The Salinas River is the largest river of the central coast of California, running 170 miles (270 km) and draining 4,160 square miles. It flows north-northwest and drains the Salinas Valley that slices through the Coast Range south from Monterey Bay. The Salinas is a wildlife corridor, and provides the principal source of water from its reservoirs and tributaries for the farms and vineyards of the valley.
The river starts in central San Luis Obispo County, at the north end of the La Panza Range, approximately 20 miles (32 km) east of San Luis Obispo. Its only dam forms the small Santa Margarita Lake. The use of the river for irrigation in the Salinas Valley makes it one of the most productive agricultural regions in California. It is especially known as one of the principal regions for lettuce and artichokes in the United States.