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LA to the Bay via Freeway 99 w/ Cheese
State Route 99 cuts straight through the Central Valley to Sacramento via Bakersfield and Fresno (see map below). And if you get too lost in your audiobook after the 5 skirts Angeles National Forest and meanders into the middle of nowhere, you might accidentally end up on it as we did yesterday. We didn't realize our mistake until we took note of the multicolored flowering bushes lining the median of the freeway, obscuring a great deal of the vast nothingness that dominates the middle part of the LA to the Bay road trip.
It must have taken decades if not centuries to plant a solid median of shrubbery across the backbone of this long state, we thought. Perhaps millions of seedlings were dropped by one of those supertanker fire-fighting jets or distributed by one of those Zamboni-like salt trucks native to the nation's winter roads. Was this extra work provided by the state to the central valley's orange farm workers who were left jobless by the January freeze?
We knew for sure we had blow our exit long before the signs for frightening Fresno began to appear and so we took lunch at "Cafe 99" or "Bravo Farms" or "Rick's Tri-Tip" or "Taste of the Valley" or "Cheese Tours Here." After a burly man delivered chips and salsa to our counter-seats with a menu flaunting the "best cheeseburger in California," we didn't really care what they called the place.
It smelled like ribs, but we went with burgers -- they were said to be the best, after all, and we were on the look out for an In n' Out anyway. Replete with the vintage signs and kitsch typical of any roadside attraction in this country from the Brat Stop to the Route 66 Diner, this place in Traver, near Visalia, was definitely one of a kind. I mean, where else can you watch cheese being processed with a flat screen plasma playing some video of cows in distress right above you? No, we didn't take the tour, although we weren't so grossed out as to not be able to buy some souvenirs -- Western Sage Cheddar and Chipotle Cheddar... as well as a jar of Italian-style pickled garlic.
Sadly, we couldn't stay for the 3-6 pm daily happy hour, which, considering Traver's population of 690, most likely consists of people driving through (someone was pulled over about 15 miles north of Traver). But 2 or 3 bucks during happy hour buys you some tasty-looking IPAs -- Stone and some of the central valley's finest, including Lagunitas, Red Tail and Halo, to go along with the watery Coors and Rock Green Lights. Drink five and get one free. Beware of drunk drivers on the 99.
This is a recommended route... clearly not as boring as the 5... and, especially if you're going to points in East Bay (say, Oakland), you're only tacking on an extra 22 miles. Perfect for those of us that prefer a more circular route to going back the same way we came. And those Cafe 99 burgers are damn good. Look for the "Bravo Farms" signs.