Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian A white egret launches from the marshlands at Grizzle Island.

California road trips to the desert, the State Capitol, the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area or the Sierra foothills have been turning up a  bounty of rewards for my wife, Sarah, and me. 

This was proven on our recent drive from Watsonville to Sacramento with a handful of colorful stops along the way. We headed east on Hwy 129 to Highway 101 and aimed north to the Tully exit in south San Jose for lunch. This place is one of our top picks for a delicious and cheap lunch — Huong Lan Sandwiches, 1655 Tully Road. Pull off the freeway and go right and it comes up in a few lights on the left. 

I got the BBQ chicken ($5.65) and Sarah, the BBQ pork ($5.95). While you’re waiting, check out their rich selection of popular Vietnamese snacks, crackers, candies, dumplings and nuts.  Right across the street is a more formal Vietnamese restaurant, Coffee Lovers, and their Vietnamese sandwiches are superb as well.

We continued north and connected to Hwy 680, then Hwy 580 to Livermore where we turned onto Vasco Road. A short stint later we arrived at Los Vaqueros Watershed where we enjoyed our sandwiches with a sweeping view of the water.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian At Los Vaqueros watershed, 18,500 acres of protected watershed land and a reservoir and 160,000 acre-feet of water are part of the Contra Costa Water District.

We then worked our way  over the Antioch Bridge, through the Montezuma Hills to Suisun City where we had reservations at the Hampton Inn and Suites. Situated near Suisun Slough, we’ve found this place offers a rich slice of history, colorful buildings and an inviting walkway along the waterfront. Our dinner, at the Cast Iron Bar & Grill, offered not only good food, but also a lively mix of the folks in that town.

In the morning we headed to Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, a vast stretch of marshlands, lakes, streams, an incredible array of birds and a herd of wild tule elk. That’s right: huge wild elks that roam the flatlands there in plain sight. The narrow, crooked paved road winds through the area, and  goes on and on for miles with only an occasional car passing by.

Then the road turns to dirt but it is well maintained. Stop just about anywhere, switch off the engine and absorb the silence, the breeze, a flock of Canada geese sailing overhead, a belted kingfisher landing on a fencepost, the scratchy call of a marsh wren or a cluster of red-winged blackbirds clinging to a stand of reedy marsh plants. And if you have binoculars, this is the place to zero in on the tule elk; they’re out there but you need to be on the lookout.

We then drove into the vast Sacramento delta and stopped for a glimpse of places like Rio Vista, Walnut Grove and Locke, with its rickety wood sidewalks tilting wooden homes and piles of history.

Wood sidewalks lead up to a row of older wood homes in the small town of Locke in the Sacramento Delta.

In the next part of this story we move on to Sacramento and then return to Locke  to learn more about a town that was built in 1915 by Chinese immigrants.

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