Few studies have quantified juvenile salmon growth among different habitats or evaluated the mechanisms controlling salmon growth and survival. We used otolith microstructure to compare daily relative growth rates among main-channel riverine areas, off-channel ponds, and non-natal seasonal tributaries of the Sacramento River, CA. We compared prey availability, prey preference, and stomach fullness between these sites. We observed larger average otolith growth increments, higher prey densities, and warmer water temperatures in both off-channel ponds and non-natal seasonal tributaries compared to the main-channel areas in both 2001 and 2002. Our findings suggest that warmer temperatures and abundant prey in off-channel habitats during Central Valley Chinook salmon rearing periods may lead to higher growth rates, which in turn may improve juvenile survival. Our results suggest that off-channel habitats may be critical habitats to include in conservation and management plans for juvenile salmon.