On a quest for a better alternative to fast food and gas station cafes, and armed with a curiosity for old California towns, I came across the small city of Avenal during a recent road trip. It’s located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, just five miles southwest of Interstate 5.
The roadside sign standing near city limits declared a population of 15,689; however, some quick research revealed that just over 7,000 citizens are actually inmates from the Avenal State Prison. I also discovered that most of the locals either work at the prison or are employed in agriculture.
Driving through town, visitors are greeted by a sign that says “Avenal: Oasis In The Sun.” A jaunt down Skyline Blvd. – the city’s main strip – revealed a deficit of franchise restaurants and chain stores and a surplus of locally owned mom-and-pop businesses.
Road trip on I-5? Skip the drive-thrus — stop in Avenal, near Bakersfield.
I lucked into Los Primos, a panaderia and taqueria, during an early morning visit. On a sleepy weekend the proprietors had fresh-baked breads and pastries available. Just outside their establishment was a grill where they were about to prepare their daily special of barbecoa de pollo, or barbeque chicken. The food was delicious!
For a true small-town experience, take a detour to Avenal. Just exit the I-5 and go west on Skyline Blvd. You can discover one of their locally owned restaurants, mingle with some locals, and enjoy a meal that will satisfy your hungry, road-weary stomach.