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California Delta: Walnut Grove

Where man-made beauty (in the form of a grand mansion) meets the wild beauty of nature.

The entrance to Grand Island Mansion in Walnut Grove, California, image
Photo caption
The entrance to Grand Island Mansion in Walnut Grove, Calif., displays the elegance of this historic residence, a popular spot for weddings.

Stretched along both banks of the Sacramento River 75 miles northeast of San Francisco, Walnut Grove was an early Delta boomtown, an agricultural center, and a busy shipping port. Today it’s a quiet but character-rich spot with fine restaurants, outdoor recreation, and a quaint retail district overlooking the river. Walnut Grove Area:

Area code is 916 except as noted.

to do and see
Agriculture has given rise to many fortunes in the Delta, few more evident than the one amassed by Louis Meyers, who built the Grand Island Mansion in 1917 as the centerpiece to his orchard empire. The 58-room Italianate villa is used primarily for private functions but is open to the public for Sunday champagne brunch. Quiche. Crêpes. And a self-guided mansion tour! Reservations strongly suggested. 13415 Grand Island Rd., 775-1705. On a self-guided walking tour of the town’s historic district, you’ll pick up this cool fact: Until the early 1900s, Walnut Grove was home to the second-largest Chinatown on the West Coast, after San Francisco’s. But in 1915 fire ravaged the neighborhood, after which displaced Chinese residents relocated upriver, establishing the nearby community of Locke.

“We’re kind of a well-known secret,” says barman Jim Koteles, pouring pinot noir as Hank Williams Jr. warbles from the jukebox at Giusti’s, the oldest restaurant on the Delta, run by the same family since 1910. Hearty home cooking (try the calamari steak) and a low-key atmosphere (checkered tablecloths, chalkboard menu) make Giusti’s a draw for farmers, truckers, and day-trippers. Some patrons come by boat, tying their craft to a dock in back. 14743 Walnut Grove–Thornton Rd., 776-1808, Chili dogs, fruit freezes, and milk shakes nearly too thick to slurp through a straw (if you like it that way) make Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream, across the street from the river, a sweet retreat from the midday sun. 14131 River Rd., 776-4333.

Built in 1927, the Ryde Hotel & Event Center began as a riverboat way station, with a speakeasy, a barbershop, and a beauty salon. Today the grand art deco building is a graceful hotel, its 42 guest rooms furnished with iron beds but without televisions, the better to encourage a relaxed trip back through time. 14340 Hwy. 160, 776-1318, To find a place to stay, visit

Photograph courtesy Grand Island Mansion


Check out the rest of our California Delta package:
Clarksburg: Winetasting and bike riding
Isleton: Crawdads and a historic Old Town
Locke: The Chinese immigrant past
Lodi: 85 wineries—and a reptile museum
Rio Vista: Bird-watching and riverfront dining

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