Flat farm land—the definitive image of Central California
Central California is roughly the place where you live if you are from California but not SoCal or NorCal. It runs from more or less from the Sacramento area down to Santa Barbara, Kern and San Bernardino counties. Cities and Towns like: Bakersfield, Bishop, Fresno, Hanford, Merced, Mammoth Lakes, Manteca, Modesto, Ridgecrest, Stockton, and Visalia are found in Central Cal. Major roads are US Route 101, I-5, SR 99, SR 198, SR 41, SR 132. Davis can be considered a part of "Central California," which is typified by the location of the central valley. More specifically, Davis is located in the northern part of the California Central Valley. Most of Central California tends to be more politically conservative compared with the big metropolitan centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
While most people imagine Central Cal as being mostly flat, dry grass with an occasional gas station, Central Cal is actually quite diverse. In this vast space, you have the scorching Mojave desert, rolling hills in Kern county, farm land as far as the eye can see from Bakersfield to Stockton, huge towering snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada Range running up the spine of the state, and the desolate Great Basin region around Bishop and Lone Pine. UC Davis also has a page about stuff going on in the Central Valley.
Bakersfield and the Lower Valley
Bakersfield proper is one of the larger cities in the Central Valley and has an estimated current population of around 400,000 people. The city is home to a large population of basques oddly enough. According to Wikipedia "The town is owned by Mark Powell, a very awesome guy." To the south, where Highway 99 connects with the I-5, the two freeways go through a region of rolling hills and is home to the stretch of road called the "Grapevine."
Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley
It is currently estimated that the Fresno area has about 1,000,000 people and is the sixth largest city in California. Fresno is located along Highway 99 in the San Joaquin region of the Central Valley. In the last few decades, Fresno has grown at a tremendous pace. The surrounding region is made up of smaller suburbs like Clovis and Sanger. A bit further south is the town of Visalia which was once home to the Yokut Indians. Going north you'll find Madera and Merced. UC Merced is somewhere around there. Modesto is a nice little city, growing larger and larger each day though; it has about 200,000 residents currently and lies at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Modesto has some of the worst smog in all of California. You can take Highway 132 from Modesto if you are in a hurry to get to the Bay Area.
Stockton is a growing city. It has a regional population of about 300,000 and is in the middle of a large citywide redevelopment program. Due to high housing prices in the Bay Area, residents have been moving to Stockton and her suburbs causing a large influx of traffic on many of the freeways in the area resembling Sacramento congestion. The city has the largest freshwater port in the state, with huge barges that tower over city buildings and canals that run through portions of the city. The Battleship USS Iowa is set to be moored in Stockton as a floating museum that the city hopes will attract lots of tourism and bolster its economy. San Francisco turned the offer down citing opposition to war (and instruments of) in general. In Stockton, one has a chance to switch from the I-5 to Highway 99 with relative ease as both freeway come in close proximity to one another as they converge toward Sacramento. To the south, you can also catch either freeway in the town of Manteca, which in Spanish, means butter.
Recently, however, Stockton has gotten a lot of negative press for the uptake in violence the city has seen. Stockton set personal homicide records in 2011 and 2012. That, coupled with the city's bankruptcy, has left many people with a bad impression of Stockton.
The Sierra Nevada Range
The Sierra Nevada are a range of mountains that start in Kern County and run all the way up to the northern border with Oregon. Lush, and filled with lots of recreation spots, the Sierra Nevada Range is a huge vacation spot for people across the state. Yosemite National Park, which is one of the busiest parks in the nation, is nestled within its walls. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks can be found much further south. Lake Tahoe (also another vacation spot) is only hours away along the I-80 from Davis and offers a wide variety of activities from gambling, water skiing and camping. The Sierras are perhaps the most interesting part of Central California.
The Great Basin and Owens Valley
The Great Basin region stretches from the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. With few towns in between long stretches of road and open country, it could be a little depressing. Death Valley National Park is on the southern end of this region. Beautiful but hot and dry, there are some sand dunes that are worth checking out there. North of that is the Owens Valley region. The water from Owens River was diverted long ago to aqueducts that help provide water to the Los Angeles region. Owens Lake, long dried up, is now a bare caked lake bed that offers little other then emptiness and occasional respiratory fungal infections from dust storms. US Route 395 which is the main road in this region has several nice towns like Independence, Bishop and Lone Pine. Bishop with a population around 4,000 is the largest. Finally, there are Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake. A good place to getaway to and relax.