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.
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.
Soterios Johnson is not exactly a California expert—not yet, anyway. And that is one big reason why he is the ideal host for the brand-new...
A treasure awaits about 20 kilometres east of Napa, in a lovely but largely “secret” area of sprawling countryside and bayfront beauty. This...
Intimate Capay Valley is a world apart—with rolling hills and oak woodlands just west of the Sacramento Valley. Like its much larger neighbour,...
Smack-dab in the middle of some of California’s finest farm country, Yolo County is a natural fit for all things edible. There are even novel ways to experience them, like a self-guided visit—...