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San Joaquin Valley

The southern half of California’s Central Valley – named for the San Joaquin River – sprawls from Stockton to the turbine-covered Tehachapi Mountains, southeast of Bakersfield. Everything stretches to the horizon in straight lines – railroad tracks, two-lane blacktop and long irrigation channels.

The tiny towns scattering the region retain their Main St Americana appeal while slowly embracing the influence of the Latino labor force.

This is a place of seismic, often contentious, development. Arrivals from the coastal cities have resulted in unchecked sprawl. What were once actual ranches and vineyards are now nostalgically named developments: a big-box shopping complex named Indian Ranch, a tidy row of McMansions named Vineyard Estates. More green lawns appear as the irrigation systems drain dry. Water rights is the issue on everyone's minds.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout San Joaquin Valley.