ON THE PACHECO PASS, CENTRAL CALIFORNIA
The Pacheco Pass, also known as Highway 152, connects the Central Valley with Silicon Valley and the Pacific coast. It winds its way from Los Baños, in Merced County, to Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. Home of the annual garlic festival, Gilroy features shops and roadside stands hawking diverse types of garlic memorabilia along with fresh produce.
Just west of Los Baños, the Pacheco Pass affords views of the huge San Luis Reservoir and rolling hills grazed by cattle.
About three-quarters of the way across is the mega rest stop and tourist trap known as Casa de Fruta (Spanish for “fruit house”). As I am originally from the east coast, it reminds me a bit of South of the Border on Interstate 95 in Dillon, South Carolina. As kids making the semiannual car trip from New York to Florida, we would beg my father to stop there, seduced by the Burma Shave style advertising signs along the interstate. He acceded to our whining only once, and he was right, the place was a schlocky, notorious tourist trap.
Casa de Fruta has a Hollister postal address, but is actually about nine miles away from the town, located in a different county with a different telephone area code. The place contains shops selling outrageously priced fresh and dried fruit, candy, nuts, ice cream and souvenirs. We splurged on some dried apricots and pistachios.
There is a little train ride and a carousel for the kids, and you can go “prospecting” for precious metal à la Gold Rush.
Casa de Fruta is a convenient rest stop between the Bay Area and Fresno, but it’s a better place for a walk around than to spend your money on overpriced snacks and gewgaws.