California Delta: Locke

Find rich Chinese immigrant history in art, food, and museums.

Main Street in Locke, California, image

A peek down Main Street in Locke, Calif., provides a glimpse into its small-town charms.

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This speck on the map reflects the Delta’s debt to Chinese immigrants, who built and settled Locke in 1915. Though its Chinese population has since dwindled (all of 65 people live in Locke today), the town preserves its heritage in museums, monuments, and a mix of businesses along historic Main Street, where Locke’s East-meets-West origins feel very much alive. Locke information: locketown.com.

Area code is 916 except as noted.

to do and see
What was once a gambling hall, shuttered by the state in the 1950s, has morphed into the Dai Loy Museum, with exhibits devoted to Chinese games of chance. If a game called White Pigeon, played with a numbered Ping-Pong ball, looks familiar, there’s a good reason: It gave rise to what we call Keno. 13951 Main St., 776-1661, locketown.com/museum.htm. Chinese lions in stone guard the entrance to tiny Locke Memorial Park, where a Japanese maple tree shades a monument that pays tribute to “industrious Chinese pioneers,” hardworking immigrants who helped build the levees that transformed the Delta into what is now a vibrant farming region. After leaving China in 1983, the Shanghai-born artist Ning Hou gravitated to Locke. His bold works in oil, watercolor, and acrylic, on display at Ning Hou Fine Art Gallery, bring the lives and landscapes of the Delta into colorful relief. 13964 Main St., 776-1819, ninghou.com. The desks remain in neat rows at the Locke Chinese School, opened in 1926, where Chinese children were taught their parents’ mother tongue. In the 1980s, the school closed because of a drop in Locke’s Chinese population, but the classroom was reborn as a museum, with books still in place on the shelves and photographs of the long-ago students who used them. 13920 Main St., 776-1661, locketown.com/school.htm. True to its name, Strange Cargo Collectibles specializes in eclectic odds and ends, among them driftwood tables, metal signs, and an impressive assortment of hard-to-find books on California history. 13939 Main St., 776-1393, locketown.com/strange_cargo_art.htm. If you need to be needled, Locke Chinese Medicine is the place to go. Diane Thomas, a registered nurse and licensed acupuncturist, practices the ancient treatment. 13927 Main St., locketown.com/locke_chinese_medicine.htm.

eats
Old habits die hard at Al’s Place Restaurant, a saloon and eatery where the steak still comes with bread and peanut butter, as it did in the 1930s when a patron with a quirky palate started the trend. Another house tradition—tacking dollar bills to the ceiling—is also encouraged, though tossing them up there with a tack pressed through them requires practice and technique. 13943 Main St., 776-1800, locketown.com/als.htm. It wouldn’t be a Chinese town without a Chinese restaurant. Locke Garden Chinese Restaurant occupies the oldest building in town (constructed in 1912) and serves savory standards such as pot stickers, mu shu pork, and cashew chicken. 13967 River Rd., 776-2100, locketown.com/lockegar.htm.

sleeps
To find a place to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels.

Photograph by Ron Nabity

This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Check out the rest of our Delta package:
Clarksburg: Winetasting and bike riding
Isleton: Crawdads and a historic Old Town
Lodi: 85 wineries—and a reptile museum
Rio Vista: Bird-watching and riverfront dining
Walnut Grove: Man-made beauty and natural splendor

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