Courtland is a tiny pear-farming town on the east side of the river, most of the handful of buildings are safely below a 30-foot levee built up to keep the river in check at flood stage. Not much going on here unless you’re a pear farmer, fisherman, or into stopping in for some surprisingly excellent grub. Even in an area full of towns that seem trapped in time, Locke, more than the others, is worth a visit. Known as the “last rural Chinatown,” Locke was founded in the early twentieth century entirely by Chinese laborers and was once home to a population of more than 2,000 Chinese, who ran boardinghouses, markets, speakeasies, opium dens, and an opera. Present-day Locke, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a ghostly 1-block-long strip of wooden sidewalks and rickety structures still clearly manifesting their ancient Asian traditions and 100-year-old construction. There was a time when the little town of Ryde was one of the most happenin’ places in northern California. During Prohibition Ryde’s main drag was the site of speakeasies and brothels, and if you knew the password, you could get into the Ryde Hotel’s basement, a netherworld of flappers, gamblers, jazz, and gin. Pulling into Ryde today—after having crossed over the river from Locke and Walnut Grove—you can imagine bootleggers jamming down dusty levee roads, their trunks full of illegal booze, and arriving at back doors to make their deliveries to the strains of a Sydney Bechet–like soprano sax, or a Louis Armstrong trumpet, or even Al Jolsen himself, a regular. Though much of Isleton’s main drag now is boarded up, it, too, was at one time a bustling river town, with brothels and speakeasies attracting West Coast versions of Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. Also, like many of the other towns in the delta, Isleton has a distinctly Chinese past, with Chinese laborers working the nearby fields and canneries, where, in the 1930s, some 90 percent of the country’s asparagus was grown and processed. For such a small town, Rio Vista’s got a surprising number of attractions, and the little community is definitely worth exploring for an afternoon. This eTrail from the DayTrips series describes many fascinating, exciting, (and many free of charge) things to do, most within a two-hour drive of Sacramento. Each Day Trip includes destination highlights, places to visit along the way, choice restaurants and lodging, and shopping.
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