Los Banos is a city in Merced County, California, near the junction of State Route 152 and Interstate 5. Los Banos is located 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Merced, at an elevation of 118 feet (36 m). The population was 25,869 at the 2000 census. As of 2006 the World Gazetteer calculates the population as 35,054. The name los banos has its origins with Spanish and was named after a natural water spring that feeds natural wetlands in the western San Joaquín Valley. The original Spanish spelling was Los Baños, meaning "the baths" in reference to the adjacent water source. However, Los Banos means "the bathrooms" in common Spanish. Its official spelling is without the eñe. Official signs do not insert the tilde above the n. It can be pronounced as if the eñe were present as in "los banyos," or as it is spelled - an anglicized "loss bannos". The city is served by Los Banos Municipal Airport for air transport access.
Los Banos is located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in an area north of the Westlands Water District at . To the west is the San Luis Reservoir and Interstate 5, which runs north-to-south between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Los Banos is located next to coastal range mountains and hills.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.2 square miles (21.1 km²), of which, 8.0 square miles (20.8 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (1.47%) is water. It sits approximately fifty feet above sea level in elevation.
Los Banos sits on the southwestern edge of extensive national and state game refuges; wetlands that support waterfowl and other wildlife habitat along a stretch of the San Joaquin river that still carries water and the Grasslands Ecological Area, home to rare California Grasslands habitat. The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes San Luis National Wildlife Refuge which includes the Kesterson Unit, East Bear Creek, West Bear Creek and the Blue Goose Unit. Nearby are the Merced National Wildlife Refuge and the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. Fishers, hunters, birdwatchers and other recreational users flock to Los Banos year round.
Los Banos has an arid climate with cool winters and hot summers. Most of the rainfall occurs in the winter months. Average January temperatures are a maximum of 55.1°F and a minimum of 36.2°F. Average July temperatures are a maximum of 96.5°F and a minimum of 60.4°F. There are an average of 96.9 days with highs of 90°F (32°C) or higher. There are an average of 29.4 days with lows of 32°F (0°C) or lower. The record high temperature of 116°F was on July 25, 1931. The record low temperature of 14°F was on January 11, 1949, and December 22, 1990. Gusty winds are common in the late afternoon, especially in the vicinity of nearby Pacheco Pass.
Average annual rainfall in Los Banos is 9.21 inches. There an average of 46 days with measurable precipitation. The wettest year was 1998 with 21.08 inches and the dryest year was 1947 with 4.61 inches. The most rainfall in one month was 8.08 inches in March 1998. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 2.40 inches on January 18, 1914. Although snow is rare, 3.0 inches fell in January 1916 and 1.5 inches fell in January 1962.
As of the census of 2000, there were 25,869 people, 7,721 households, and 6,223 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,218.7 people per square mile (1,242.3/km²). There were 8,049 housing units at an average density of 1,001.5/sq mi (386.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 58.61% White, 4.25% African American, 1.35% Native American, 2.34% Asian, 0.33% Pacific Islander, 26.90% from other races, and 6.21% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 50.44% of the population.
There were 7,721 households out of which 48.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.5% were married couples living together, 12.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.4% were non-families. 15.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.33 and the average family size was 3.69.
In the city the population was spread out with 35.1% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 16.8% from 45 to 64, and 9.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $43,690, and the median income for a family was $45,304. Males had a median income of $38,294 versus $27,994 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,582. About 9.8% of families and 12.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.9% of those under age 18 and 9.8% of those age 65 or over.
Since the 1980s, the city's population has changed with a continuing influx of people who work in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area but seek more affordable housing, a pattern seen in many other small towns within commuting distance of Silicon Valley.
In the state legislature Los Banos is located in the 12th Senate District, represented by Republican Jeff Denham, and in the 17th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Cathleen Galgiani. Federally, Los Banos is located in California's 18th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +4 and is represented by Democrat Dennis Cardoza. Tommy Jones is the mayor.
Los Banos area was initially settled, according to Mexican land grant records, back in the 1840s. The first American to settle in the area was Uriah Wood, who built his two room cabin in 1859. The original site of Los Banos was located several miles from the current town center, about a mile and half west of the railroad near present day Volta. The town was essentially a trading post and received its name when the Post Office was established and the Post Office Department designated the office "Los Banos" after the nearby creek. When the railroad arrived, Los Banos relocated to its present day site.
Land and water rights were important to early Los Banos residents. But those rights were recognized only when the land and deed were registered. Sometimes those rights depended on fleet footedness, as it did in the "race" between Los Banos residents Uriah Wood and Henry Miller. Wood, whose homestead resided off of Badger Flat Road, raced Miller to the land office in Stockton to insure his claim to the land would be recognized. After crossing the San Joaquin River, Wood paid the ferryman $5 to hold the boat on the east side of the river to insure he would gain sufficient distance from Miller to insure he would reach the land office first. Wood did and the seven sections that he registered cost him only .45¢ an acre.
The centerpiece of downtown Los Banos is the newly created Miller Plaza which honors early California rancher, Henry Miller. The 10-acre half-oval public plaza features a monumental scale bronze arrangement of Miller with cattle. At one time in the late nineteenth century, Miller was the largest land owner in the United States. His company, the Miller & Lux Corporation, was headquartered in Los Banos on a site currently housing the Mexican restaurant España's and the Canal Farm Inn.
Los Banos has a long history of Portuguese and Basque immigrants, as do many of the nearby towns on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. This is reflected both in local restaurants and in several festivals and parades that take place during the year. Los Banos is locally known for its annual May Day Fair during the first week of May.