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.
Sacramento & Central Valley destination guides
Yosemite National Park Day Trip from San Francisco
Get out of town! Exchange the big-city charms of San Francisco for the fresh air and natural beauty of Yosemite, California's most famous national park. Choose to start your time in Yosemite with a reserved lunch at the renown Ahwahnee Dining Room or head straight to the park to begin your adventure.
Western Express Southbound
From ghost towns and the Grand Canyon to roadside burger joints and the cosmopolitan streets of San Francisco, this region is loaded with the intriguing and the incredible. Best of all, the San Francisco to Los Angeles itinerary is structured so that those short on time can experience the region's best.