Romance Wanderlust: The Delta King

Romance Wanderlust - a yellowed and burnt edge map with a compass in the corner, with Romance Wanderlust written across itWelcome back to Romance Wanderlust, where I travel the world via the Internet in search of romantic locales. This month we have a place that I’ve actually been to: the Delta King, in Sacramento, California. I haven’t stayed at the Delta King but I can say from experience that their restaurant is nice and that they make a lovely virgin strawberry daiquiri. While I endorse the daiquiri, I can’t endorse the hotel experience as I’ve never stayed there.

The Delta King is a paddlewheel steamboat permanently moored off of Old Sacramento on the Sacramento River. Old Sacramento is a historically preserved area of Sacramento in which most of the buildings date back to the mid-1800s. It’s the kind of place where you can get saltwater taffy, crystals, creepy antique dolls, gourmet Chinese food, an elaborate costume, or a tattoo with equal ease. It’s also home to several museums including the Railroad Museum. It’s one of our claims to fame. Surely you’ve heard of it. No? Ah, well. We are a small city.

Walking down the gangplank to the Delta King

During the Gold Rush, people came to Sacramento by boat and docked where the Delta King is now. I could tell you some very unromantic things about the link between the boats, the boardwalk, and a certain cholera epidemic, but let’s just move on and picture a more romantic version of the Gold Rush.

Think of stylish gamblers, brocade vests, and a great sense of adventure. Think of Mark Twain, who lived here for quite a while, and of Calico Palace, the delightful historical novel by Gwen Bristow. Got that? Then you are ready for a visit to the Delta King.

The Delta King doesn’t actually date from the Gold Rush although it closely resembles earlier paddlewheel steamboats. It was built in 1927 and transported people between Sacramento and San Francisco. The trip lasted over ten hours and included jazz music and dancing. The Delta King website has a menu from those days. Mock turtle soup cost twenty-five cents and a sirloin steak with potatoes and rolls cost one dollar. Allegedly one might also buy alcohol on board, even during Prohibition.

These trips ended after the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge connected Sacramento and San Francisco by road. The Delta King shuttled troops during WWII and was a home to construction workers in British Columbia in the 1950s. Finally the Delta King sank in the San Francisco Bay due to causes unknown. Maybe it was just tired.

In 1984 the Coyne family purchased the boat, hauled it out of the water, and had it refurbished, preserving as much of the original wood as possible. Now it’s a hotel permanently moored alongside Old Sacramento. It includes a restaurant and a bar, and on various nights there is dinner theater, community theater productions of a more formal kind, or live music. I’ve never stayed in one of the rooms, although since we are dreaming here I say go for broke and stay in the Captain’s Quarter, which includes a private veranda and a ship’s wheel. Warning – I suspect but have not confirmed that it might be noisy because Old Sacramento at night has a lot of noise. The Delta King is also, allegedly, haunted by its first captain and by a little girl with a red ball. They are said to be benign.

I have had dinner in the restaurant, which is high in both price and ambiance. For something more low key, a few times my husband and I went to the deck bar on a hot summer day and I had a virgin strawberry daiquiri (I don’t drink alcohol and it’s nice to find a place that has a good non-alcoholic drink). Looking out over the river on one side and the tourists on the other was truly delightful and quite romantic!

Oh look someone saved me a spot.

The Delta King is romantic because it’s pretty, and it’s on a beautiful river, with the lovely Sacramento Delta breeze wafting by. It’s also romantic because you can imagine that you have just arrived in California in 1849 – you are fatigued, of course, but excited with regard to the shop you plan to open in the new city (the real riches lay in selling to miners, not panning for gold). There are great opportunities in the male-dominated landscape of the Gold rush for a woman who has a clear head for business and for personal matters – just be aware that you can expect a minimum of one marriage proposal per day.

Or, you can be more true to the Delta King’s actual history, and pretend that you are a happy member of the Roaring ‘20s, eating cheap caviar and drinking gin on the boat’s deck. Sacramento may be a little backwater, but women were given the right to vote there in 1911 and you are ready to bring women’s issues to the Capital! If you meet a handsome and progressive Senator on the trip between San Francisco and Sacramento, so much the better.

Or maybe you are headed the other direction, away from Sacramento and toward life in San Francisco, the big city, newly rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. Although in reality the Delta King doesn’t go anywhere, in imagination anything can happen.

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