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 is considered to be west of the crest of the Sierra Nevada. (East of the Sierras is Eastern California.) The largest cities (over 50,000 population) in the region are Fresno, Modesto, Salinas, Visalia, Clovis, Merced, Turlock, Madera, 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, Sacramento and Stockton 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 10 counties:
Area cities and towns listed below are major regional centers or county seats.
The following regions are entirely contained within central California:Big Sur
Kings Canyon National Park
Pinnacles National Park
Sequoia National Park
Yosemite National Park
The following regions are partly contained within central California:California Coast Ranges
San Francisco Bay Area
San Joaquin Valley
Sierra Nevada Mountains
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
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
There are no community colleges in Madera, Mariposa or San Benito Counties.
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 airportsCastle Airport in Merced County
Marina Municipal Airport in Monterey County
Porterville Municipal Airport in Tulare County
Salinas Municipal Airport in Monterey County
An active military air base is at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County.