Cal­i­for­nia’s grand gar­den

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY JILL K. ROBIN­SON

168 Kern County

This fer­tile green strip in the cen­ter of Cal­i­for­nia is con­sid­ered by many to be the great­est gar­den in the world. The 400-mile-long Cen­tral Val­ley, wedged be­tween the Sierra Ne­vada range and the coastal moun­tains, is filled with farms, or­chards and vine­yards grow­ing ev­ery­thing from al­monds to peaches to grapes. You’ve likely ben­e­fited from the re­gion even if you haven’t vis­ited be­fore, as it sup­plies as much as 45 per­cent of the food eaten in the United States. Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Val­ley con­tains thou­sands of acres of land un­der cul­ti­va­tion and small farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties that seem to have been frozen in time.

The larger cities of the Cen­tral Val­ley (Modesto, Fresno and Bak­ers­field), still have a small-town friend­li­ness that en­cour­ages vis­i­tors to slow down and find out that there’s more go­ing on be­yond the farm­land. From the quiet, north­ern­most towns of Or­land, Yuba City and Davis to Visalia, Tu­lare and Mari­copa at the south­ern end of the val­ley, it’s easy to feel at home and see what some call “the Other Cal­i­for­nia.”

Trav­el­ers us­ing In­ter­state 5 to get through the Cen­tral Val­ley may be­lieve the agri­cul­tural re­gion is noth­ing more than a sleepy lit­tle farm­ing area, but don’t speed by and dis­count the wealth of spec­tac­u­lar scenery, op­por­tu­ni­ties for out­door recre­ation, high­lights of Cal­i­for­nia his­tory and funky road­side din­ers. The best way to dis­cover the area on a leisurely itin­er­ary is by tak­ing High­way 99, which feels more like a back road. Cities and towns are clus­tered along the route, giv­ing you a chance to pull off and ex­plore any time you want.

Two river val­leys—the Sacra­mento and San Joaquin—dom­i­nate the ma­jor­ity of the re­gion, and the wa­ter­ways serve as op­por­tu­ni­ties for sport (fish­ing, raft­ing, wa­ter­ski­ing) and bird mi­gra­tion rest stops, as well as an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of farm­ing. In the hot sum­mer months, the area’s rivers and lakes help res­i­dents and tourists alike cool off, and a shady swim­ming hole is an ideal spot to spend a week­end.

Swing by one of the road­side pro­duce stands for the best sou­venirs in the Cen­tral Val­ley. Be sure to en­joy your prizes be­fore you re­turn home, be­cause the ed­i­ble treasure of the re­gion is best sam­pled fresh.

City & Town

Col­lege-town Davis has more bikes per capita than any U.S. city. Modesto and its hot rods were the stars of Amer­i­can Graf­fiti—and auto fans still flock to the val­ley city. Fresno’s ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory in­cludes brick ware­houses along the Santa Fe rail­road tracks and the 1928 Pan­tages The­atre.

The Great Out­doors

A sprawl­ing web of rivers twists through the Cen­tral Val­ley—from the Sacra­mento to

the San Joaquin to the Feather. The best place to en­joy river life is in the Sacra­mento Delta, with lush wet­lands among vast or­chards. The Sut­ter Buttes—con­sid­ered the world’s small­est moun­tain range—rise above the flat val­ley at its north­ern­most point.

Her­itage & Cul­ture

Agri­cul­ture has drawn a di­verse group of peo­ple to the Cen­tral Val­ley over the years, in­clud­ing mi­grant work­ers from Latin Amer­ica, Dust Bowl-era farm­ers and en­ter­tain­ing coun­try music masters. Vis­i­tors are al­ways wel­come to join re­gional cel­e­bra­tions, from har­vest days to Basque fes­ti­vals to Por­tuguese fes­tas—com­plete with blood­less bull­fights.

Fam­ily Fun

Fam­i­lies who love the our­doors and wideopen spa­ces will find plenty to do in the Cen­tral Val­ley. Es­cape the sum­mer heat by tub­ing down the Sacra­mento River, dis­cover the amaz­ing Forestiere Un­der­ground Gar­dens in Fresno, wan­der through the his­toric delta town of Locke, or gawk at re­stored mil­i­tary air­craft at the Cas­tle Air Mu­seum.

FORESTIERE GAR­DENS, be­low; Lu­cas Win­ery, Lodi, right.

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