- Fresno County - Sprawling Fresno County is home to Fresno, California's fifth-largest city, and vast agricultural areas. The eastern side of the county is mountainous, featuring the remote wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, which attracts visitors to its giant sequoias and unspoiled meadows that lie at the crest of the Sierra Nevada range.
- Kern County - Kern County extends across a number of geographic regions: the western portion is in the San Joaquin Valley, the northeastern portion is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the southeastern part is in the Desert. Visitors to the county are most likely to be heading to Bakersfield, or traveling along Interstate 5 past oil fields and agricultural areas.
- Kings County - Rural Kings County is responsible for billions of dollars of annual agricultural production, much of it from the dairy industry. Travelers passing through on Interstate 5 may find the area lacking in attractions, although there are a few hotels and other amenities in the county's small towns.
- Madera County - Madera County's agricultural western half offers plenty of hotels and amenities for travelers, while the mountainous eastern half features unspoiled Sierra Nevada wilderness that is home to portions of Yosemite National Park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Devils Postpile National Monument with its impressive basalt columns and iconic Rainbow Falls. Be aware that there are no roads crossing the county from west to east, so it may be a very circuitous route for those who want to see everything Madera has to offer!
- Merced County - Located entirely within the San Joaquin Valley, most travelers will likely just take advantage of the county's hotels and other amenities, but there are a few attractions worth considering. The Castle Air Museum in Atwater is home to over 50 planes, while the Merced National Wildlife Refuge hosts thousands of waterfowl during winter months, including huge flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes.
- San Joaquin County - San Joaquin County lies at the eastern edge of the California Delta, an estuary formed by the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Nicknamed "California's Holland" due to the extensive levee system, the area is an interesting place to explore by car or boat. Stockton is the county's largest city and is notable for being the world's most inland natural seaport.
- Stanislaus County - While still primarily an agricultural county known for its almond trees, in recent years parts of Stanislaus County have been transforming into a bedroom community for people trying to escape the high housing costs of the Bay Area. Travelers will find plenty of amenities, although most only see the county while passing through on their way elsewhere.
- Tulare County - Tulare County is a region with two distinct personalities. The western half of the county lies within the agricultural Central Valley, offering rural landscapes as well as plenty of hotels and other amenities for travelers. The eastern portion of the county features the wilderness and high elevation of the Sierra Nevada range, including the largest trees on earth in Sequoia National Park, and the western slopes of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower-48 states.
Major cities within the San Joaquin Valley include:
English and Spanish are both spoken in the San Joaquin Valley. It's helpful to know a little of each, as many people speak only one or the other. Punjabi and Tagalog are also widely spoken by Indian and Filipino immigrants in major cities.
Interstate 5 and State Route 99 are the main routes through the region.
This is a car based area. Some public transit is available in the form of buses, but it is highly inefficient. Taxi service is also available by reservation.
The Central Valley can get very foggy in winter, making driving extremely dangerous with visibility of 100 feet and less. On the faster highways such as Interstate 5 and State Route 99, the fog can turn small accidents into smash-ups of dozens of cars.
Gang activity is quite common in the larger cities. Avoid being out alone after dark, and avoid wearing solid red or solid blue, as these are gang colors and may make you a target.
San Joaquin cities such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia, Merced, and Modesto have very bad air quality. In fact, all of these cities rank among the top 15 smoggiest cities in the U.S. Summer temperatures can soar above 110°F (45°C). Drink lots of water, heat strokes and dehydration is very common during the summer.
- Sacramento Valley and the Gold Country, to the north
- Sierra Nevada to the east
- Central Coast to the west
- Southern California to the south