The Sacramento Valley is the portion of the California Central Valley that lies to the north of the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta in the state of California. It encompasses all or parts of ten counties, including the county of Sacramento and our own Yolo County.
The Sacramento Valley is about 200 miles (320 km) long and 50 miles (80 km) wide, becoming narrower to the north. It is bordered by the San Joaquin Valley to the south, the Sierra Nevada to the east, Cascade Mountains to the northeast, Klamath Mountains to the northwest, and the Coast Ranges to the west. The Valley has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry springs, summers, and autumns, and cool, wet, foggy winters.
At first glance, the Sacramento Valley may look more like Nebraska than California, especially when contrasted with the rugged terrain in the rest of the state. But it is much more than “flyover country”; indeed, the Sacramento Valley has a rich natural and human history, and today is one of the country’s leading agricultural regions, producing crops such as almonds, grapes, olives, rice, tomatoes, and many others.
The Sacramento Valley is drained by the 382-mile (615-km) long Sacramento River and its many tributaries, including the Putah Creek, on whose banks the city of Davis was originally established. In its natural state, the Sacramento Valley was mostly a grassland, but trees grew in abundance along the banks of watercourses. Many bird species wintered in the region, and tule elk and grizzly bears roamed. However, the environment has been drastically altered by human activity; the native perennial grasses have been almost completely replaced by annuals introduced from Europe, and the grizzly bear has been hunted to extinction in California. In addition, the Maidu and Miwok Indians, the original human inhabitants of the Valley, were decimated by European-introduced diseases; the Hudson’s Bay Company reportedly infected the Indians with malaria and smallpox on purpose. The Gold Rush further devastated the Valley’s indigenous population.