California Forum

California Sketches: Sacramento River featured prominently from Rio Vista’s Main Street

Rio Vista’s tree lined main street runs downhill, right into the Sacramento River. It’s a distinctive view for a main street: a wide part of the Sacramento River known for strong winds and wind surfing, bass fishing and Humphrey the Humpback Whale. This is Rio Vista reincarnated.

The first Rio Vista came to life several miles north, as part of Rancho Los Ulpinos Mexican land grant given to John Bidwell in 1844. Half-way between San Francisco and Sacramento, the town grew by servicing steamboats plying the river, and by supplying Gold Rush mines and the salmon industry. The town flooded in 1862, and founders purchased land on higher ground from two ranchers. The border between the two ranches became Main Street.

Without architectural distinction, Rio Vista today looks like many other Valley towns – a little tattered but hopeful. Only a few blocks long, Main Street is dominated by six restaurants, neon martini signs, consignments stores and a bait shop with a fading tribute to Humphrey.

I’d been told to visit Foster’s Bighorn restaurant, and as promised its interiors were covered with countless stuffed creatures great and small, from antlered to fierce-toothed to long-trunked. It’s not a place for the squeamish. I didn’t stay to eat.

A delicious smell pulled me into Piggly Wiggly BBQ on Main Street. The owner, who calls himself Chef Edwards, moved here five years ago from Oakland, intending to retire. But he opened his ribs joint and made a new life for himself and his wife.

Looking past Rio Vista’s recent rejuvenation, new neon signs and landscaping, I’m attracted to the very cool view of the river at the end of Main Street.

Stephanie Taylor is a Sacramento artist. Contact her at Visit her website at

Watch a sketch of Rio Vista come to life.