vista Bridge and Hwy 12, head toward Antioch on Hwy 160. You are on the east bank of the river. You will pass Brannan Island State park, and on the right just across from the park Windy Beach, a windsurfer’s hangout.

You will cross over the lift bridge on Three mile Slough. A little aside to the left after crossing the bridge will take you to Outrigger Marina, home of the giant sturgeon (mounted on wall at the marina). Rest a spell and have a hamburger and a beverage on the Super Deck. Back on Hwy 160, continue south. Out on the river, you will see more windsurfers (aka boardsailors). When the roadway bears left, just ease right following the river, in what is almost a straight. You have entered into “boardhead” territory.

Out on the water, they are everywhere, like flying fish. They have favorite launching sites, with names like “the powerlines”, like “refrigerator beach” etc. These are amiable places, where they can find a parking spot for the van or pickup and a beach friendly enough for launching.

You continue along the road. More of the same. Toward the end there is a county park, which includes a launching ramp. Ease left a bit instead of going to the park and you find Sherman Lake Marina. Stop for a snack.  You have to run back over the same territory to get to Hwy 160. Take a right onto the highway.

If you are still adventurous, you can drive by the vegetable stand with all the animals, then take a left turn and eventually end up at Eddo’s Boat Harbor. There hasn’t been anyone name Eddo here for years. This is the San Joaquin River now. If it is in the fall of the year, the stripers will be running and there will be anglers around. The resort has launching and a comfortable RV park.Back on Hwy 160, you are almost to the Antioch Bridge, which looks a lot  like a giant dinosaur ambling across the flatlands, I think. This is a toll bridge. You are in the free direction. Off to the right, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the ferryboat Sausalito, built in 1885. For over 50 years, it has been the clubhouse for the Sportsmen Yacht Club. It does not float anymore. Well, we cannot say that for sure.


Ghost Town Of Collinsville

Rio Vista is a nice place from which to start this cruise. The town is pretty, with the Montezuma Hills as a backdrop. Part of the movie Howard The Duck was filmed in Rio Vista. The movie flopped, but you can’t blame Rio Vista for that. Down by the water, you can see a monument to Humphrey The Wayward Whale. And another commemorating Rio Vista as a stop for the paddlewheelers that carried the Pony Express mail on its last leg from Sacramento to San Francisco. Etched in the monument is a likeness of the paddlewheeler New World, which was brought from New York around the Horn by Captain Ned Wakeman. The Rio Vista Museum provides you with a nice look at the past. The Point is a good restaurant on the downstream edge of town. Out on Hwy 12, then proceed west, being sure to abide by the speed limits.

You are driving through rolling hills. This is sheep country, although plenty of natural gas has been found here also. Watch carefully for the road sign and turn left on Collinsville Road. You are heading for Birds Landing, which is the smallest town in the U.S.A. with its own post office. Clint Eastwood filmed part of the movie Bird (about saxophonist Charlie Parker) here. Blink and you will miss Birds Landing. There’s a little saloon here, comfortable enough for the entire family to take on refreshment.

Turn left and in no time at all you will pass the cemetery up on the hill and arrive at Collinsville. Maybe there’s a half-dozen homes there still occupied. Squint your eyes down a bit and imagine this town with maybe 600 people here, most all of them commercial fishermen; with 598 of them speaking Italian, everyone except Pat Simpson and his father. Think of it with a boardwalk serving as the main street and imagine the sounds of Model T Fords rumbling over the boardwalks. By the 1950s, commercial fishing in the Delta was pretty much over. The town withered and died. Well, a little marina named Collinsville Resort lived on a bit longer. The gang who hung out there called themselves the Collinsville River Rats. The place closed, maybe a dozen years ago.

On the way back out of town, hang a left and it will lead you to a nice newish little park down by Montezuma Slough (tiny guest dock). You will see the giant gates across the slough that work to keep fresh water in the nearby marshlands. There is a lock so boats can lock through when the gates are closed. Tarry a spell at the park. Backtrack to Hwy 12, and if you are in the mood to, turn left (west) and proceed a few miles to the Rio Vista Junction Railroad Museum, run by volunteers. They have some rolling stock there. You can take a ride on a trolley, and on special occasions, long railroad excursions.

That’s the end of this cruise, although you could continue west on Hwy 12 to Suisun City, and maybe stop by the city’s excellent new marina to sip a beverage or have a bite to eat at sidewalk tables in a restaurant, and soak up the scenery of the harbor.