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Central Valley

Welcome to the heartland of California, the Central Valley. This is the home of California’s farming community where vegetables, fruit, and cheese are as fresh as they come! Around every corner you’ll find fruit and vegetable stands with the seasonal local products, or spend some time picking your own fruit. This is your chance to get a taste of California!

The Central Valley skirts the main metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Sacramento; however, it doesn’t take long to suddenly be out in the middle of lush fruit farms, wineries, and have a taste of small town life. You can drive for miles on winding levee roads and not encounter another soul! However, you will find 300 species of birds and mammals, miles of biking trails, and endless California Delta to paddle or boat through, making this a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.

Main Image © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Take a Kayak or stand up paddleboard adventure in the Delta.

There are endless routes you can take biking levee roads; and all of the roads are flat!

Escape urban life and go birding at YOLO Bypass Wildlife Area

Boat, fish, and waterski on the Delta

Road trippers, Bicyclists, and photographers can revel in the flowery fruit glory on Fresno Blossom Trail; a colorful 62-mile loop southeast of Fresno.

White water rafting on the Upper Cache Creek through a volcanic canyon accessible only by water.

Photo © Kirsten Alana

Destination Facts

  • The Central Valley, a flat plain 75 miles wide and 430 miles long, has become the richest farming region in the history of the world.
  • The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Western hemisphere.
  • George Strauss, the designer of the Golden Gate Bridge, designed the familiar drawbridges you’ll cross all over the Delta. 
  • Much of the Delta region sits below sea level, behind levees earning it the nickname "California's Holland”.
  • In the 1880’s Lodi was considered the watermelon capital of the US, and all of them were grown without irrigation.
  • The little town of Locke in the Central Valley is the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese.
  • Five rivers flow into the Delta, accounting for nearly half of the snowmelt and runoff of the entire state. 
  • You’ll find the country’s largest concentration of Basque restaurants in Bakersfield.
  • Eighty percent of the state's commercial fishery species either live in or migrate through the Delta, including four Chinook salmon runs, sturgeon, and striped bass.
  • Over 90 agricultural products are grown in the Delta.
  • It takes 3 years for an olive tree to grow and be ready for first harvest.
  • Humphrey the whale got stuck in California River Delta at Rio Vista in 1985. Scientists luckily led him back out to the Bay and eventually to the Pacific.
  • Wildflowers blanket Tehachapi Range with some of the state’s best wildflower displays in spring.

Road-Trip Itinerary

The Northern part of the Central Valley can easily be accessed from San Francisco or Sacramento airports.

Day 1

From San Francisco head to the Antioch marina and board your kayak for a sunset paddle through the Dow Wetlands Preserve. It’s hard to believe you are only one hour from San Francisco in this quiet, natural setting. Float through the reeds, spot river otters, and watch flocks of birds float overhead as the sky turns pink. This is the perfect way to get in the vacation mode. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Head to Lodi and do a unique biking outing on the Delta River Ride to Sacramento. Leave early and enjoy a unique ride through old California along the levees. The ride is flat but the Delta can be windy. When you arrive in Sacramento, simply hop on the train and head back to Lodi via Amtrak! Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

After all of that pedal power, take a day to enjoy the Lodi wine region on their Sip Shuttle. Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Learn all about the wine region, do tastings, and have a picnic lunch; a perfect way to relax among the vines. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

Take a docent led tour (weekend only) of the historic town of Locke. The Chinese population who came to build the levees founded Locke in 1915 after a fire broke out in the original Chinese section of Walnut Grove. The new town of Locke was created by Chinese architects and constructed by the Chinese. Walk down the main street and get a glimpse at a bygone era. It’s not exactly a ghost town, but don’t expect much activity or people! It’s a hidden historical gem in Central Valley. Stop at Delta Farmer’s Market to pick up fresh local food for a picnic and then drive through the enchanting levee road system and wander aimlessly. Ride rope ferries, cross over drawbridges, and take in all of the lush agricultural beauty that surrounds you. Stop at the Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, a one-time sugar-beet processing plant. It’s been converted into tasting rooms and storefronts for nearly a dozen Clarksburg Winemakers. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 5

Take a drive through the rolling hills and grasslands of the Capay Valley. This fertile land is full of small and mid-size organic farms. Stop at Seka Hills Tasting Room and Olive Mill to try wine, but don’t stop there! Keep sampling their other products: olive oil, vinegars, wildflower honey, nuts, and jerky. Walk around the olive groves, learn about the press process, or take a formal farm tour. The land and the operations are owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, who strive to preserve their language and their legacy. Keep your eyes peeled for roadside produce stands and pick up what’s in season – the variety is plentiful! Go from the watery Delta to the soaring mountains and continue your holiday in the High Sierras. Photo © Kirsten Alana