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Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 vc_ca101_roadtrip_centralvalley_wineandroses_72a8203_1280x640
Jen Siska

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99
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 250-mile 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 originally 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, 10 acres of tunnels, grottoes, and chambers. Take a guided tour and discover a remarkable (and cool) subterranean world, where fruit trees and grapevines grow 20 feet 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 theater whose neon-lit tower commands the neighborhood 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 theater 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 tantalizing, regionally sourced dishes at the hotel’s relaxed-yet-elegant Towne House Restaurant

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 vc_ca101_videothumbnail_roadtrip_centralvalley_fresno_1280x7202_0
Central Valley Road Trip
Famous for its bountiful produce, quality wine, and country music, the Central Valley is California’s heartland.
Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_HERO_CV_PacificStar_UPick3_Flippen_1280x642_sized
Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover the Central Valley

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 vca_maps_centralvalley
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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 kilometers down the middle of the state, are cities and towns rich with history, international culture, and “everyone’s welcome” charm. 

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 vc_harrisranch_su_harrisranchinn_1280x640
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

Making the trip on Highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco? Look no further for a worthy stop:...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VC_FresnoCountyBlossomTrail_Stock_ED_140420275
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-...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VC_SolanoCounty_Stock_RM_BH5GAT_1280x640
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 miles east of Napa, in a lovely but largely “secret” area of sprawling countryside and bayfront beauty. This is...

Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VC_RiverRafting_Preview_Stock_RM_172652806_686x885
Groveb/Getty Images
Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_D_CV_T7_IMG_7643_1280x642
Lake Berryessa, located just outside of Winters, has a sunken city underneath it called Monticello.
Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_D_CV_T11_CV_Davis_FarmersMkt_Farnum_sized
Alex Farnum


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...

Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 HagginMuseum_CV
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...

California's Heartland

California's Heartland
Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 californiasheartland_stop1_tehamatrail_rf_170882174_0

The Tehama Trail is a surprisingly fertile area—a prime place for farms and ranches. Many invite visitors to stop in and buy fresh produce, artisanal olive oils, and other local food products.

The trail links together nearly two dozen vineyards, orchards, and grass-fed beef ranchers and...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 highway99_stop1_bakersfield_buckowens_tf7n8a1694_0

Bakersfield is full of surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, this Central Valley town is morphing into an arts, culture, and sports hub, while still offering a glimpse of the past. Visit Colonel Allensworth State Historic...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 GreyLodge_KG_1280x642
Kodiak Greenwood

Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

Map of Shasta Cascade
Witness one of California’s greatest wildlife displays in Butte County

Each year more than a billion birds follow the Pacific Flyway, one of the four primary migratory routes in the Western Hemisphere which, according...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_D_CV_T7_IMG_7643_sized_0
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing


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...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 VCW_D_CV_T2_Delta_Manley_sized
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...

Lodi Wine Country
Dale Goff Photography

Lodi Wine Country

Sample the city’s famous Zinfandels after a day of outdoor fun

Best known for big red wines, particularly old-vine Zinfandels, the American Viticultural Area of...

Road Trip: The Central Valley's Highway 99 FF_VCW_D_CV_T8_Fresno_Manley
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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Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Bakersfield's Noriega Hotel

California's Central Valley
This classic Basque restaurant is a must-try in Bakersfield

When Spaniards began descending on Bakersfield in the 1800s, searching for gold and herding sheep, they brought with them an...