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Jen Siska

Road Trip: Central Valley

Road Trip: Central Valley
Take a drive along Highway 99 to experience honky-tonk culture, culinary delights, urban adventures, and more

Famous for its bountiful produce, quality wine, and country music, the Central Valley is California’s heartland. It’s also a place of endless discoveries, so head out on a 400km road trip along California Highway 99 between Bakersfield and Lodi. You’ll find plenty of surprises, including premium ice cream in Bakersfield, Fresno’s vibrant urban scene, and wine country fun in Lodi.

A cool hotel and gourmet ice cream let you chill in Bakersfield

Bakersfield is home to country music legend Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a shrine to the Bakersfield sound that the Buckaroo helped pioneer alongside Merle Haggard. Stay at downtown’s Padre Hotel, a contemporary boutique inn that opened in 1928. Prospect, the hotel’s speakeasy-style bar, mixes perfect craft cocktails, and you can dine at the hotel’s Belvedere Room, a modern steakhouse infused with the spirit of California cuisine. For something sweet, drive over to Moo Creamery for homemade ice cream with such premium ingredients as Tahitian vanilla and Callebaut Belgian chocolate.

Taste Central Valley flavors at Bravo Farms

If you’re looking for snacks or a meal along the route, Bravo Farms offers two locations right off Highway 99. Bravo Farms Tulare in the Tulare Outlets has a restaurant that lets you create delicious salads, sandwiches, and pizzas just the way you want them. Tiny Traver (population around 700) is home to the old-fashioned Bravo Farms Traver, where kids can frolic in a seven-story treehouse, play miniature golf, and see an assortment of animals, including llamas. Meanwhile, Bravo Farms Traver’s Vintage Cheese Company is more about grown-up pleasures, thanks to tastings of handcrafted artisanal cheeses and California wines.

Discover Fresno from the ground up at Forestiere Underground Gardens

Baldassare Forestiere was certainly persistent. For 40 years, the Sicilian immigrant dug and picked his way through the hardpan of Fresno to create Forestiere Underground Gardens, 4 hectares of tunnels, grottoes, and chambers. Take a guided tour and discover a remarkable (and cool) subterranean world, where fruit trees and grapevines grow six metres below street level. There’s even a fishing pond and chapel.

Experience Fresno after dark in the Tower District

Hip and historic, Fresno’s happening Tower District gets its name from a 1939 Art Deco theatre whose neon-lit tower commands the neighbourhood skyline. Now operating as the Tower Theatre for the Performing Arts, this landmark showcases everything from mariachi to metal, as well as comedy performances and musicals. The theatre anchors a lively district filled with restaurants and music clubs. Try the Italian specialties at Oggi Cossi Si Mangia (winner of a People’s Choice Award from the Fresno Bee). If you love craft beers, the bicycle-themed Spokeasy Public House pours a great selection and lets you play vintage arcade games while you sip.

Explore the surprising Lodi Wine Country

Everyone knows about the premium wines of Napa and Sonoma, but many are surprised to discover the outstanding wines produced in the Lodi Wine Country. Named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, the area is most famous for its Zinfandel, but also grows more than 100 grape varieties. Visit leading Lodi wineries while staying at Wine & Roses, a hotel featuring sleek contemporary rooms. Rejuvenate with a treatment in the spa, then pair any of 70 Lodi wines with the tantalising, regionally-sourced dishes at the hotel’s relaxed-yet-elegant Towne House Restaurant

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Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover the Central Valley

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8
December
Average (°C)
Dec - Feb
16°
High
3°
Low
Mar - May
28°
High
7°
Low
June - Aug
36°
High
16°
Low
Sept - Nov
32°
High
6°
Low

California’s heartland offers up one of the state’s most authentic and sensory-rich experiences, a chance to see—and taste—the state’s bounty at every turn. Follow oak-shaded country roads to farm stands overflowing with fresh produce, and meander along wine trails to some of the state’s most productive vineyards and low-key tasting rooms.

Peaches, plums, apricots, and tomatoes—just some of the ultra-fresh produce you will find at farm stands throughout the valley.

Throughout the broad valley, stretching for over 400 miles/644 kilometres down the middle of the state, are cities and towns rich with history, international culture, and “everyone’s welcome” charm. 

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Courtesy of the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant

Harris Ranch

This Central Valley oasis is a perfect place for a quick pit stop or even a relaxed meal and overnight stay

Looking for a great place to stop on Highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco? Look no further:...

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Mark Crosse/Getty Images

Fresno County Blossom Trail

Explore this driving loop that bursts with flowers in the spring and fruit during summer

Spring tends to kick off early in Fresno County with a fast-and-frenzied spectacle of blooming fruit and nut trees. Starting in mid-...

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Derrell McCain/Alamy

Best Kept Secret: Solano County

See why this Central Valley region holds its own in terms of good wine, pretty countryside, and cool activities

A treasure awaits about 20 kilometres east of Napa, in a lovely but largely “secret” area of sprawling countryside and bayfront beauty. This...

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Lake Berryessa, located just outside of Winters, has a sunken city underneath it called Monticello.
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Laura Flippen

9 Great Central Valley Farm Stands

Sample fresh, seasonal produce and artisanal foods and chat with local farmers

This fertile valley stretches for some 724 kilometres from roughly Chico south to Bakersfield—the pancake-flat belly of California. Farms and...

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Alex Farnum

Davis

You don’t have to be a student to enjoy the perks of this ag-oriented college town

Eco-friendly, liberal leaning, progressive, impressive professor’s homes and fraternity houses—Davis has the hallmarks of a classic college...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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Laura Flippen

Haggin Museum

Local history merges with world-renowned art at this must-see museum in Stockton’s Victory Park

Housed in an early-19th-century brick building, this handsome art and history museum is the centerpiece of Stockton’s stately Victory Park. The 34...

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Laura Flippen

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

California's Heartland

Pick fresh produce, relax in cool gardens, and learn about local farming heritage
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This relaxed city has some secret gems that make a pleasing start to your trip. Start at Sundial Bridge, a functional work of art, the remarkable pedestrian bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, spans the tree-lined, trout-filled Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle...

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This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield is morphing into a Central Valley hub for arts, culture, and sports, while still offering a glimpse of the region’s past. One fascinating historical site worth...

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Kodiak Greenwood

Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

Some 300 species of birds and mammals make this a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts

Located on the Pacific Flyway 96 kilometres north of Sacramento, Gray Lodge encompasses 9,200 acres surrounded by agricultural flatlands and...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Houseboating

Take to the water on a deluxe floating home

In California, it’s hard to talk about houseboating without talking about the Central Valley. One of the state’s premier places for vacationing in...

November

Honour the harvest season at this remarkable, family-friendly event, hosted at the beautiful Full Belly Farm in the fertile Capay Valley. The valley, just north of Sacramento, has one of the world...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

California Delta

A boater’s and fisherman’s paradise awaits

Located northeast of the San Francisco Bay, this 1,000-mile network of inland waterways—the major drainage from the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Fresno

Discover agriculture and culture in the valley's biggest city

The Central Valley’s largest city makes for a surprisingly lively getaway. Seven stadiums and a pair of arenas satisfy sporty types, and an annual...

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The 10 acres of rooms, passages and gardens at Fresno's Forestiere Underground Gardens were excavated by hand using only farming tools.
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Courtesy of Buck Owens Crystal Palace

Bakersfield

Experience California’s oil-rich history, with Basque food and country western music on the side

This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and...

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Courtesy of Séka Hills

Séka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room

Taste olive oil and dine on locally sourced fare while enjoying views of tribal lands in the Capay Valley

Intimate Capay Valley is a world apart—with rolling hills and oak woodlands just west of the Sacramento Valley. Like its much larger neighbour,...