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Sacramento & Central Valley/USA

Introducing Sacramento & Central Valley

The Central Valley is the part of California that seems to belong in some other state. Travelers tend to be in a hurry to get somewhere else because the valley lies between the coast and the Sierra Nevada. These are the plains of California; a vast, flat zone given over mostly to agriculture. It’s a land of Podunk towns, endless fields, truck stops, produce stands and aluminum sheds. It’s home to laborers from Mexico, descendents of Dustbowl migrants, large Portuguese communities and agribusiness execs. When San Franciscans are befuddled by US politics, they need only drive an hour to the Central Valley for a dose of reality.

Truth is, this is an integral part of California, full of overlooked towns and curiosities worth seeing, even if you’re moving on to bigger fish elsewhere. Sacramento, the state capital, is a friendly burg that puts forth good food and entertainment with little pretense or big city attitude. Major universities are in Chico, Davis and Merced. Bakersfield still swings the way it did when Buck Owens first made California a country music force - in fact, ole Buck still swings at his own club. Some towns in the California Delta, though inhabited, have an eerie ghost-town feel that makes you want to pull off the highway to absorb the atmosphere.

As added incentive, the Central Valley is actually a two-for-one deal: two valleys, carved by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, join to make up one big valley some 400 miles long and 50 miles wide. This chapter mostly follows Hwy 99, which leaves I-5 south of Bakersfield and meets up with I-5 again in Red Bluff, north of Sacramento. Interstate 5 is the route to take from San Francisco to LA if you want to fly through the valley without seeing anything.