The San Joaquin Valley of California stretches from the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles up to Sacramento. Largely agricultural, the area is some of the most fertile and important farmland in the world.
|Fresno County |
Sprawling Fresno County is home to Fresno, California's fifth-largest city, and vast agricultural areas. The eastern side of the county is mountainous, featuring the remote wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, which attracts visitors to its giant sequoias and unspoiled meadows that lie at the crest of the Sierra Nevada range.
|Kern County |
Kern County extends across a number of geographic regions: the western portion is in the San Joaquin Valley, the northeastern portion is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the southeastern part is in the Desert. Visitors to the county are most likely to be heading to Bakersfield, or traveling along Interstate 5 past oil fields and agricultural areas.
|Kings County |
Rural Kings County is responsible for billions of dollars of annual agricultural production, much of it from the dairy industry. Travelers passing through on Interstate 5 may find the area lacking in attractions, although there are a few hotels and other amenities in the county's small towns.
|Madera County |
Madera County's agricultural western half offers plenty of hotels and amenities for travelers, while the mountainous eastern half features unspoiled Sierra Nevada wilderness that is home to portions of Yosemite National Park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Devils Postpile National Monument with its impressive basalt columns and iconic Rainbow Falls. Be aware that there are no roads crossing the county from west to east, so it may be a very circuitous route for those who want to see everything Madera has to offer!
|Merced County |
Located entirely within the San Joaquin Valley, most travelers will likely just take advantage of the county's hotels and other amenities, but there are a few attractions worth considering. The Castle Air Museum in Atwater is home to over 50 planes, while the Merced National Wildlife Refuge hosts thousands of waterfowl during winter months, including huge flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes.
|San Joaquin County |
San Joaquin County lies at the eastern edge of the California Delta, an estuary formed by the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Nicknamed "California's Holland" due to the extensive levee system, the area is an interesting place to explore by car or boat. Stockton is the county's largest city and is notable for being the world's most inland natural seaport.
|Stanislaus County |
While still primarily an agricultural county known for its almond trees, parts of Stanislaus County have been transforming into a bedroom community for people trying to escape the high housing costs of the Bay Area. Travelers will find plenty of amenities, although most only see the county while passing through on their way elsewhere.
|Tulare County |
Tulare County is a region with two distinct personalities. The western half of the county lies within the agricultural Central Valley, offering rural landscapes as well as plenty of hotels and other amenities for travelers. The eastern portion of the county features the wilderness and high elevation of the Sierra Nevada range, including the largest trees on earth in Sequoia National Park, and the western slopes of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.
The cities of the most importance are Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, and Modesto. A more complete list of major cities within the San Joaquin Valley would include:
- 1 Bakersfield Third largest city in the central valley. Cattle ranching and petroleum are the major industries in this city, which is very hot in the summer.
- 2 Fresno - The largest city in the Central Valley and home to many major farm corporations and food corporations.
- 3 Merced - Home to the University of California, Merced. Built in 2005, it is the newest and "greenest" UC. The midsize city also boasts an up and coming downtown. There is a small winery scene in the area including Gallo farms and Vista Cellars.
- 4 Modesto- Midsize city with decent food in its downtown.
- 5 Stockton - Home to the University of the Pacific and one of America's most diverse cities.
- 6 Tracy - Considered a bedroom community for Bay Area commuters and a crossroads for people traveling between Central Valley, Bay Area, and Los Angeles.
- 7 Visalia
- The Sierra foothills on the eastern side of the valley have good scenery.
Between the Diablo Range and the Sierra Nevada is the Central Valley. There are two major rivers in the Central Valley, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, and the Central Valley is a good agricultural area. For the tourist, it does not have great sightseeing opportunities or many locations of great historical value; however, the Central Valley's location fairly close to both the Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada Mountains is worth noting.
The main activity in the region is farming, and generally not much else happens, and the valley isn't an important tourist destination. But driving the through the region, especially on country roads, can be a wonderful and enjoyable experience.
While most of the land is treeless, there are a few preserves that are scattered through the Central Valley where woodlands can be found.
English, Spanish, Punjabi, and Tagalog are spoken in the San Joaquin Valley. It's helpful to know a little of each, as many people speak only one or the other. Punjabi and Tagalog are widely spoken by Indian and Filipino immigrants in major cities; the large number of Mexicans who work on the various farms — and related industries — mean that Spanish is widely spoken throughout the valley.
However, you're still in the United States, so in most places you're likely to visit as an ordinary traveler, knowing just English should get you along fine.
You can get in to San Joaqiun by flying into Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). Fresno has flights from Mexico and the West Coast. Other options include Bakersfield’s Meadows Field Airport (BFL) and Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK).
Interstate 5 and State Route (SR) 99 are the main routes through the region; they go from north to south. SR-99 connects the major cities of the San Joaquin Valley from Stockton in the north to its junction with I-5 at Wheelers Ridge (Exit 221 of I-5) south of Bakersfield. I-5 bypasses the San Joaquin cities and run parallel to SR-99 at 40 to 48 miles (64-78 km) apart. The San Joaquin cities can still be reached by I-5 at various points along the way. It would just be another 40 mi (64 km) east to reach any city along a two-lane highway. They are not scenic drives, but instead routes into, and through, the region.
Intercity bus lines and shuttles typically pass through the San Joaquin Valley on their way between Tijuana/Tijuana Airport, Los Angeles/Huntington Beach and Sacramento along SR-99. In between they typically stop in Bakersfield, Tulare/Visalia, Delano, Goshen Jct, Fresno, Merced, Turlock, Modesto and Stockton. Not all companies will make all of the above stops while others may make stops in addition to the above or skip through the area. Some go towards the SF Bay area from the San Joaquin Valley without going through Sacramento. In the cities, each company typically has its own bus station or stops. Check their websites for schedules, routing and stop/station locations:
- Airport Valet Express, (office) 201 N Stine Rd, Ste #120; Bakersfield, ☏ +1 661 363-5000, toll-free: +1-800-545-8400. Three daily trips on weekdays and twice on weekends to Bakersfield from LAX and Van Nuys Airport. $100 return.
- Autobus Coordinados de Nayrit (ACN), ☏ +52 664 229-0487, toll-free: +1 800 026-73-73. Connects from their own bus station in Tijuana & from the Tijuana airport to Sacramento through San Ysidro, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Delano,Goshen, Fresno, Madera, Stockton, Lodi. Passengers transfer in Tijuana to continue further south into Mexico.
- Chennai (Airport) Express, (office) 1212 Airport Dr Ste C, Delano CA, toll-free: +1 800 656-6756. Goes up to Delano from LAX through Santa Clarita, Lebec and Bakersfield on a regularly scheduled basis.
- Flixbus, ☏ +1 855 626-8585. Travels through Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto and Stockton.
- Greyhound, ☏ +1-213-629-8401, toll-free: +1-800-231-2222. Stops in Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Some schedules will make additional stops in the San Joaquin Valley while others make fewer stops. Other routes will continue west from Modesto or Avenal towards San Francisco or San Jose for the northbound runs.
- International Bus Lines (formerly Intercalifornias), ☏ +1-213-629-4885, toll-free: +1-888-834-9336. Prices vary depending on your destination.
- Rapid Connections LLC, ☏ +1 559 442-3000. Buses goes up to Sacramento via San Fernando, Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Stockton and several other places along SR-99; and down to Tijuana via Santa Ana and San Ysidro.
- Tres Estrellas de Oro (TEO), ☏ +1-323-588-9188.
- Tufesa, ☏ +1 213 489-8079. Connects Los Angeles to Sacramento (via multiple cities in San Joaquin Valley), Oakland, Salt Lake City (via Ontario, Fontana, Las Vegas, St George).
There may be additional Hispanic bus companies connecting the San Joaquin Valley from southern California and the Mexican border in the south to as far north as Wenatchee or Yakima WA.
- See also: Rail travel in the United States
- Amtrak San Joaquins passes through the San Joaquin several times daily between Stockton and Bakersfield with stops in Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Hanford, Corcoran, Allensworth and Wasco. Going the opposite direction from Stockton some trains go north towards Sacramento via Lodi while others go west towards Oakland via Antioch-Pittsburg, Martinez, Richmond & Emeryville (nearest station to San Francisco). Nearest stops with Amtrak Thruway bus connections to Yosemite NP are in Merced and Fresno.
- Amtrak Thruway There are multiple Amtrak Thruway bus connections to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Long Beach, Victorville, Yosemite NP and other parts of the state from different stops along the San Joaquins route. A Thruway bus trip can only be used as part of a train journey. It cannot be booked separately for bus only.
This is a car-based area. Some public transit is available in the form of buses, but they are highly inefficient. Taxi and ride share services are available by reservation and can get expensive.
Distances are large. Even crossing the San Joaquin Valley is a long drive; driving along either of the freeways north or south through the valley is a long, boring drive, with few interesting sights along these highways themselves.
The Central Valley can get very foggy in winter, making driving extremely dangerous with visibility of 100 feet (30 m) and less. On the faster highways, such as Interstate 5 and State Route 99, the fog can turn small accidents into smash-ups of dozens of cars.
Gang activity is quite common in the larger cities. Avoid being out alone after dark, and avoid wearing solid red or solid blue, as these are gang colors and may make you a target.
San Joaquin cities such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia, Merced, and Modesto have poor air quality. In fact, all of these cities rank among the top 15 smoggiest cities in the U.S. Summer temperatures can soar above 110°F (45°C), even in the hills. Drink plenty of water; heat strokes and dehydration are very common during the summer.
Also, the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Ranges are nearby, and wildfires are fairly common in these ranges. The smoke — and even the fires themselves — can spread into the valley, especially from the Sierra Nevada, greatly worsening the air quality to smog conditions. While these fires typically occur in the mountains either east or west of the valley during late summer, they can happen at any time of year.
- Sacramento Valley and the Gold Country are to the north.
- Sierra Nevada, to the east, is one of the highest mountain ranges in the U.S. Popular destinations in the mountain range include Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.
- The Central Coast is to the west.
- Surprise, surprise — Southern California to the south. This is the location of Los Angeles and San Diego.