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Living In Central California:
Central California has tons to offer, even though it may not get as much attention as other regions of California because of the presence of larger cities like Los Angeles in Southern California and San Francisco in Northern California.
However, there is still much to learn about the cities in Central California. This article will dive into the details of ten of the most popular cities in Central California and explore their unique histories, what drives the local economy, and what universities or colleges you can find in each one.
Whether you are planning a trip through Central California or just want to learn more, this article will help you learn more about this region.
Originally founded in 1873, Bakersfield is currently the ninth-largest city in the entire state of California. Just one year later in 1874, it became the county seat of Kern County and experienced a boom in population from new residents migrating from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and even Southern California. Moving into the twentieth century, the history of Bakersfield was punctuated by a major earthquake in 1952.
This earthquake was felt all the way from San Francisco farther north all the way to the Mexican border in the south. The earthquake had a major impact on Bakersfield, but the city recovered. Matching the huge growth at the end of the nineteenth century, between 1970 and 2010, Bakersfield’s population grew by 400%.
The major university in Bakersfield is California State University at Bakersfield, part of the California State University system. Much of the economy of Bakersfield is centered around agriculture and petroleum.
In fact, Kern County—where Bakersfield is located—is the fourth most productive county in the entire United States in terms of oil production. Among the top employers in Bakersfield are multiple farms, the Chevron corporation, and Aera Energy, which is representative of the predominance of agriculture and oil to the city.
Fresno, California Is The Fifth Largest City In California:
Fresno is currently the fifth largest city in California. Named for the ash trees found by early European settlers—Fresno resembles the Spanish word for ash tree—the city was not officially incorporated until 1885, although there had been plenty of settlements in and around the area of modern-day Fresno for the past century.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Fresno was a relatively diverse city. However, because of its larger proportion of Japanese-Americans, Fresno was also home to an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Fresno continued to grow rapidly throughout the rest of the twentieth century.
Fresno hosts California State University, Fresno, although there are also several other institutions of higher education in the city. While Fresno itself is the economic hub for the entire San Joaquin Valley, much of the rural area surrounding the city is used for large-scale commercial farming.
In fact, Cargill Meat Solutions is one of the top employers in the entire city of Fresno. Notable other top employers in Fresno are the city itself, various medical centers, and California State University, Fresno.
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Merced Is Important To Central California:
Merced, California is much smaller than both Fresno and Bakersfield however it’s an important city to Central California. With a population of just over 80,000, Merced is nearly five times smaller than both cities.
Merced was first incorporated in 1889 as a charter city and is named after the nearby river of the same name. Following the Great Recession nearly a decade ago, Merced is among the cities most severely affected by the economic downturn. Estimates suggest that values of homes in Merced fell to values similar to their values in the 1990s.
However, Merced has still experienced recent growth despite having to deal with the collapsing home values.
Merced is home to one of the newest universities in California, the University of California, Merced (commonly known as UC Merced). This institution was founded fifteen years ago in 2005. Traditionally, the economy of Merced has been built upon the combination of commercial agriculture and the nearby Castle Air Force Base.
This Air Force base is now closed, however, and recently, the economy of Merced has undergone diversification, with industries like printing, boat building, logistics, and packing have all moved into the city. Merced is well-connected to the rest of California by air travel, bus travel, and train travel.
It also sits on state highways 59, 99, and 140.
Modesto Is Home To A Famous Winery:
Originally founded in 1884, Modesto was first named after the financier William Ralston. In recognition of his own (perceived) humility, Ralston declared that the city was to be renamed to Modesto. The town itself grew out of a train stop on the route from Sacramento to Los Angeles.
Merced, CA grew steadily throughout the twentieth century and is currently the eighteenth largest city in California. During the Second World War, Modesto provided various foodstuffs for the Allied soldiers fighting overseas.
Modesto does not host a four-year university. However, Modesto Junior College, a two-year junior college can be found in the city. Because of the fertile land surrounding it, much of Modesto’s economy comes from the agricultural output of this land. It also hosts the largest winery in the world—E & J Gallo Winery.
This company is also the largest employer in Modesto, employing approximately five thousand people. As a byproduct of the E & J Gallo Winery, the Gallo Glass Company has also become the largest manufacturer of wine bottles in the world.
Salinas, California – Agricultural Technology Hub:
Salinas is the largest city in Monterey County, with a population of more than 150,000 people. Although the lands around Salinas have been occupied since as early as the year 200, the modern Salinas was not incorporated until 1874. Due to a huge influx of Chinese workers to drain the swampland around Salinas in order to create arable farmland, the city is home to the second-largest Chinatown in the state, second only to San Francisco itself.
Following the Second World War, Salinas grew quickly throughout the 1950s and 1960s, which resulted in much of the surrounding farmland being converted into suburban homes.
Salinas does not have the same institutions of higher education that you can find in other cities in Central California like Fresno and Bakersfield.
The city is home only to a satellite campus of California State University, Monterey Bay and Hartnell College. With respect to its economy, Salinas is known for being a key player in the growing field of agricultural technology. The fact that Salinas is so close to California’s famed Silicon Valley facilitates its importance to the agricultural technology industry.
San Luis Obispo, California – A Great College Town:
San Luis Obispo, commonly abbreviated as SLO, is one of the oldest European-founded settlements in California. SLO was founded in 1772 by Spanish Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra. The original mission was named after Louis of Toulouse, a thirteenth-century saint. More recently, shortly after California joined the Union, SLO was associated with high levels of crime and lawlessness.
In the twentieth century, SLO gained popularity as a stop for drivers traveling north from Los Angeles.
San Luis Obispo is home to California Polytechnic University—the university campus is located directly outside the city. The university is also a huge driver of the local economy. Cal Poly is the largest employer in the entire city, with more than 2,500 employees.
There is also a tourism industry in SLO, given its historic nature. Furthermore, its downtown is filled with eclectic and unique shops.
Santa Maria, California Has A Diverse Economy:
Santa Maria is located just one hundred and fifty miles north of Los Angeles. With a population of just over 100,000, Santa Maria is the largest city of Santa Barbara County.
The town was incorporated in the early twentieth century—in 1905. Just prior to its incorporation, many large-scale discoveries of oil around the city were made. For example, the Lompoc and Cat Canyon fields were founded in 1903 and 1908, respectively.
Santa Maria benefits from a diverse economy. The top employer in the city is the Vandenburg Air Force base. Of course, given the oil fields in the area, the oil industry also plays a significant role in the economy of Santa Maria. Finally, the rich agriculture in the region also contributes.
Different fruits and vegetables like strawberries, wine grapes, and lettuce are commonly grown in the area. Finally, there is a growing wine industry around Santa Maria. In fact, Santa Maria is even known as the town with the best barbecue in the West!
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Paso Robles, California And The Ancient Hot Springs:
Paso Robles was founded on the site of ancient hot springs.
The presence of those springs means that the area has been inhabited by people for a long time, well before the arrival of Europeans into California. However, the current Paso Robles was founded as a small town that grew out of a railroad stop—Paso Robles was incorporated as a city in 1889.
After its incorporation, Paso Robles quickly expanded and before long featured such benefits as a library, barbershop, lounges and, of course, baths in the hot springs.
Paso Robles is home to Cuesta College, a public community college. There is no full university in Paso Robles. Wine is a crucial part of the economy in Paso Robles.
There are numbers of vineyards and wineries all around Paso Robles, and you can find in excess of 25 different types of grapes grown in these vineyards. In addition to its wine production, Paso Robles is also home to several firms specializing in designing eco-friendly buildings. In fact, there are many eco-friendly buildings in Paso Robles itself.
Stockton, California’s Growing Population:
Stockton is the thirteenth-largest city in California with a growing population of more than 300,000 people. The city was founded as a result of the California Gold Rush, although there had been a ranch on the current site of Stockton prior to the gold rush.
Stockton was officially incorporated as a city in 1850—it’s one of the earliest cities on this list to actually become incorporated. Stockton changed throughout the twentieth century. By 1930, there were several streetcars serving Stockton residents, and in World War II, Stockton hosted an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
The University of the Pacific is located in Stockton. In addition to the University of the Pacific, there are also several other institutions of higher education in the city, though the University of the Pacific is undoubtedly the best known. Stockton was also hit hard by the Great Recession when the median price of a home in Stockton declined by 44%.
As a result, Stockton was the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy protection when it filed in 2012—it has since been surpassed by Detroit.
Economically speaking, Stockton now has a diverse economy. Corporations are driven to establish regional headquarters in Stockton because of its proximity to both San Francisco and Sacramento and the city’s low costs for land and for buildings.
Visalia, California Has a Vibrant Manufacturing Sector:
Relative to the other cities discussed here, Visalia is very much mid-sized—it is not as large as cities like Fresno and Stockton, but it is larger than small towns like Modesto and Merced. Much like Stockton, a significant portion of Visalia’s growth can be attributed to the Gold Rush.
Visalia’s history features two incorporations. The first happened during the American Civil War, while the second in 1874 classified Visalia as a city. Since then, Visalia has seen labor strikes and famous burglaries in the nearly 150 years that have passed since its incorporation.
The only public college in Visalia is the College of the Sequoia’s, a local community college. However, there is also a satellite location for Fresno State University in Visalia, along with several others. Most of Visalia’s economy comes from agriculture.
You can find farms growing things from cotton to citrus nearby. In addition to its farming success, Visalia also has a vibrant manufacturing sector. Facilities in and around Visalia build both electronic components and paper.
Low Central CA, Mortgage Rates:
Low mortgage rates in Central California have been a big reason why home values have increased over the last 20-30 years. In addition to low rates the economy of Central California is strong and continues to grow. We believe this trend will continue as the job base in Central Continue continues to get bigger while more companies expand their business.
The 30 year fixed mortgage rate is the most popular fixed rate mortgage term in Central California. The 20 year fixed rate mortgage and the 15 year fixed rate mortgage are also popular but to a lesser degree.
First time home buyers in Central California have many mortgage options to choose from. With access to low down payment options, less than perfect credit options and popular home renovation loans, like the FHA 203(k) program, first time home buyers continue to be active in Central California.
Additional California Cities:
If you’re looking for additional information on another California city please be sure to visit the main California Mortgage Company page.