Founded in 1877 as a Southern Pacific Railroad stop, Hanford had one of California's largest Chinatowns—the Chinese came to help build the railroads and stayed on to farm. If you arrive on a typically laid-back Hanford day, it might be hard to imagine the fatal skirmish that took place in 1880 between local settlers and railroad law agents over land titles. Known as the Mussel Slough Tragedy, the incident inspired Frank Norris's best-seller The Octopus.

You can take a self-guided walking tour of Hanford with the help of a free brochure from its visitor agency, which also books driving tours ($95 per hour) in a restored 1930 Studebaker fire truck. One tour explores the restored buildings of Courthouse Square, whose art deco Hanford Auditorium is a visual standout; another heads to narrow China Alley.

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