Central California is generally thought of as the middle third of the U.S. state, of California, north of Southern California, which includes Los Angeles, and south of Northern California, which includes San Francisco. It includes the northern portion of the San Joaquin Valley (which itself is the southern portion of the Central Valley, beginning at the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta), part of the Central Coast, the central hills of the California Coast Ranges and the foothills and mountain areas of the central Sierra Nevada.
Central California is considered to be west of the crest of the
Sierra Nevada. East of the Sierra is Eastern California. The largest cities in the region (over 50,000 population), from most to least populous, are Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto, Salinas, Visalia, Clovis, Santa Maria, Merced, Turlock, Madera, Lodi, Tulare, Porterville, Hanford and Delano. Over time, droughts and wildfires have increased in frequency and become less seasonal and more year-round, further straining the region's water security.  
Central California can have widely varying definitions depending on the context. Some divide the state by lines of latitude making northern, central and southern sections. Others divide by county lines or watershed boundaries. Some definitions include more of the
San Joaquin Valley and even larger portions of the Central Valley. Some have less or none of Central Coast.
Merced River from Yosemite Big Sur
Central California as defined above includes the following 10 counties:
The following counties are partially contained within central California:
Area cities and towns listed below are major regional centers or county seats.
The following regions are entirely contained within central California:
The following regions are partially contained within central California:
Central California has opened two new universities recently, one in each of the past two decades.
University of California has one campus in the region. University of California, Merced opened on a newly constructed site on the east side of Merced in 2005.
California State University system has four campuses in the region. California State University, Monterey Bay opened on the site of the former Fort Ord army base in 1994. California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock opened in 1957. California State University, Fresno opened in 1911.
Monterey Institute of International Studies is a graduate school that offers eleven master's degree programs in international policy, international management, language teaching, and translation and interpretation. The Monterey Institute of International Studies is a graduate school of Middlebury College.
San Joaquin College of Law is a private, nonprofit law school located in Clovis.
Fresno Pacific University is a private university in Fresno.
Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute are located in Monterey.
community college campus sites are in the region:
Columbia College in Sonora, Tuolumne County
Clovis Community College in Clovis, Fresno County
Fresno City College in Fresno, Fresno County
Hartnell College in Salinas, Monterey County
Merced College in Merced, Merced County
Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Stanislaus County
Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, Monterey County
Porterville College in Porterville, Tulare County
Reedley College in Fresno, Fresno County
College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Tulare County
West Hills College Coalinga in Coalinga, Fresno County
West Hills College Lemoore in Lemoore, Kings County
Madera Community College in Madera, Madera County Oakhurst Community College Center in Oakhurst, Madera County 
There are no community colleges in Mariposa or San Benito Counties.
Most of the major highways in the region run north-south around the mountains.
Interstate 5 and State Route 99 are the primary highways in the San Joaquin Valley. US 101 and State Route 1 are the major coastal highways.
State Route 1: Central Coast, Monterey, Big Sur
Interstate 5: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 25: Hollister, Diablo Range, Pinnacles Nat'l Park
State Route 33: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 41: San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, Yosemite Nat'l Park
State Route 43: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 49: Gold Country
State Route 63: San Joaquin Valley, Visalia
State Route 65: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 68: Monterey, Salinas
State Route 99: San Joaquin Valley, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Bakersfield
U.S. Route 101: Salinas Valley, Salinas
State Route 108: San Joaquin Valley, Modesto, Gold Country, Sonora, Sierra Nevada State Route 120: San Joaquin Valley, Gold Country, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Nat'l Park
State Route 132: San Joaquin Valley, Modesto, Gold Country
State Route 137: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 140: San Joaquin Valley, Merced, Yosemite Nat'l Park
State Route 145: San Joaquin Valley, Madera
State Route 146: Pinnacles Nat'l Park
State Route 152: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 156: Salinas Valley, Salinas, Hollister
State Route 168: Fresno, Sierra Nevada
State Route 180: San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park
State Route 190: San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada
State Route 198: Diablo Range, San Joaquin Valley, Hanford, Visalia, Sequoia Nat'l Park
State Route 201: San Joaquin Valley
State Route 233: Chowchilla State Route 245: San Joaquin Valley, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park
Passenger rail in the region consists of the Amtrak long-haul Coast Starlight and Amtrak California San Joaquin routes.
California High-Speed Rail system is under planning. If built, it would have stations in Fresno and Merced on the initial line between San Francisco/San Jose and Los Angeles.
Freight rail is served by commercial railroads. Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway operate mainline freight through the region in the Central Valley.
Major and regional airline service are available at
Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Monterey Regional Airport. Regional airline service is also available at Modesto City-County Airport, Merced Municipal Airport and Visalia Municipal Airport.
General Aviation airports exist in all 10 counties. The largest are former military bases converted to civilian airports
An active military air base is at
Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County and the 144th Fighter Wing is stationed at Fresno Air National Guard Base in Fresno County
Variations on significant/influential definitions of the term
central California are collected in this section.
The following counties are self-described as being in central California or central within California:
Fresno County's intro paragraph on its web site says it is in central California.  Madera County
Madera County describes itself as located "in the exact center of California."
 Madera County Economic Development Commission describes the county as "located in the geographical center of California".  Tulare County
Tulare County describes itself as "centrally located within the State of California". 
The following are definitions by influential organizations:
National Register of Historic Places splits California three ways with lines across the map, with central California being approximately above Los Angeles County and below Santa Clara and Merced Counties.  The
California Department of Transportation, or CalTrans, has a wide definition of the central portion of the state with several multi-county districts which have "central" in the name, combining the Central Coast and Central Valley. The North Central district covers Sacramento to Chico. The Central district covers Stockton to Merced, and Yosemite. The South Central district covers Madera, Fresno, and Bakersfield. The Central Coast district covers Santa Cruz to Monterey.  The Central California chapter of the Better Business Bureau defines their central California region to exclude the coastal counties and include Mono, Inyo and Kern Counties. Their definition is Fresno County, Inyo County, Kern County, Kings County, Madera County, Mariposa County, Merced County, Mono County, and Tulare County. 
"Drought.gov" . Retrieved . November 20, 2021
Boxall, Bettina; St. John, Paige (November 10, 2018). "California's most destructive wildfire should not have come as a surprise". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved . November 11, 2018
"Advancing Drought Science and Preparedness across the Nation". National Integrated Drought Information System. Archived from the original on November 11, 2018 . Retrieved . November 11, 2018
"College Listings". California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Archived from the original on January 21, 2010 . Retrieved . January 23, 2010
"Oakhurst Community College Center". Oakhurst Community College Center . Retrieved . December 8, 2020
"About the County". Fresno County, California. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011 . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"Madera County Statistical Information". Madera County, California. Archived from the original on January 16, 2010 . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"Madera County Economic Development Commission". Madera County Economic Development Commission . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"About Tulare County". Tulare County, California. Archived from the original on January 10, 2010 . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"Map of California". National Register of Historic Places . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"Highway Information Area Maps". California Department of Transportation . Retrieved . January 24, 2010
"Contact Us". Central California Better Business Bureau . Retrieved . January 24, 2010 Specific