Discover the Adventure
Follow the Sacramento River

Mimic the Route of the 49ers:
Follow the Sacramento River from SF to Old Sacramento

One of the things we love about living in Northern California is that there are so many places to visit and ways to explore California's history. Especially the history of the California Gold Rush.

Many of the adventurers who came to California to get rich quick back in the 1840s used San Francisco as their starting point.

To get a feel for what San Francisco must have been like back then, take a look at San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

When you've satisfied your curiosity about Gold Rush life in The City, the next logical step is to follow the Sacramento River from San Francisco to Old Sacramento because

that's what the 49ers did! You'll discover there's a lot to see and do along the route through the Delta - little towns and villages along the way that are all a part of our Northern California history!

Once you get to Sacramento, you may want to follow more of the Gold Rush Trail by visiting Old Sacramento and Sutter's Fort, both of which are important Gold Rush Sites!

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The 49er Trail:
Follow the Sacramento River

Spirit of Sacramento Paddlewheeler by Suzi RosenbergSpirit of Sacramento Paddlewheeler by Suzi Rosenberg

We'd love to tell you to board a Victorian replica of a 19th Century paddle wheeler like the Matthew McKinley.

Then you could follow the Sacramento River like the real 49ers did during the Gold Rush.

These trips included guided narration about the human history as well as the natural history of the route.

Unfortunately, the trip no longer exists. So we'll have to drive instead; but there's still a way to come close to replicating the old 49er route!

We've got three options for the drive; two of the routes take around an hour 30 minutes and are pretty straight forward. Nice drives, both!

The third option involves about three hours but this is the one that will follow the Sacramento River upstream. It's the closest we can get to the historic route without a boat.

Journey from San Francisco
to Old Sacramento and Sutter's Fort

Insider Secret:Our Recommended Route; Map by Suzi Rosenberg

Which of the three routes you decide to take will depend on how much time you have for the trip, what kind of experience you'd like to have, and how much of a history buff you really are!

Here are your choices:

Via Interstate 80

From San Francisco, cross the Bay Bridge and follow the signs to I-80 North. You'll go past Berkeley, Richmond, Vallejo, Fairfield and Davis, then on into Old Sacramento - about an hour 20 minutes.

This is the quickest way and it affords you more of a view of the Bay through which the 49ers traveled than the second choice does.

San Francisco to Old Sacramento via Interstate 680 to I-80

From San Francisco, cross the Bay Bridge, but this time follow the signs to Hwy 24 and I-680 North.

You'll pass Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, and Martinez before joining I-80 just below Fairfield.

Continue on into Old Sacramento as before - about an hour 30 minutes.

This route can sometimes be quicker than the first one if traffic is bad through the Berkeley area on I-80. But you'll only have one small glimpse of the 49ers' route through the Bay as you cross the bridge at Martinez.

Insider Secret: But to Truly Follow the Sacramento River and the Route of the 49ers

This is the route we would recommend for a history tour; imagine yourself as a 49er, traveling along the waterways of the upper Bay and following the Sacramento River to what was then Sacramento City (and is now, Old Sacramento) and Sutter's Fort!

This time, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take US-101 to SR-37. Follow SR-37 East to SR-29 (this will take you around the edge of San Pablo Bay which the 49ers would have traversed by steamer); then follow SR-29 South through Vallejo to Curtola Pkwy, which will put you onto I-780.

Take I-780 East through Benicia to I-680 North - some of this is running along Suisun Bay (pronounced sÉ™-SOON) - and then to I-80 East. Before you get to Fairfield proper, turn East onto SR-12.

At this point, you'll be traveling in and out of The Delta. Follow SR-12 East past Suisun City - if you have time, stop in here and visit their Old Town; it's charming with its historic shopping district right on the waterfront!

Explore the Sacramento Delta Region

Isleton Joe's; by Wolf RosenbergIsleton Joe's; by Wolf Rosenberg

From Suisun City, continue on to Rio Vista. Rio Vista's a cute little town with some familiar sights - remember the escapades of Humphrey the Humpback Whale back in the 1980s? This is where a lot of the news footage was shot.

When you've finished looking around Rio Vista, it's back on SR-12 and across the Sacramento River to SR-160.

Turn north onto SR-160 - you won't want to miss this! Just under 5 miles along the road (which runs atop a levee), you'll come to a little town called Isleton.

Isleton was famous for its Crawdad Festival - which has since moved to Red Bluff - but you won't have to wait for the festival to try the local specialty!

Just step into Isleton Joe's and order up a one pound Crawdad appetizer or the two- or three-pound Crawdad Platters and start crackin'. It's really a lot of fun, and tasty too!

From Isleton you can return to SR-12, following it East to Interstate 5, then North on I-5 to Old Sacramento.

Insider Secret: But if you're up for a bit more adventure, try this instead:

To Truly Follow the Sacramento River - continue North on SR-160 out of Isleton. You'll cross to the West side of the River and follow 160 until it becomes South River Road.

If you're so inclined, Walnut Grove and Locke make interesting stops, but if you do visit them, be sure to cross back over the river to SR 160.

Continue on S. River Rd, meandering along the river, until it joins SR-84 just outside of West Sacramento. At this point you'll pick up I-80 to cross the river again via the Tower Bridge into Old Sacramento.

To follow the Sacramento River this way will take about three hours or more, depending on how long you stop, but it's really the one we recommend for the true history buff - you can't get any closer to the route the Argonauts took back in 1848 and 1849 without getting on the water!

Once you've arrived in Sacramento, continue your quest to follow in the footsteps of the 49ers by clicking on the links below. Discover more California Gold Rush history in Old Sacramento and Sutter's Fort!

  • Old Sacramento
    Find out what John Sutter, Jr. wrought when he decided to build a city along the Sacramento River.
  • Sutter's Fort
    You'll find walking into Sutter's Fort is like going back in time!

Please continue your exploration of what Northern California has to offer by using the Nav Bars in the left and right columns or by using the links at the bottom of the page.

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