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Wedged between the glitz of Southern California and the bustle of Northern California, the Central Coast and Valley Region is like a calm between two storms. But it's also an economic powerhouse in its own right: if Southern California has a claim on the music and film industries, and Northern California on finance and high-tech, the central region can claim pre-eminence in agriculture and oil.

Specifically, the San Joaquin Valley—the enormous heart of this region—produces most of the 13 percent of U.S. agricultural products that come from California. Everything from cotton to cattle to asparagus is grown in the Valley. And throughout its length, the Valley is dotted with the wells and refineries that make California the third-biggest petroleum-producing state.

The major cities of the region are Fresno, in the Valley, and Salinas and Monterey on the coast. Salinas, actually ten miles inland, is the epicenter of its own agricultural region, the Salinas Valley, which is a major producer of strawberries, grapes, and salad vegetables.

Monterey is the star attraction of this region. A small city rich in history (it was the capital of Spanish California) and in culture (the Monterey Jazz Festival has been held annually since 1958), Monterey was also long known for its fishing industry. But that industry collaped due to overfishing in the 1950s...and Monterey reinvented itself as an advocate for the protection of marine environments. The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases the local ecosystem, actually drawing all of its water directly from the bay itself.



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