The best small towns in the Central Valley of California

What’s so special about California’s Central Valley? It’s home to about 2 million acres of the world’s most productive farmland. It’s uniquely centered between three spectacular national parks – Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite.

The population of approximately 6.5 million mostly live in the Valley’s cities. However, the Central Valley is also home to many small towns, some dating back to the 19th century. Unlike the Valley’s larger towns and cities, the pace of life in these small towns is slower, and there exists a keen sense of community and connection to the land.

Unfortunately, many of the towns and smaller cities in the Valley are struggling to “stay alive”; some have even been abandoned over the years.  But there are still a number of areas that have retained their small town charm where residents can still walk, bike, or take a short drive to their favorite restaurant, movie theater, or shops.

If you’d like to explore the Central Valley’s best small towns, check out some of our lesser known favorites. 

Some of our favorites

Our choice for the best small towns in the Central Valley includes:

Woodland:  Woodland’s Main Street continues to be the center of this town, located about 15 miles northwest of Sacramento and the seat of Yolo County. In addition to a variety of restaurants, bars, and  small businesses, you’ll find the town’s City Hall, a 19th century Victorian classic, rebuilt during the Depression. You’ll also spot the Woodland Opera House, a national historic landmark and state park.

Hanford:  Downtown Hanford, the seat of Kings County, stretches for blocks, from the old commercial core of the town to the town square, housing the King County Courthouse and jail which has been converted into a restaurant. The Hanford Fox Theater, built in 1929, now features live musical acts. Many consider Hanford to have the best downtown in the Valley.

Lodi: After JC Penney and Woolworth closed their doors in downtown Lodi in the 1990’s, the area appeared to be on the verge of collapse. However, a strong push to redevelop has resulted in a downtown with a variety of restaurants, shops, a movie house, street fairs, and regular farmers’ markets.

Delano: Located off of Highway 99 in Kern County, Delano, incorporated in 1916,  has an extensive downtown, with dining, recreation, and entertainment catering to its multicultural population.

The town you’ve never heard of…

Then, there’s the small farm town of Del Rio, also found in Central Valley, CA. You won’t be able to find Del Rio on any map because it’s a product of the rich imagination of author Jane Rosenthal.

Del Rio is Rosethal’s latest novel, a crime thriller set in the fictional Central Valley town of Del Rio. The protagonist, DA Callie McCall, must travel to the west Coast of Mexico in order to solve a violent crime committed in Del Rio, her hometown.

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