Central California

Central California is a subregion of Northern California, generally thought of as the middle third of the state, north of Southern California. 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), the Central Coast, the central hills of the California Coast Ranges, and the foothills and mountain areas of the central Sierra Nevada.

Central California
Central California is most commonly identified with 10 counties in the southeast part of Northern California
CountryUnited States
RegionNorthern California
Time zonePacific Standard Time
  Summer (DST)Pacific Daylight Time
Area code(s)209, 559, 805, 831, 661

Central California is considered to be west of the crest of the Sierra Nevada. (East of the Sierras 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, and Hanford.


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. The southern boundary of that area would be 35° 41', which nearly coincides with the county lines already used for the southern boundary that cross the state west-to-east below Monterey, Kings and Tulare Counties. The northern boundary of that area at 38° 51' crosses just north of the Sacramento metro area. However, the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento metro areas are traditionally considered parts of Northern California, intuitively grouped together as the northern urban center within the state. That leaves the most accepted definitions of central California to the areas south of there.


Central California as defined above includes the following 16 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:[1]

There are no community colleges in Madera, 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.


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

An active military air base is at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County.


Variations on significant/influential definitions of the term central California are collected in this section.

The following counties are self-described as being in central California or central within California:

  • Fresno County
    • Fresno County's intro paragraph on its web site says its in central California.[2]
  • Madera County
    • Madera County describes itself as located "in the exact center of California."[3]
    • Madera County Economic Development Commission describes the county as "located in the geographical center of California".[4]
  • Tulare County
    • Tulare County describes itself as "centrally located within the State of California".[5]

The following are definitions by influential organizations:


  1. "College Listings". California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Archived from the original on 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2010-01-23.
  2. "About the County". Fresno County, California. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  3. "Madera County Statistical Information". Madera County, California. Archived from the original on 2010-01-16. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  4. "Madera County Economic Development Commission". Madera County Economic Development Commission. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  5. "About Tulare County". Tulare County, California. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  6. "Map of California". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  7. "Highway Information Area Maps". California Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  8. "Contact Us". Central California Better Business Bureau. Retrieved 2010-01-24.

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