In terms of places to visit, the Central Valley has three distinct regions:
The Sacramento Valley to the north
The San Joaquin Valley to the south
The Delta region that connects the two valleys
The largest city in the Central Valley is Sacramento, which you read about in Chapter 9. This chapter focuses on smaller cities such as Yuba City, Stockton, and Modesto, as well as the outlying regions of the Sacramento Valley, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Delta. Of course, any of these destinations can be easily included as part of an itinerary that also includes Sacramento.
It's about 170 miles (or a three-hour drive) from Chico in the north to Modesto in the south. It is possible to traverse the entire length of the Central Valley in a day, but you certainly won't have time to stop and see everything along the way.
Getting Here, Getting Around
Interstate 5 is the main north-south thoroughfare through the Central Valley. It connects to Interstate 80 from San Francisco, so driving to this part of northern California is quite simple. The journey from San Francisco to Yuba City, for instance, is about a two-hour drive, the majority of it along the interstate.
Train travel is also an option. Amtrak serves Sacramento, Chico, Davis, Grass Valley, and other Central Valley stations. For full schedules and routes, visit the Amtrak Web site at
If you plan to drive to the Central Valley, the two things you have to consider are fog and dust storms. The thick fog that frequently descends on the Central Valley is so well known that it has its own name: tule fog. It is named for the tule grass wetlands from which it rises. Tule fog is most common during the rainy season from November to March. Sometimes, a blanket of tule fog stretches the entire length of the Central Valley, creating what looks like a giant inland cloud in satellite pictures.
Visibility in tule fog is typically less than an eighth of a mile — and it can drop to nearly zero in a matter of seconds when you're driving. Try to slow down, but do not stop short if you encounter thick fog; that reaction has been blamed for several massive traffic accidents. One of the largest involved an eighty-car pileup that killed two people in 2002.
The rainy season does end, typically in April, which ushers in the dry season that lasts until about Thanksgiving. As the wetness brings fog with it, the dryness brings dust storms — particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, which would be naturally bone dry without all the manmade irrigation channels and water redistribution efforts.
As with fog, dust storms can sneak up on you quickly when you're driving down the highway. Do your best to slow down without stopping short, keep your low beams on, and get out of harm's way if there's a lot of traffic on the road around you.