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Rio Vista

A whale of an interesting Delta town

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Rio Vista

The bridge across the Sacramento River at Rio Vista.

Photo contributed/

POSTED February 11, 2012 12:39 a.m.

RIO VISTA — Don McLean must have been in Rio Vista when he penned the line “drove my Chevy to the levee” in his 1970s hit “American Pie” release.

Rio Vista, 42 miles from Manteca via Interstate 5 and then heading west on Highway 12, was dubbed La Vista del  Rio or River View in 1859. Given the wide expanse of the Sacramento River you cross on a classic drawbridge designed by Joseph Strauss whose big claim to fame is the Golden Gate Bridge, it is a perfect name.

The drive in February from Flag City on Interstate 5 to Rio Vista is pretty in itself. The reclaimed Delta islands that are now host to large farming operations have a pleasant green tint that’ll disappear before the end of March. It is also a good time to catch glimpses of egrets and a host of other birds starting to head north along the Pacific Flyway. Driving Highway 12 requires a bit of caution. It is a daylight safety zone which means people sometimes drive too close and take one too many changes on the two-lane highway. Back off and enjoy the ride.

On the way to Rio Vista you can stop in Terminus at the base of one of the many sloughs cross-crossing the Delta. Not much to do there unless you’re a boater, but it is interesting to catch a few glimpses of anglers and the people getting ready to go out on boats.

You can also take a well-marked “10-mile Delta Loop” drive that meanders up to the historic Chinese settlement of Isleton (a photographer’s dream for aging buildings) and back along the eastern side of the Sacramento River. The views of the river and Delta country are enticing this time of year.

After crossing the Rio Vista Bridge you’ll be tempted to go back and walk across it to at least mid-span. Do it as it is well worth the experience of watching the state’s mightiest river flow below your feet with boaters zipping beneath as well. The flat nature of the bridge brings you exceptionally close to the water.

Rio Vista itself is a different town. There is a public boat launch behind City Hall and at the base of the downtown district. Rio Vista makes no apologies - its big business is fishing, boating and water sports.

Rio Vista is celebrated as one of the best sport fishing areas in the state. That fact is celebrated via the annual Bass Festival each October. The town is well-situated to access 1,100 miles of waterways that criss-cross the Delta.

River access for those without water craft is limited in Rio Visa although you’ll find a small picnic area and restrooms near the boat ramp. If you stop to inspect the river closer on any of the roads heading out of Rio Vista, remember the rule of finding a safe wide spot on the road and don’t forget the narrow, twisty levee roads can  be dangerous,.

Rio Visa itself has a small museum, a kit shop (closed unfortunately on weekends until spring), the mandatory second-hand antique stores and at least six bars that we could count. That doesn’t mean there aren’t family dining options such as pizza places. And besides, some of those bars are rather interesting given thousands of items that adorn the ceilings and walls.

Rio Vista’s most famous visitor of the 20th century -Humphrey the Humpback Whale - who swam up the river from the San Francisco Bay and hung around the bridge for three weeks in the fall of 1985 - is immortalized in a monument at the base of the waterfront.

Driving to Rio Vista and poking around is a pleasant way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

— Dennis Wyatt
managing editor

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