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Courtesy of Pachamama Coffee Cooperative

California's Heartland

Experience the Golden State’s bounty by following country roads through the Central Valley, savouring just-picked produce and unforgettable meals.

Start:Tehama Trail
End:Bakersfield
3 - 5Days,8Stops,491Miles
Tehama Trail
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Winters
Davis
Alessandra RC/Getty Images
Sacramento
River North Photography/Getty Images
Lodi
Traveler1116/Getty Images
Stockton
ZUMA Press/Alamy
Fresno
JT Baskin Photo/Getty Images
Bakersfield
Tom Fowlks
Stop 1

Tehama Trail

2120 Loleta Ave, Corning

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

The trail links together nearly two dozen vineyards, orchards, grass-fed beef ranchers and other specialist meat producers. Hop onto the route at any point, but the driving tour technically begins in Corning, a town known for its olives. Call in at the iconic Olive Pit for samples of traditional olives or try more exotic options, such as herb and garlic cheese stuffed Sicilian olives. Head over to Lucero Olive Oil to sample artisanal olive oils and vinegars and shop for gifts.

Continue along the trail to sample and buy heirloom tomatoes, juice down your chin peaches and plums and berries as well as fresh pies and honeys. Pop into New Clairvaux Vineyard in tiny Vina, just south of Redding, where the Trappist monks invite you to sample their Barbera, Pinot Grigio and other varietals in a large tasting room in the monastery grounds.

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Stop 2

Winters

318 1st St, Winters

This leafy, Yolo County town west of Sacramento has become something of a hip gem in the Central Valley. Maybe it’s the velvety warm summer evenings tempting people to linger at tables outside relaxed restaurants. Maybe it’s the friendly, 'hi neighbour' feel when you step into places like Steady Eddy’s, which bills itself as 'more than your hometown coffee shop', for a microbrew or a glass of local wine. Maybe it doesn’t really matter why Winters is so nice, perhaps it’s okay that it just is.

The town has turned into a mini mecca for foodies, with chefs showcasing their talents at places such as the stylish Preserve Public House (innovative dishes showcasing local ingredients) and the classy Ficelle (excellent tapas). Enjoy great beef at the acclaimed Buckhorn Steakhouse and crispy wood-fired pizza cooked in a street side outdoor oven at Putah Creek Cafe. Find chocolates, wines and olive oils at RootStock and stick around on Friday nights for low key local music.

Stop 3

Davis

448 La Rue Rd, Davis

You don’t have to be a student to enjoy the perks of this agriculture-oriented town with a university at its core. Initially opening as the agricultural extension of University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis soon became a campus in its own right, with strong veterinary, viticulture and agricultural departments. Davis’s flat-as-a-pancake terrain makes the town a haven for cyclists — it’s said there are more bikes than people here, and the town is home to the US Bicycling Hall of Fame, with memorabilia and gear from top racers and events. Hire two wheels to follow some 100 miles of cycle lanes and paved paths: loop through the lush UC Davis Arboretum, then pedal to the city centre along streets lined with shops, galleries and restaurants serving international cuisine. Time your visit to catch the twice-weekly farmers’ market or a performance at the soaring Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

Stop 4

Sacramento

1215 19th St, Sacramento

California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-key city, with micro breweries, gastropubs and trendy boutiques popping up to serve them. Award-winning chefs are gaining attention for their focus on hyper-local ingredients, and relationships between restaurants and surrounding farms and ranches have become not a novelty, but the norm. Hot summer days create some of the nicest evenings anywhere in the state, where locals sit on porches in elegant Victorian era homes, and children scamper in leafy parks until the sun goes down.

As the state capital, there is plenty going on, and gatherings of various colourful groups around the cupola topped Capitol are common. Museums are centred largely around the Capitol Mall area and in historic Old Sacramento, the renovated area along the Sacramento River that was a core hub during the Gold Rush. Getting to all these different locations is easy, and traffic jams are fleeting. Granted the gold award for cycle friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists, Sacramento is also a great place to explore by bike, with wide designated lanes and paved paths along the American and Sacramento Rivers. There is also a convenient light rail system linking popular sites around town.

Stop 5

Lodi

221 W Pine St, Lodi

Best known for big red wines, particularly old-vine Zinfandels, Lodi, 83 miles/133 kilometres east of San Francisco is also a leader when it comes to going green. Upwards of 10,000 vineyard hectares are certified sustainable here, and this is the birthplace of Lodi Rules, California’s first third-party certified sustainable wine-growing programme. A variety of tasting rooms have sprouted up in recent years, with most of the action located within a 15 minute drive of the town centre. A great place to start is the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, which offers a rotating selection of varietals from nearly 80 local vintners.

Though the range of wines has grown, the rich, concentrated New World varieties are still the region’s hallmark, and more than 40 per cent of the state’s Zinfandels are produced here. ZinFest, an annual three-day tasting party each May, offers the chance to sample some 250 wines from Lodi’s best producers.

Stop 6

Stockton

125 Bridge Place, Stockton

Surrounded by bounteous farmland, Stockton is all about fresh, local foods. Its most famous crop is asparagus and in April you can watch cooking demonstrations and even taste asparagus ice cream (really!) at the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival. On Saturday mornings, browse the Downtown Farmers' Market where more than 80 vendors peddle an array of Chinese, Indian, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Korean groceries—plus mountains of vegetables. Stop at The Fruit Bowl on Waterloo Road for a bucket of peaches, nectarines or apricots. Then sit down for a slice of this farm stall’s fresh peach pie. Speaking of baked goods, the Genova Bakery, an Italian deli that has been filling the air with the aroma of traditional breads for a century, draws long lunch queues to its landmark yellow wood-framed building.

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Stop 7

Fresno

2600 Fresno St, Fresno

Fresno makes for a surprisingly lively getaway. Seven stadiums and a pair of arenas satisfy sporty types, and an annual Woodward Shakespeare Festival in lush Woodward Park reveals Fresno’s cultural qualities.

But agriculture is king here. Check out the bountiful Vineyard Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. In early spring, drive or cycle along the 62-mile Blossom Trail, when the route lined with fruit and nut trees is in full bloom. In summer, it morphs into the Fresno County Fruit Trail and fruit stalls overflow with seasonal produce.

Back in town, explore the subterranean Forestiere Underground Gardens, hand-dug by an Italian immigrant who saw going underground as a great way to keep cool and comfortable during Central Valley summers. Children will love Chaffee Zoo, especially the frolicking pinnipeds in Sea Lion Cove. The monthly Art Hops are a great way to explore the Mural District, a hotbed of artists’ studios and galleries. After dark, restaurants and clubs light up the neon bright Tower District.

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Stop 8

Bakersfield

1600 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield

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 Park, 45 miles/72 kilometres north. This early 1900s settlement—an attempt by a group of African Americans to create a utopian society far from the negative influences of the outside world—offers a remarkable look at an unusual event in Californian history.

Bakersfield’s newer attractions include the gallery-filled Arts District, where the 1930 Fox Theater showcases everything from pop music to ballet. Don’t miss Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, home to the region’s signature Bakersfield Sound, a twangy type of Country music. The country’s largest concentration of Basque restaurants, including the Noriega Hotel, is a reminder of the region’s rich Basque history (immigrants from the Spanish and French Pyrenees set up sheep ranches here in the late 1800s). In spring, wildflowers blanket the nearby Tehachapi Range.

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Road Trip Snapshot

Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Tehama Trail
2120 Loleta Ave, Corning
Stop 2Winters
318 1st St, Winters
Stop 3Davis
448 La Rue Rd, Davis
Stop 4Sacramento
1215 19th St, Sacramento
Stop 5Lodi
221 W Pine St, Lodi
Stop 6Stockton
125 Bridge Place, Stockton
Stop 7Fresno
2600 Fresno St, Fresno
Stop 8Bakersfield
1600 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield

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