Exploring California’s Central Valley – Get A Taste!
Okay, I admit it. I’m a Valley Girl. Not quite full blown “Gag me with a spoon” Valley Girl, but Valley Girl all the same. I was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, and no matter how far I roam from home, it always calls me back. (Example: Here I am living in Visalia in the Valley, even with hubby in the military!)
Which brings me to the inspiration for this blog post. Military families often face being stationed in Lemoore NAS and the Central Valley as a kind of lifestyle death sentence. “I cried when I heard we got Lemoore.” “I never wanted to be stationed in the Valley.” “This has got to be the worst place to be stationed.” I hear variations on this from dozens of military families that express these feelings without ever venturing too far out of the isolated desert landscape of the famous military base.
No offence to Lemoore NAS, but it is not representative of the entire Valley. The attractions, events and adventure is within easy reach in this little pocket of the globe. The Central Valley is perhaps the most teeming, diverse, and surprising region in the entire state. While the lack of a beachside may be a bit of a shock to established Navy families, I truly do feel you’ll find the Valley’s unique charms make up for the 2 hour drive to the nearest coast!
About the Central Valley of California
The Central Valley comprises parts of 11 counties and stretches from Kern County in the south (just north of the Tehachapi Mountains) to Fairfield, Vacaville, and Yolo County just west of Sacramento. It is home to three of the largest counties in California, embracing two national parks and part of a third.
It includes some 200 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and one of the busiest rail corridors in the nation: Amtrak’s San Joaquin makes 10 runs a day between Oakland and Bakersfield. The Central Valley is the birthplace of visionary filmmaker George Lucas, the rowdy branch of country music known as “The Bakersfield Sound”, and the California oil industry, itself echoed in the West Kern Oil Museum in Taft.
The Central Valley is also home to a number of landmark attractions, from the Bakersfield Speedway to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, the Minter Field Air Museum for aircraft buffs, and the remarkable Haggin Museum in Stockton, with works by Gauguin to Native American artifacts.
Although it is hugely agricultural – the valley produces, by some estimates, as much as 45 percent of the food served in the United States – this remarkable region is much more than a collection of farms, orchards, vineyards, dairies, and stockyards. If you haven’t yet taken time to visit just a few of the dozens of cities, towns, and natural wonders to discover here, you don’t know what you’ve been missing!
Don’t get me wrong, you WILL find tens of thousands of acres of land under cultivation, scattered with dozens of tiny old farming towns that seem little changed in more than a century, offering you a welcome sense of small town friendliness.
Food is truly a focus here, from nationally renowned Farmers Markets to unbeatable roadside produce stands. You’ll also find one of a kind cafes and diners, with five star dining in the authentic Basque restaurants in Kern County to steakhouses like Harris Ranch near Coalinga.
You’ll discover world-class artistic and cultural facilities, symphonies, theater companies, and museums. You’ll find virtually unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation and spectacular scenery – rafting the world-class rapids of the Kern River, hiking the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, scrambling through Red Rock Canyon State Park near Ridgecrest, gazing in wonder at the herds of majestic elk protected at the Tule Elk Natural Reserve.
The Central Valley has its fair share of outstanding wineries, rivaling the better known regions upstate. From example, Yolo County is known for its incredibly rich soil, warm days and mild Delta breezes, yielding unforgettable wines of great character and diversity. Yolo County is home to the U.C. Davis Viticulture and Enology Department, and the Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science.
Other prominent wine regions include: Suisun Valley – rustic wine country, nestled in gorgeous, uncrowsed Solano County farmland between San Francisco and Sacramento; Fresno – in the heart of the Central Valley, a surprisingly good destination for wine tasting in rambling Madera County; and Lodi – the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of California, offering a relaxed rural atmosphere, perfectly suited to enjoying exquisite wines that are full of flavor yet soft and supple on the palate.
The Central Valley is also home to Interstate 5 and California Highway 99, which, in it’s heyday was known as “California’s Main Street”.
The Central Valley is rich in adventures and experiences as it is in agriculture and history. It truly is the Greatest Garden in the World. So take your time and venture out to explore – you will be glad you did!