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Famous for its bountiful produce, quality wine, and country music, the Central Valley is California’s heartland. It’s also a place of endless discoveries, so head out on a 250-mile road trip along California Highway 99 between Bakersfield and Lodi. You’ll find plenty of surprises, including premium ice cream in Bakersfield, Fresno’s vibrant urban scene, and wine country fun in Lodi.
A cool hotel and gourmet ice cream let you chill in Bakersfield
Bakersfield is home to country music legend Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a shrine to the Bakersfield sound that the Buckaroo helped pioneer alongside Merle Haggard. Stay at downtown’s Padre Hotel, a contemporary boutique inn that originally opened in 1928. Prospect, the hotel’s speakeasy-style bar, mixes perfect craft cocktails, and you can dine at the hotel’s Belvedere Room, a modern steakhouse infused with the spirit of California cuisine. For something sweet, drive over to Moo Creamery for homemade ice cream with such premium ingredients as Tahitian vanilla and Callebaut Belgian chocolate.
Taste Central Valley flavors at Bravo Farms
If you’re looking for snacks or a meal along the route, Bravo Farms offers two locations right off Highway 99. Bravo Farms Tulare in the Tulare Outlets has a restaurant that lets you create delicious salads, sandwiches, and pizzas just the way you want them. Tiny Traver (population around 700) is home to the old-fashioned Bravo Farms Traver, where kids can frolic in a seven-story treehouse, play miniature golf, and see an assortment of animals, including llamas. Meanwhile, Bravo Farms Traver’s Vintage Cheese Company is more about grown-up pleasures, thanks to tastings of handcrafted artisanal cheeses and California wines.
Discover Fresno from the ground up at Forestiere Underground Gardens
Baldassare Forestiere was certainly persistent. For 40 years, the Sicilian immigrant dug and picked his way through the hardpan of Fresno to create Forestiere Underground Gardens, 10 acres of tunnels, grottoes, and chambers. Take a guided tour and discover a remarkable (and cool) subterranean world, where fruit trees and grapevines grow 20 feet below street level. There’s even a fishing pond and chapel.
Experience Fresno after dark in the Tower District
Hip and historic, Fresno’s happening Tower District gets its name from a 1939 Art Deco theater whose neon-lit tower commands the neighborhood skyline. Now operating as the Tower Theatre for the Performing Arts, this landmark showcases everything from mariachi to metal, as well as comedy performances and musicals. The theater anchors a lively district filled with restaurants and music clubs. Try the Italian specialties at Oggi Cossi Si Mangia (winner of a People’s Choice Award from the Fresno Bee). If you love craft beers, the bicycle-themed Spokeasy Public House pours a great selection and lets you play vintage arcade games while you sip.
Explore the surprising Lodi Wine Country
Everyone knows about the premium wines of Napa and Sonoma, but many are surprised to discover the outstanding wines produced in the Lodi Wine Country. Named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, the area is most famous for its Zinfandel but also grows more than 100 grape varieties. Visit leading Lodi wineries while staying at Wine & Roses, a hotel featuring sleek contemporary rooms. Rejuvenate with a treatment in the spa, then pair any of 70 Lodi wines with the tantalizing, regionally sourced dishes at the hotel’s relaxed-yet-elegant Towne House Restaurant.