Truth be told, not all holiday traditions are ones we look forward to. For many of us the season includes the annual family tradition of heading south on I-5 to visit loved ones.
We prepare ourselves as best we can with books on CD, mini screens for little people and, of course, ear buds and iTunes for tweenagers, but it’s a long haul no matter how you look at it.
We all know it’s recommended to get out of Old Bessie from time to time and stretch our legs, and — let’s be honest here — get some space away from the loved ones we have been squished next to for hours.
With this in mind, you may want to rethink your plans on your next interstate foray.
On my recent expedition on the I-5, my friend and I decided to follow my daughter’s suggestion of taking Highway 99 for one leg of the trip. She said that by doing this she had discovered a spot worth a stop for the whole family, Bravo Farms.
My recollection of 99 was that it was a slow-going, two-lane road. Imagine my surprise on discovering that the 99 has been widened and paved, and moves along nearly as quickly as the interstate. Had it really been that long since I was on this route?
The L.A. Times likened Bravo Farms to the original Knott’s Berry Farm before it became an amusement park.
At the Traver exit, you almost automatically pull into the parking lot of Bravo Farms. Before the off-ramp you’ll see clever signs letting you know that you are almost there. This begins to set the mood in the car to upbeat.
With a facade that resembles the Old West towns of the 1800s, Bravo Farms was originally known as the “Hitching Post.” Over the last 25 years it has become a favorite destination for Central Valley locals as well as travelers.
Step inside and you’ll find a simple restaurant, cheese shop, antique store, gift shop abundant with local food products, including local craft beer and wine tasting, and an arcade. It’s nothing fancy, but clean, well maintained and thoughtfully organized. They also boast the largest selection of beef jerky, cheeses and dried fruits in the Central Valley.
Order at the counter and then select a seat indoors or on picnic-style tables out front or in the quad. My only caution is don’t pick a seat too close to the petting zoo.
You’re welcomed by aromas from the open pit barbecue. My friend’s plate only held a pile of bones, so safe to assume the St. Louis-style ribs were really good. My pulled pork sandwich stuffed with a generous helping of savory coleslaw was really, really good. I’d order it again in a heartbeat. You can also enjoy classic Tex-Mex cuisine in Wild Jacks restaurant.
Save room for some delightful Rosa Brothers ice cream or their famous date shake in the ice cream parlor.
Let the kids run off some energy in this family-friendly environment. There is a seven-story tree house as well as the petting zoo, and even a mini golf course.
Stretch your legs by looking around. Every inch of wall space is decorated with antique license plates, and signs from several decades. Lots of nostalgia to be found.
Locally owned and operated, Bravo Farms prides itself on supporting local farms and businesses both on their menu and in their shops.
It’s a great place to grab a last-minute gift. I couldn’t walk away without a bag of dried strawberries, like candy, some of the best green olives I’ve had in a long time and a healthy wedge of white cheddar cheese with sage. My only regret is not buying more of the cheese. It was the key to an amazing au gratin. Oh, and then there is my new set of 1940s retro S & P shakers.
Your first reaction might be that you don’t have time to dawdle, you have to get to your destination or you have to get home. I encourage you to remember that these road trips are also family moments to be shared and not just because you are elbow-to-elbow in the car, but because the journey is as important as the destination. Instead of arriving tired and grumpy you might just arrive having had some fun along the way.
Honestly, the stop for lunch and a wander through the property only added about an hour to our trip. We would have stopped for a bite anyway.
The family now has four locations, with each facility featuring its own distinct offerings. I can only speak to my experience in Traver, but you may be able to enjoy a visit in Tulare, Visalia or Kettleman City, depending on where your road trip takes you.