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Small Town Travel
Food, Wine and Fun in Porterville, California
By travel writer Linda Kissam, 'Food, Wine & Shopping Diva'
There’s something very special about small towns. It seems when crossing the country by car, it's the big cities, with big advertising budgets that get all the attention. Places like Southern California, New Orleans, and Florida are favorites. But the U.S. is filled with small towns packed with character and unique glamour that are definitely worth stopping for. I have seen many in my travels, but five of them stand out for me, indelibly marked in my heart and soul. All are gateway towns to the grand Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, located in the Central Valley of California: Porterville, Three Rivers, Exeter, Visalia, and Tulare.
So begins a series of 5 articles on small town travel. First up is Porterville, CA, just 4 short hours from either San Francisco or L.A. and just a few short miles to the entrance of the Sequoia’s. Here's what this special city has to offer beyond visiting the national parks and why you should go.
Drop your suitcases off at the Holiday Inn Express. Expect a friendly greeting when
you arrive that backs up a commitment to exceptional customer service. This affordable
prime location lodging puts you within minutes of the Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia
& Kings Canyon National Park and California Hot Springs. The rooms are clean, comfortable
and nicely appointed. Enjoy a complete breakfast experience at the Express Start
breakfast bar, served every morning, complete with Signature Cinnamon Rolls. Hotel
features include an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, business center, fitness center, and
Head off to El Tapatio Restaurant just a few minutes from the hotel. They make everything
on site by cooking their chicken, beans, meat, salsas, and chips every day. According
Next up is downtown Porterville.
This is a vibrant town featuring a variety of places to eat, art stops, and specialty
shops. Stop in at Crave Café & Bakery for a unique sweet treat or a yummy lunch. As
much as possible owner Roxanne Serna buys locally and cooks from scratch. Some of
my fondest culinary memories of Porterville come from this stop. Try the fanciful
cupcakes… and the Rueben sandwich is to die-
Just down the street be sure to check in at the Imagine Community Art Center. Your
kids can take a break from your shopping activities to immerse themselves in a unique
art or music activity. Rebecca Grayson and Monte Reyes have a special connection
with the community. Imagine holds a mighty presence in the Porterville art scene
that you should definitely check out. Stroll across the street to cruise the Porterville
Art Association’s new digs. Large, airy and filled with art of all kinds (and price
points), this is the right place to check out the local art scene. I didn’t have
nearly enough time to spend here, but I did manage to part with my credit card for
a gift or two. There are several collections to view. Casual seating is available
to sit and view art. Knowledgeable docents gladly guide you, or do a self-
A few steps down the street takes you to Special Occasion’s & Gifts. This is a paradise
for the true gift shopper. If you can imagine it, it’s likely to be here. A mother-
Make sure to hit the best dress shop in town, Fashion Network. Owner Sandy Powell offers affordable chic clothing for all sizes. Tasteful displays, contemporary fashions, a solid shoe section and excellent customer service make this a local favorite. Sandy shared that she makes a trip to the LA Garment District every week to keep the store stocked with the latest fashions. I liked what I saw – a lot. The merchandise was more current and better stocked than some of the big town stores I frequent. This store deserves a visit.
For dinner mosey on over to Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Just a couple of doors down from
the Chamber of Commerce on Main Street, Dickey’s prides itself on an authentic BBQ
experience. With roots in Dallas, this Texas-
Just outside of town in Strathmore consider having lunch at Isabel Kahl’s Orange Works. The grounds are lovely, the food is fantastic and the ice cream (which comes with the lunch) is truly rich, creamy and unforgettable. Isabel is a true “local matters” proprietor. You’ll be treated to food and ice cream made fresh every day using local ingredients and you’ll always be treated as a family member with care, kindness and joy.
You’ll be close to Plano Jerky, so stop in for some of the best jerky products ever. Today the second generation is still producing a quality beef jerky. Products are made from scratch, all hand prepared, offering nine flavors, and ranging from Teriyaki to the Original Plano, with the option of regular or chunky cut. No artificial preservatives or flavoring in their Teriyaki line and all flavors are Natural Hickory Smoked. If you can’t make it, definitely order online.
One last stop also deserves your attention; Benjamin and Rob Taylor’s Staffords Famous
Chocolates. Oh what a sweet treat this is! Expect mouth-
Jump in your car or limo (Golden Touch Limousine is an excellent choice) to visit
the nearby Terra Bella wine country conveniently located off Highway 65 in Terra
Three family owned and operated boutique wineries are within 5 minutes of each other. Expect fruit forward reds and whites from Bella La Vina Farms, Las Flores Winery and La Belle Winery. Tasting charges range by winery but the price is well worth it. The grounds of each winery are distinctive and invite you to stay awhile, relax and breathe in some pure country air. Expect outstanding customer service in most cases provided by the owners and to taste most of your favorites from Chardonnay to Cab to Nebbiolo. You’ll be delighted by the unique blends and varietals, some of which were totally new to me. Those of you who love discovering emerging wine regions and tasting at small-