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Central California
Central California is most commonly identified with 10 counties in the southeast part of Northern California
Central California is most commonly identified with 10 counties in the southeast part of Northern California
Country United States
State California
Region Central California
Time zone Pacific Standard Time
 • Summer (DST) Pacific Daylight Time
Area code(s) 209, 559, 661, 805, 831

Central California is generally thought of as the middle third of the state, north of Southern California, which includes Los Angeles, and south of Northern California, which includes San Francisco. It includes the northern portion of the San Joaquin Valley (which itself is the southern portion of the Central Valley, beginning at the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta), part of the Central Coast, the central hills of the California Coast Ranges and the foothills and mountain areas of the central Sierra Nevada.

Central California is considered to be west of the crest of the Sierra Nevada. East of the Sierra is Eastern California. The largest cities in the region (over 50,000 population), from most to least populous, are Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto, Salinas, Visalia, Clovis, Santa Maria, Merced, Turlock, Madera, Lodi, Tulare, Porterville, Hanford and Delano. Over time, droughts and wildfires have increased in frequency and become less seasonal and more year-round, further straining the region's water security.


Central California can have widely varying definitions depending on the context. Some divide the state by lines of latitude making northern, central and southern sections. Others divide by county lines or watershed boundaries. Some definitions include more of the San Joaquin Valley and even larger portions of the Central Valley. Some have less or none of Central Coast.

Generally the widest definition of central California is the middle third of the state by latitude.

Big Sur June 2008
Big Sur Coast


Central California as defined above includes the following 10 counties:


Area cities and towns listed below are major regional centers or county seats.


The following regions are entirely contained within central California:

The following regions are partly contained within central California:


Central California has opened two new universities recently, one in each of the past two decades.

The University of California has one campus in the region. University of California, Merced opened on a newly constructed site on the east side of Merced in 2005.

The California State University system has four campuses in the region. California State University, Monterey Bay opened on the site of the former Fort Ord army base in 1994. California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock opened in 1957. California State University, Fresno opened in 1911.

The Monterey Institute of International Studies is a graduate school that offers eleven master's degree programs in international policy, international management, language teaching, and translation and interpretation. The Monterey Institute of International Studies is a graduate school of Middlebury College.

San Joaquin College of Law is a private, nonprofit law school located in Clovis.

Fresno Pacific University is a private university in Fresno.

The Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute are located in Monterey.

The following community college campus sites are in the region:

  • Columbia College in Sonora, Tuolumne County
  • Clovis Community College in Clovis, Fresno County
  • Fresno City College in Fresno, Fresno County
  • Hartnell College in Salinas, Monterey County
  • Merced College in Merced, Merced County
  • Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Stanislaus County
  • Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, Monterey County
  • Porterville College in Porterville, Tulare County
  • Reedley College in Fresno, Fresno County
  • College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Tulare County
  • West Hills College Coalinga in Coalinga, Fresno County
  • West Hills College Lemoore in Lemoore, Kings County
  • Madera Community College in Madera, Madera County
  • Oakhurst Community College Center in Oakhurst, Madera County

There are no community colleges in Mariposa or San Benito Counties.

Major highways

Most of the major highways in the region run north-south around the mountains. Interstate 5 and State Route 99 are the primary highways in the San Joaquin Valley. US 101 and State Route 1 are the major coastal highways.

  • California 1.svg State Route 1: Central Coast, Monterey, Big Sur
  • I-5 (CA).svg Interstate 5: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 25.svg State Route 25: Hollister, Diablo Range, Pinnacles Nat'l Park
  • California 33.svg State Route 33: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 41.svg State Route 41: San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, Yosemite Nat'l Park
  • California 43.svg State Route 43: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 49.svg State Route 49: Gold Country
  • California 63.svg State Route 63: San Joaquin Valley, Visalia
  • California 65.svg State Route 65: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 68.svg State Route 68: Monterey, Salinas
  • California 99.svg State Route 99: San Joaquin Valley, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Bakersfield
  • US 101 (CA).svg U.S. Route 101: Salinas Valley, Salinas
  • California 108.svg State Route 108: San Joaquin Valley, Modesto, Gold Country, Sonora, Sierra Nevada
  • California 120.svg State Route 120: San Joaquin Valley, Gold Country, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Nat'l Park
  • California 132.svg State Route 132: San Joaquin Valley, Modesto, Gold Country
  • California 137.svg State Route 137: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 140.svg State Route 140: San Joaquin Valley, Merced, Yosemite Nat'l Park
  • California 145.svg State Route 145: San Joaquin Valley, Madera
  • California 146.svg State Route 146: Pinnacles Nat'l Park
  • California 152.svg State Route 152: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 156.svg State Route 156: Salinas Valley, Salinas, Hollister
  • California 168.svg State Route 168: Fresno, Sierra Nevada
  • California 180.svg State Route 180: San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park
  • California 190.svg State Route 190: San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada
  • California 198.svg State Route 198: Diablo Range, San Joaquin Valley, Hanford, Visalia, Sequoia Nat'l Park
  • California 201.svg State Route 201: San Joaquin Valley
  • California 233.svg State Route 233: Chowchilla
  • California 245.svg State Route 245: San Joaquin Valley, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park


Passenger rail in the region consists of the Amtrak long-haul Coast Starlight and Amtrak California San Joaquin routes.

The California High-Speed Rail system is under planning. If built, it would have stations in Fresno and Merced on the initial line between San Francisco/San Jose and Los Angeles.

Freight rail is served by commercial railroads. Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway operate mainline freight through the region in the Central Valley.


Major and regional airline service are available at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Monterey Regional Airport. Regional airline service is also available at Modesto City-County Airport, Merced Municipal Airport and Visalia Municipal Airport.

General Aviation airports exist in all 10 counties. The largest are former military bases converted to civilian airports

  • Castle Airport in Merced County
  • Marina Municipal Airport in Monterey County
  • Porterville Municipal Airport in Tulare County
  • Salinas Municipal Airport in Monterey County
  • Visalia Municipal Airport in Tulare County

An active military air base is at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County and the 144th Fighter Wing is stationed at Fresno Air National Guard Base in Fresno County

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