Foodie Heaven Hides in Plain Sight, Beckoning to be Discovered

As one of the most traveled states in the US, California’s theme parks, beaches, national parks, and big-name wine countries drove an enormous percentage of the nearly-300 million visitors through the state in 2022. However, the heart of it all — from Bakersfield up to Yolo — has attracted an increasing number of the ‘culinarily curious’ travelers. Known as the Central Valley, the region produces a staggering 25% of America’s food — which means the area’s restaurants cook with a wide variety of the freshest ingredients in the country. Naturally, travel-savvy foodies are asking, “What’s cooking?” In response, the Valley’s communities stepped up in a big way, ready at last for their slice of the tourism pie.

Any cuisine connoisseurs will tell you the experience surrounding the food is equally as important as the quality. The destinations within the Valley embrace this concept wholeheartedly and offer locals and visitors a smorgasbord of options. Sometimes this comes in the form of food specialties, like worth-the-heart-attack almond butter milkshakes at Roberts Ferry Gourmet in Oakdale. Some others chase the wow-factor of ‘The Big Cheese,’ a 640-pound hunk of dairy deliciousness at the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center (where they also offer ice cream making tours and an “Ag-scape” challenge for puzzle lovers). Craving a variety of food genres? Stockton is a good bet — they were named ‘Most Diverse City in America’ by US News in 2020. Their ethnic food scene is hard to match, especially as the most inland port city on the West Coast, adding fresh fish to the mix, too.

Good backstories add depth to and grow appreciation for any meal. In the Central Valley, the stories practically grow on trees, too. The restaurant Camp 4 in Modesto is a prime example. Paying homage to rock climbing pioneer Royal Robbins (the owner’s late father), “Camp 4” refers to the climbers’ basecamp. Vintage and modern decor keeps the inspiration present, yet classy. In Yolo, the owner and chef of the Savory Cafe is known as the ‘Yolo County Food Whisperer’ because he personally selects locally grown food and knows the names of everyone growing his restaurant's ingredients. Or take Component Coffee Lab in Visalia; the owner started off roasting their beans in a popcorn popper!

Very few foodies in California neglect to wash down their adventures with a good glass of wine — and that’s made locally, too. ‘Grape Capital of the World’ Lodi boasts over 125 varietals and is the leading producer of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite sirah, syrah, chardonnay, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc. In fact, a good portion of the grapes grown in the Central Valley are exported for use in Napa Valley wines! From the outskirts of Fresno to the gates of Yosemite, local wineries offer unforgettable tasting opportunities, including the Madera Wine Trail and the Yosemite Sierra Wine Road, to clink glasses with a view.

The Central Valley, hiding right in the middle of everything ‘California,’ continues to cook up big plans for their visitors. The Valley is no longer just ‘on the way’ to another Californian destination — America’s Pantry is a destination in its own right. The Central Valley is open and taking reservations!

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