Los Banos is in the virtual center of California
"Los Banos gets it's name from the seasonal springs"
A common misconception that I had was that Los Banos (an Anglicized version of the Spanish name meaing "the baths") received its name from some kind of hot springs which had attracted the first visitors to the area. In fact, the seasonal wetlands of the west central San Joaquin Valley are a refuge for all sorts of wildlife, something of a surprise as generally speaking this part of the state tends to dry up for the summer months. Cattle barons ran their herds through the area until recently. Now, a good portion of the region east of Los Banos has been dedicated as a wildlife refuge and native grassland preserve. To the west is the San Luis reservoir recreation area and the Pacheco Pass which leads to California's coastal valleys. Summer heat in Los Banos is oppressive, and today, there's not a lot to do, except check out the authentic Merced county fair or pass through and dine on the locally authentic Mexican style food. The city is expanding fast due to bedroom communities that can feed into the Silicon Valley--just an hour away. At one end of Main street, at the edge of the old downtown is a plaza and bronze statue devoted to the fatherly cattle baron, Henry Miller, who estabished the city as the agricultural powerhouse it remains today.
"Los Banos is both traditional and corporate"
Most people driving through town will see boulevards of familiar corporate logos--Walmart, Home Depot, McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc. But, in the old town center, easy angle parking exists for a number of locally owned businesses (see restaurant tips). Unfortunately, the progress from Henry Miller's mid-19th century period through to the 1950's wasn't much. Most of the "old downtown" isn't really very old nor quaint in architectural style relative to Merced the larger city to the east that is the County seat. However, the Merced County Fair has its home in Los Banos, and I would expect that the prize winning cattle and agricultural ribbon winners are more authentic hometown than most urbanized Bay Area fairs.