The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area was designated in 2019 as the first National Heritage Area (NHA) in California. The Delta Protection Commission, a state agency, is the coordinating entity.
The NHA lies at the junction of California’s two largest rivers - the Sacramento and San Joaquin. Historically, the bounty of vast wetlands here allowed population density of the indigenous people to become, what was thought to be, the second-highest in North America before European contact.
The discovery of gold in the late 1840s in the Sierra Nevada foothills changed everything. Prospectors streamed into San Francisco Bay then sailed through this watery region headed to the goldfields of the California Gold Rush. They were followed by immigrants from China, Italy, Portugal, and other countries who arrived to farm and build the railroad. Later, Japanese, Filipino, and Mexican immigrants also came to settle this land of opportunity.
In the late 19th century the Delta was remade into “California’s cornucopia” through one of the largest reclamation projects in the United States. Immense swaths of marshland were converted, largely behind levees, into one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. This transformation was made possible by the invention of equipment, by local innovators, that turned the native peat into cropland, revolutionizing American farming and earth-moving methods still in use today.
The 20th century brought the development of large-scale federal and state-sponsored infrastructure projects that today send Delta water to irrigate agriculture up and down the Great Central Valley and supply drinking water to cities as far as Southern California.
Still, this is a rural place, full of water, fish, and flocks of birds on their migratory routes. Thus, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is both an important ecosystem and an engineering marvel at the center of California's never-ending water resource challenges. Visitors will find a hidden gem of historic towns, scenic roads, farm stands, and plentiful opportunities for birding, boating, biking, and fishing – surprisingly surrounded by the Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, and Stockton metropolitan areas.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin National Heritage Area is committed to economic development, especially heritage tourism, ecotourism, and agritourism that is compatible with agriculture; to the preservation of the region’s unique architecture; and to creating interpretive and history programs that attract, entertain, and educate visitors and residents alike.