English (UK)
Cavale Creative/Forrest Cavale

Central Valley Foodie Road Trip

From the Basque restaurants of Bakersfield to historic Galt, drive through California's heartland in search of upmarket meals and classic comfort foods.

Start:Bakersfield
End:Galt
1 - 3Days,13Stops,292Miles
Bakersfield
Tom Fowlks
Noriega Hotel
Tom Fowlks
Central Visalia
Kjohansen/Getty Images
The Vintage Press
Marianna Massey/Getty Images
Fresno
JT Baskin Photo/Getty Images
Merced
Halfdark/Getty Images
H&W Family Drive-In
Halfdark/Getty Images
Hilmar Cheese Company
Courtesy of Hilmar Cheese Company
Modesto
Mitch Diamond/Getty Images
Mr. T's Delicate Donut Shop
Leslie-Ann Smith/Getty Images
Stockton
ZUMA Press/Alamy
Lodi
Traveler1116/Getty Images
Galt
Courtesy of Larry Hoyt/StreetZlan
Stop 1

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.

Plan your visit

SPOTLIGHT

Noriega Hotel

525 Sumner St, Bakersfield

On the Basque Block of the Old Town Kern area, you can savour classics such as roasted leg of lamb and oxtail stew at Noriega’s, a restaurant that opened in 1893 and was honoured with a prestigious James Beard Award in 2011.

Stop 3

Central Visalia

220 N Santa Fe St, Visalia

Just a short side trip off Highway 99, Visalia’s historic and walkable city centre gives travellers all sorts of appealing alternatives to standard fast food fare. The Vintage Press has been a local favourite for more than 50 years. It’s an elegant place for dinner and also a great spot for lunch, thanks to its delicious Armenian lamb shish kebab sandwich. Valhalla Restaurant & Gift Shop brings the flavours of Denmark to town by serving up traditional breakfast favourites such as aebelskiversand and crepe-style Danish pancakes, as well as open frikadeller (Danish meatball) sandwiches at lunch. And if you’re in the mood for something with more spice, try the chile verde burrito or carnitas at Colima Mexican & Seafood Restaurant.

Plan your visit

SPOTLIGHT

The Vintage Press

216 N Willis St, Visalia

Take a short side-trip to Visalia’s historic centre and The Vintage Press. A local favourite for more than 50 years, it’s an elegant place for dinner and a great bet for lunch, thanks to its delicious Armenian lamb shish kebab sandwich.

Stop 5

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.

Plan your visit

Stop 6

Merced

678 W 18th St, Merced

While the Central Valley is best known for its fruits and vegetables, man does not live on produce alone. If you fancy some beef, Merced has a pair of meat-centric choices to consider. With its vintage neon sign proclaiming 'Charcoal Broiled Steaks', there’s little mystery about the speciality at The Branding Iron. Around since 1952, this local institution is famous for its prime rib and a coffee-rubbed ribeye steak. Or try the double French burger (actually made with four patties!) and a root beer float (delivered by server to your car, no less) at the vintage H & W Family Drive-In.

Plan your visit

SPOTLIGHT

H&W Family Drive-In

121 W 16th St, Merced

Detour into the past for a double French burger (made with four patties!) and a root beer float (delivered by a server to your car, no less) at Merced’s H&W Family Drive-In.

Stop 8

Hilmar Cheese Company

9001 Lander Ave, Hilmar

In the town of Hilmar you can visit and tour Hilmar Cheese Company, a perfect stop for Yosemite National Park–bound travellers and anyone driving along State Highway 99. The impressive visitor centre features a gourmet gift shop while the café takes full advantage of Hilmar’s pepper jack and cheddar via toasted sandwiches and a cheese chowder. Depending on the production schedule, you may get to see workers packing massive 640-pound/290-kg chunks of cheese for shipping. And at the end of the tour, there are free tastings of Hilmar cheeses, including a delicacy available only at the factory: fresh curds known as cheese squeakers.

Plan your visit

Stop 9

Modesto

1010 10th St, Modesto

Modesto was the town that inspired the classic film American Graffiti and it still has casual venues well-suited to its cruising tradition and eating on the go. For breakfast, check out Mr. T’s Delicate Donut Shop, which officially made it onto the A Team after earning honours as one of America’s top 15 doughnut destinations. Its bacon maple bars are utterly irresistible—and best of all Mr. T’s is open 24/7. Alternatively, you can relive the glory days of drive-in dining at Modesto’s A&W Restaurant, which has been around since 1957.

Plan your visit

Stop 11

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.

Plan your visit

Stop 12

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 13

Galt

380 Civic Dr, Galt

Pull into Galt’s historic town centre and you’ll be surprised to discover a diverse selection of restaurants. In a beautifully restored 19th-century building, Brewster’s Bar & Grill cooks up contemporary comfort foods—and mixes a mean craft cocktail too. Over at Pastosa by Lucia, favourites including the home-made gnocchi have brought authentic Italian cuisine to town. And the eclectic street foods at StreetZlan range from chicken-and-waffles to 12-hour smoked brisket tacos or treat yourself to the chilaka peppers stuffed with Oaxacan cheese.

Plan your visit

    #ROADTRIPCALIFORNIA

    Tag #ROADTRIPCALIFORNIA on Instagram to have your trip featured on our page.

    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 1Bakersfield
    1600 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield
    Stop 3Central Visalia
    220 N Santa Fe St, Visalia
    Stop 5Fresno
    2600 Fresno St, Fresno
    Stop 6Merced
    678 W 18th St, Merced
    SPOTLIGHTH&W Family Drive-In
    121 W 16th St, Merced
      Stop 8Hilmar Cheese Company
      9001 Lander Ave, Hilmar
      Stop 9Modesto
      1010 10th St, Modesto
      Stop 11Stockton
      125 Bridge Place, Stockton
      Stop 12Lodi
      221 W Pine St, Lodi

      Car & RV Hire

      Trusted car & RV hire companies to make your trip much easier

      Avis Rent a Car
      Enterprise Rent a Car
      Hertz Rent a Car
      Budget Rent a Car
      Payless Car Rental
      Zip Car
      Alamo
      National
      Thrifty
      Dollar
      Fox Rent a Car
      Sixt Rent a Car
      Advantage OPCP
      Silver Car
      E-Z Rent a car
      Midway Car Rental
      Mex Rent a Car
      United Auto Rental
      Auto Distributors
      Cruise America
      El Monte RV

      More to Explore