Like I mentioned in my first post of this series, in September of 2017 I visited all eight of California’s rural regions. I was surprised in the best ways by how much I enjoyed each place for its own merits and even came away from the trip wanting to move to the state. In visiting Central Valley, I don’t think any in our group knew what to expect. This left lots of room to be pleasantly surprised by the friendly people, the laid-back vibe & the incredible food of California’s expansive Central Valley.
I am so excited to be promoting California’s 8 rural regions for VisitCalifornia‘s #CaliforniaWild campaign with my fellow bloggers Ottsworld, Stuffed Suitcase and Border Free Travels. The ATTA is coordinating this effort and has given me freedom in how I share my experiences with you so that even though this is a paid project, I can assure you all opinions and words are my own.
Another thing that’s key to understand when talking about these regions, is just how big they are. Several are larger than entire US states. In the case of the Central Valley, it is longer and more narrow than other regions. It also touches 7 out of the 8 total regions that this series focuses on. So no single blog post could encompass or explain the entirety of what makes Visiting [the] Central Valley so special. This post is meant to highlight our experience only. It covers our stop in the Northern Central Valley and in a part that is farther south: the Delta.
Visiting Central Valley to better understand Agriculture in California
Back in 2012, Travel + Leisure wrote that “Central Valley, California’s bucolic interior, may not be the quintessential West Coast road trip, but the region is a foodie paradise.“ The primary reason this is true, is that the Central Valley is where most of the food is grown on the West Coast. It’s the “bread basket” of this region. No stretch then that where the food is grown, the food also tastes the best!
Seka Hills is where we learned about The Yocha Dehe tribe of the Wintun Nation. At Seka, they are cultivating olives, wine grapes, garbanzo beans, asparagus, walnuts, almonds & other crops [along with bees for honey] on lands that have always belonged to their tribe. We tasted a full spread of all their products that included jerky from their own cattle. I remember thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time any one region of a US state felt like it had everything one might need to survive. But that might be because wine, honey, olives, hummus and jerky are some of my favorite foods. I particularly enjoyed getting to pick asparagus to eat while we were exploring the Seka Hills land. Reminded me of childhood, when we used to eat much of what we were picking from the garden before it made it into the kitchen!
The Old Sugar Mill is where we were able to experience a farm-to-table picnic on our last day of this trip. Inside the restored brick structure, that as the name suggests was once a sugar mill, 15 wineries local to the Central Valley are open to the public for tastings and events. It’s only 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento but it feels a world away.
We had gone shopping earlier in the day at The Delta Farmer’s Market, which opened in 2010. From their website: “Owned and operated by the Discover the Delta Foundation, […] the Market is not only a place to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, it provides education about agriculture in the Delta region and helps support Delta farmers and the Delta community. The Market offers a full range of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce, a wide variety of dry and canned products and gift items, fresh bakery goods, coffee and cold drinks.” It was these provisions, and wine from The Old Sugar Mill, that provided the bounty of the picnic we enjoyed.
Visiting Central Valley to learn about the Delta
The Delta of California’s Central Valley is the largest estuary in the Western Hemisphere. We were able to explore it via SUP and kayak, just before sunset at Dow Wetlands Preserve in Antioch on the San Joaquin River. Our guide was Kathy of Delta Kayak Adventures. The hours we spent on the water blew me away. From how calm the water was to how gorgeous the light was to how quiet it was when everyone stopped talking. From Kathy, and some of her friends who accompanied us, we learned that the Preserve is some 470 acres of refuge and a habitat to more than 120 species of animals.
It’s also facing a crisis as two types of invasive water plants have found their way into the Preserve, choking its waterways and harming native plants. I was shocked that a gorgeous purple flower I spotted floating in green leaves was part of one of them. It is a non-native Water Hyacinth that can grow up to 16 feet a day! This reminded me that where there is beauty, there is so often pain too. It’s true not just for humans but in the natural world as well. I was glad to hear that multiple organizations are working on how to solve the problem without damaging the native ecosystem.
Visiting Central Valley to explore Locke
The old town of Locke was “founded in 1915 after a fire broke out in the Chinese section of nearby Walnut Grove. The Chinese who lived in that area decided that it was time to establish a town of their own. A committee of Chinese merchants […] was formed. They approached land owner George Locke and inquired if they could build on his land. An agreement was reached. The town was laid out by Chinese architects and industrious building ensued.” I found it fascinating because it is the only town in the USA built by Chinese people, for Chinese people. It is so different from Chinatowns in New York, San Francisco and other large cities. There is a vibe to the place that I’ve never seen exactly replicated anywhere else.
Where to Stay while Visiting Central Valley
I feel like I need to say, again, that this is my opinion. While this series is a result of a paid project where I was hired to create photo libraries for these regions, my words are my own and that’s why I’m sharing this: Of all the places in the USA that are meant for privately-owned accommodation, I don’t think any shines brighter than the Central Valley. The simplest reason might be that there just isn’t a lot of room for larger, corporate hotels. With the exception of farms, smaller plots of land co-exist with large bodies of water here so houses and inns make the most sense. They have a smaller footprint.
But for me, it comes down to supporting PEOPLE. Since they are what make the Central Valley so special, I’d never stay at a chain if I returned. I’d look for an AirBnB, a Bed & Breakfast property or a hotel that’s privately owned. When you stay at properties like this, your money stays in the community. That’s more important here than in most places in the USA or the rest of the world. I didn’t have this experience while visiting but if I returned, I would make sure to.
This is the conclusion of my series covering California’s eight rural regions referenced in the map below. Please let me know in the comments what you enjoyed most about this region and what, if any, questions I didn’t answer! I’m open to doing follow up posts in the future.
The complete series includes this post and these:
The High Sierra region aka lots of Mountains
California’s North Coast Home of the Redwoods
Shasta Cascade where you’ll find a place called Bumpass Hell!
Rushing to Gold Country
The Desert Might Surprise You
Not the North but the Central Coast of California
Empire Records? No! the Inland Empire
8 Reasons You Should Visit California’s 8 Rural Regions