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Central Valley Taste Tour

California's Central Valley

Railtown State Historic Park
Railtown State Historic Park

Railtown State Historic Park
Railtown State Historic Park

The Walker Family Shops at a Tehachapi Orchard
The Walker Family Shops at a Tehachapi Orchard

The California Aquaduct runs through the Central Valley.
The California Aquaduct runs through the Central Valley.

Harris Ranch, Coalinga
Harris Ranch, Coalinga

Tehachappi Loop
Tehachappi Loop

Kern County Museum, Bakersfield
Kern County Museum, Bakersfield
The cooler days of autumn bring in the harvests of Tehachapi and pleasant days for enjoying the sights of this great valley. Pack a picnic lunch and climb an overlook where you can observe a 19th century engineering marvel in action-the Tehachapi Loop. Discover with the kids how wind energy works at the Tehachapi Wind Farm. Explore underground passageways and grottos near Fresno or see how cheese is made in Hilmar. Then spend the night either cruisin' down the lazy river in a houseboat or with Flo, the resident ghost of The National Hotel. Fun and educational opportunities abound in the California's Central Valley.


Mojave Airport Aircraft Storage
You've no doubt heard about the 'airplane graveyard' in the Mojave Desert, but did you know you've probably passed it on your way to Vegas? While this facility is not open to the public, you can get within a quarter mile of the stored airplanes. Avtel stores the airliners between Hwys 14 & 58.

Mojave Airport
661-824-2433 (Mondays & Fridays are best)
Just off Hwy 58, you'll get a look at Mojave Airport's storage area. Call ahead to the airport for a 20-minute tour.

Do you have a budding pilot in your midst? The airport's restaurant will offer a clear view of the flight path. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and provides listening devices for patrons to eavesdrop on the conversations between the tower and the pilots.


Borax Visitors Center
Many of us were raised with the image of the 20 Mule Team on the box of Borax. Now you can stop in at the Visitor's Center on your way through Mojave. It's the site of one of the greatest deposits of borax on the planet. Located off Hwy 58 you'll find Borax Road, which leads directly to the Visitor's Center.

Boron Twenty Mule Team Museum
You'll learn about the history of the 20 mule team and the area. Kids can ring the lift operator bell.

Saxon Aerospace Museum
Right next door to the Boron Museum is the Saxon Aerospace Museum, which focuses on the history of aerospace in the valley. Lt. Cl Saxon's uniforms and helmets are on display, as well as an F-4 Phantom plane.


Tehachapi Wind Farm
661-831-1038, Tehachapi (near Mojave)
Don't miss this cool tour of 4,100 turbines. Linda White, of Kern Wind Energy Association, loves to give tours and educate the public on wind energy. Call ahead.

Indian Point Ranch
A six-foot tall 'chick?' That's right-if you're an ostrich! Starting out at 10 inches tall, they'll grow over a foot a month. Autumn is an awesome time to visit because the babies hatch from June through September. You'll get within a foot of these birds and if you take the half-hour Breeder Tour, you'll find out all kinds of crazy facts about them. For example, did you know that with one swift kick an ostrich can toss a lion in the air?

The Tehachapi Loop
Best viewed from Tehachapi-Woodford Road about 8 miles west of Tehachapi, this 19th century engineering marvel attracts curious spectators from miles around. Civil Engineer William Hood solved the unsolvable problem of building the railway through the extremely steep section of mountains to the Tehachapi Pass. Look for a path leading up to an unmarked overlook, which offers the best view. Bring a lunch, camera and binoculars. (Map is approximate.)

Mourning Cloak Gardens
661-822-1661 (No website at this time)
Behind a sculptured iron gate lie twenty-two landscaped acres and 2,600 species of plants, the culmination of twenty-seven years of the loving efforts of Ed and Marian Sampson. Marian has since passed, but Ed continues to dedicate his waking hours to the garden. Embark on your own self-guided tour and explore the meandering paths, waterfall and Koi pond. The kids will be particularly intrigued by the miniature horses grazing on the property and the tour of the carriage barn, which holds coaches dating back to 1836. Open by appointment only.

Apples, Raspberries & Lavender
The ranches you will find in this rural community will tantalize all your senses at the same time. Culinary delights such as apple crisp, pumpkin bread and pressed cider accompany fresh produce, lavender products and other gift items. Check the Tehachapi Growers Association web site (above) for details on product availability and hours. Be sure to stop in at the Apple Shed for one of their five Eggs Benedict dishes, lunch or a bakery treat. Their country store is lots of fun and the place is guaranteed to be hopping with hungry visitors.

Red Rock Canyon State Park
Located 25 miles northeast of Mojave on Hwy 14, this park offers spectacular rock formations that once provided important landmarks to the 20-mule team freight wagons of the early 1870's. A primitive campground is available and campfire programs and nature hikes are offered on weekends. The Visitors Center provides a nice rest stop.


Hampton Inn & Suites, Madera/Fresno North
This hotel opened in July 2008, and is a little jewel in the center of the otherwise rural Central Valley. Warm and friendly staff, complimentary breakfast, and at the halfway mark between Santa Clarita and Lake Tahoe. The largest rooms are the equivalent of two rooms, some with whirlpools. The rooms are generous enough for two kids on the floor, two in a sofa bed, and suitcases all around! (We made this our stop both northbound and southbound.) While there, head down to DiCicco's for a great Italian dinner, or have it delivered!

Downing Planetarium
559-278-4121 Show Information
Located on the campus of California State University, the kids can partake in free stargazing every Friday night, right outside the planetarium. Public shows in the dome theatre are available some Fridays and Saturdays. Call for reservations.

Rotary Storyland & Playland
A favorite to children for forty years, this park features buildings representing fairytales of the past in a garden setting.

Forestiere Underground Gardens
It all started because Baldasare Forestiere wanted to escape the summer heat of the Central Valley. Sitting in his cellar and noticing the sun filtering in, he wondered if a tree might grow. One tree led to another and forty years later, the gardens that you see today are the result. Passageways, grottos, patio courts and rooms adorned with flourishing plants, trees, arches, columns and domes draw visitors from around the world. Baldasare's genius is evident in the curving and narrowing of passageways to speed or slow the flow of air. Children must be four to visit.

Castle Air Museum
209-723-2178, Atwater (one hour north of Fresno)
Forty-six aircraft from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era are on display as well as vintage uniforms and artifacts.

Hilmar Cheese Company
800-577-5772, Hilmar (just north of Atwater)
Find out how fresh milk is turned into yummy cheese-then taste it! Interactive exhibits about agriculture, the dairy industry, and cheese making are here at the largest cheese and whey products manufacturing facility in the world. Get some snacks in the country store or stop in the Moon Deli, then enjoy the landscaped picnic area complete with Central Valley's only ten foot walk through waterfall.

Sierra Endangered Cat Haven
Dedicated to the preservation of wild cats, this conservation and education centers provides you the opportunity to observe these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. You'll walk the ¼ mile trail of decomposed granite on this hour-long educational tour. Bengal tigers, amur leopards, caracals, a black leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard, and bob cat are all part of the inhabitants of this 100-acre facility.

Valley Fig Growers Store
Are you a fan of figs? Taste your little heart out and learn all you'd ever want to learn about this exquisite little fruit. Call and inquire about the possibility of a tour.


Sun-Maid Raisins
Did you know it takes 4 ½ pounds of fresh grapes to produce one pound of raisins? You can learn other interesting facts and sample delicious raisins at this huge facility, which is capable of storing 300,000 million pounds of raisins! Pick up a snack or a 5-pound box of chocolate covered raisins for the drive home.


Merced County Courthouse Museum
209-723-2401, Merced
Walk into a Superior Courtroom, Victorian room, Treasurer's office or a turn-of-the-century classroom. Visit the Blacksmith's shop, see what it would have been like to travel in a horse-drawn carriage or put out a fire with an antique fire engine.


Sierra Railroad Dinner Train
800-866-1690, Oakdale
Experience what it was like to travel in 1897, when the first passengers pulled into Jamestown Depot. The railroad was reopened in 1999 to provide travelers an opportunity to ride on the historic Sierra Railroad while enjoying delicious meals and beautiful countryside. Choose from a Wild West Adventure, a trip into Gold Country, a locomotive cab ride or several other excursions. Reservations recommended.

Blue Diamond Almonds
Come see the largest almond receiving facility in the world, capable of holding 140 million pounds of almonds. Watch a 20-minute video and sample some delicious treats.


Helen & Herman's Marina
800-676-4841 or 209-951-4634
Ever dream of living in a houseboat, cruising the river? You can choose from several levels between an economy 35' houseboat and a 56' luxury Odyssey houseboat with fireplace and hot tub. You bring your own bedding and personal items. No previous experience necessary.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
209-984-3953, Jamestown
Petticoat Junction, The Wild, Wild West, High Noon, The Virginian, Unforgiven and Back to the Future III are just a few of the more than 200 films, television productions and commercials filmed here. Tour the Roundhouse, where trains are 'turned around,' check out the movie artifacts, and take a ride through California's Gold Country. Your six-mile, forty-minute journey will take you past the water tower from Petticoat Junction and through the rugged hillside.

The National Hotel
800-894-3446, Jamestown
Check in and you may have an opportunity to meet Flo, the resident ghost. Stories of doors slamming, clothing tossed out of suitcases, and lights being turned on and off fill the pages of the hotel's guest book. This beautiful and historic hotel even has pull-chain toilets. Relax in the Gold Rush Saloon before enjoying dinner in the hotel restaurant. Guests under age 10 must be pre-arranged.


Ride the cable-drawn J-Mack ferry across the Steamboat Slough or the twin-diesel engine powered ferry across Cache Slough. The kids will love it and so will mom and dad-because they're free!

Taste the wines of the region, tour an exotic zoo, get an aerial view, find an antique or visit the local farmers market.

Lodi Wine

Davis, Williams and Woodland all fall within Yolo County. The county offers many jewels, in addition to those listed below, including the Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses the seventh largest insect collection in the world; the UC Davis Animal Barns Tour, with animal barns and 475 acres of crop farms; Yolo Wildlife Area, an important stop on the Pacific Flyaway; and plenty of opportunities to get up close to the cowboy lifestyle. Yolo County provides an excellent environment for a fun learning experience.


Raptor Center
The center rehabilitates and releases 60% of the 250 birds it rescues annually. Open to the public weekdays and Saturday morning. Call before arriving.

Impossible Acres
This U-pick farm grows ollalieberries, mugoberries, boysenberries, marionberries, blackberries and raspberries. Cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, pumpkins and tomatoes are also available here. Call to find out what is in season. Generally open May through October, with a cornfield in the fall.


In the mood for a little olive tasting? And, how about some real food with that gas fill up? Granzella's offers a deli, bakery, espresso bar, pizza parlor, ice cream parlor, restaurant, sports bar and an inn. A twelve-foot polar bear is part of their massive collection of mounted trophies.


Hays Antique Truck Museum
Over 100 different old trucks from 94 different manufacturers. Most have been lovingly restored and many are in running condition. Look closely and you may spot a truck from James and the Giant Peach, Murder in the First, or Monsters.


Sunsweet Growers
Visit the world's largest handler of dried tree fruits and pick up some snacks to take home or munch on your trip.


Harris Ranch
800-942-2333, Coalinga (halfway between L.A. & San Francisco)
Whether it's refueling of the car or your stomachs, this ranch is a great place to stop. They raise their steaks and grow their produce for the freshest meal you can purchase for miles. Can't stand the thought of getting back into the car? Stay the night.


Kern County Museum
661-852-5000, Bakersfield
There's an outdoor 1800's town that visitors can walk through at their leisure. You can even enter some of the buildings. When the kids are tired of that, take them inside the museum where they can play in their own little town, Kid City. In the Black Gold Experience exhibit, take a simulated ride under the sea in a diving bell where you'll learn how oil is formed. You'll swear you've been transported! There are all kinds of buttons and bells to push in this museum, which is fun for kids of all ages. This museum is well worth the trip and a great school field trip.

Tule Elk State Reserve
Once the predominant form of animal life in the Central Valley, mass hunting all but eliminated the herds of tule elk by 1875. Cattle baron Henry Miller stepped in to protect the elk in 1895 and we can now enjoy viewing these on a small reserve 20 miles west of Bakersfield. The elk are most active during rutting season, when the mercury rises upwards of 100 degrees. You may be treated to a scene of good ol' antler thrashing, as the predominant male bull fights to ward off other males encroaching on his territory.


Springville Inn
Spend the night at the Springville Inn and you may find yourself encountering one of the four resident ghosts. While the ghosts are friendly, they stay in the original part of the inn, which is separate from sleeping quarters for today's guests. When the inn was built in 1911, Springville did not have a morgue. Thus, recently demised town residents were kept 'on ice' in the upper rooms until they could be transported by stagecoach or train to Porterville. Apparently, these four people never moved on. Conveniently located near the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

The Plantation Bed & Breakfast
This is an adults-only B&B, continually rated as a favorite destination by many. Located in Lemon Cove, it is convenient to Sequoia National Park, King's Canyon National Park and Mineral King--each worthy of a full day's adventure.

Three Rivers
A Holiday Inn Express and other locally-owned motels are located in this town, which also has a handful of restaurants, gas and shopping. Consider this the last stop before you make your way up the 45-minute route to Sequoia National Park. While the Holiday Inn is nice, it is a shame to come this close to Sequoia and not stay in the park. Read more about Sequoia National Park and Wuksachi Lodge (located inside the park) here.

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