Tesla has Supercharger stations all over the map, but the largest, most luxurious one sits in the middle of a folksy California town -- take a look inside

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

Tesla has Supercharger stations all over the map, and in 2018, as thousands of new Tesla owners hit the road in newly minted Tesla Model 3 sedans – the company’s first entry-level electric car – those drivers will be looking for convenient places to plug in their cars.

To date, Tesla has 1,191 Supercharger stations, with 9,184 Superchargers across North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

But one Supercharger location in California, located at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is, at least for now, the largest of them all.

Situated amid swaths of farmland and a smattering of gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and motels, the Tesla Supercharger station in Kettleman City, California, sits tucked away from the main street that runs underneath the 5 Freeway, on a corner lot that used to be a Burger King drive-thru.

Across the street to the east is a gas station and a Carl’s Jr., to the south an auto-repair shop, and to the west two budget hotels.

Farther south across State Route 41, there’s a recently built strip mall, curiously named Bravo Farms, whose architecture was designed to resemble old Western saloons of generations past.

The Tesla Supercharger station, unlike the Burger King before it, makes use of nearly all the available space. An expanse of covered solar parking shelters the 40 Superchargers on the lot. A private lounge invites Tesla travellers to rest in plush armchairs, plug in their mobile devices, and enjoy soothing music.

There are vending machines, restrooms, and Tesla staff inside the lounge. A separate display section shows off Tesla Energy products: the solar panels and Powerwall battery packs it sells to residential and commercial customers.

On one of the two large flat-screen displays inside the lounge is a real-time world map with the locations of every Supercharger station on the planet. There are three numbers at the bottom of the screen – kilowatt-hours delivered, miles enabled, and gallons of gasoline saved – that tick up as you watch.

This is now Tesla’s domain. Its presence in an otherwise folksy enclave – one of at least six on the route here from Los Angeles – is a clear sign that Tesla is gearing up to own the electric-car future.

Tesla says the Kettleman City Supercharger is its largest in the US. Another in Baker, California, sits along a major route connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

This trip served two purposes: to determine whether I could drive to the Kettleman City Supercharger station in the Model S P100D I borrowed from Tesla without stopping to top up along the way, and to check out Tesla’s newest digs.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderWe started this trip from a Supercharger station in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, where SpaceX is headquartered.

Our stop in Hawthorne was relatively brief. We were in and out within an hour.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderSeveral other Teslas were charging simultaneously, which can prolong the process in some cases.

We arrived in Hawthorne with 46 miles of range left.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderNot terrible if you’re just scooting around town, but for a long trip, you’ll want to get as close to a full charge as possible to maximise driving time.

About 17 minutes in, I’d already gained 54 miles of range.

Bryan Logan/Tesla

I didn’t plan to fully charge the Model S to its estimated 315-mile capacity in Hawthorne — only enough to know I could comfortably drive to Kettleman City. In the meantime, I went inside with some Starbucks rations I rounded up earlier.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

I was on the road to Kettleman City shortly after noon, with about 250 miles of range on the P100D’s battery. I used Waze in conjunction with the Model S’s navigation system. Waze predicted a 2:53 p.m. arrival.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

Here’s my route, beginning in Hawthorne.

Google Maps/Bryan Logan/Business InsiderLooks like semi-smooth sailing.

I drove conservatively, used Autopilot — Tesla’s driver-assistance feature — some of the way, and resisted the urge to sample Ludicrous Mode. It paid off. A little more than halfway to Kettleman City, the Model S P100D still had about 159 miles on the battery.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

Like all electric cars, the Model S employs regenerative braking when you lift your foot off the accelerator. The energy that would have been lost while using the brakes to moderate the car’s speed on this downhill stretch of Interstate 5 is instead transferred back to the battery via the electric motor. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, the battery had gained 3 miles of range.

Google MapsInterstate 5, just before the Grapevine in California.

You can barely see the Kettleman City station from Interstate 5, but it’s about a half-mile from the nearest off-ramp.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderWe made it!

We reached the Kettleman City Supercharger station at 2:50 p.m., three minutes earlier than Waze predicted — and with 61 miles of range left on the P100D’s battery.

Tesla/Bryan LoganNot bad at all.

This station used to be a Burger King.

Google Maps/Bryan Logan/Business InsiderA Google Maps Street View of the site, circa 2016.

Here it is today. The transformation is stunning.

Google Maps/espressoA crisp, modern respite in Kings County, California.

We took an open spot close to the entrance.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

It was late on a Saturday afternoon in early December — that post-Thanksgiving quiet before the next holiday travel crush.We were the only ones there for a few minutes. It took only a second to find the access code for the lounge on Model S’s touchscreen.

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

Let’s go inside.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderYou actually do need to pull that access code from your car first. The place is open for business, but the doors are locked.

Tesla, being a master of product integration and its own best advertiser, immediately pitches you on its solar panels …

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderWelcome to the Tesla ecosystem.

… and the Powerwall energy-storage solution …

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

… and then it gives you estimates of how those products could benefit you.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderHelp yourself to a smaller carbon footprint.

Next is this handy workstation with power plugs and USB ports for your mobile devices, and vending machines for your hunger and thirst. But the best part sits just to the left of this section …

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

… the lounge.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderIt was comfortable here, much like the lobby of a swanky, modern hotel.

Another display shows every Supercharger location on the planet. Numbers at the bottom of the screen show kilowatt-hours delivered, miles enabled, and gallons of gasoline saved. They tick up as you watch.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderA bit of eco-inspiration, if you will.

We sat for a while in the lounge, coffees in hand. Our borrowed Model S sat plugged in. We left the Kettleman City station with a full charge.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderIt’s much more than just a rest stop.

And here we are back in Hawthorne. Night was falling by the time I left Kettleman City, but it was an easy drive back home to LA, with about 70 miles of range to spare.

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderA Model S P100D at a Supercharger station on the SpaceX campus in Hawthorne, California.

The Kettleman City Supercharger station was everything I expected it to be: comfortable, convenient, and accommodating.

I wasn’t terribly surprised by the light traffic when I visited. There will probably be other occasions where Tesla’s larger stations are bustling with activity, especially as more of the 400,000-plus people who preordered the Model 3 get their cars.

Something else became abundantly clear after driving the Model S P100D for a week: Tesla’s effort to expand the Supercharger network is essential. There were stations on every route between my apartment and the office – and every other place I travelled in my corner of Los Angeles.

There were multiple stations on the route to Kettleman City, too. I never needed to stop, but knowing that I could is what mattered.

It’s not hard to imagine that for those future Model 3 owners – some of whom will be Tesla first-timers – the initial excitement around the company’s most affordable electric car is not only because it’s attractive and embodies the cachet of a red-hot brand, but because you can drive it and never worry about being stranded.

Sure, you can plug in a Tesla anywhere, but the value of having a dedicated high-speed charging network at your near-immediate disposal can’t be overstated.

Two things to remember as the entry level Tesla Model 3 starts to hit the road en masse: 1.) Model 3 drivers must pay to recharge their cars at Supercharger stations. It’s free for Model S and Model X owners …

Bryan Logan/Business InsiderA Tesla Model 3 at the company’s retail store at Westfield Century City.

… and 2.) Supercharger stations aren’t your only recharging option. Tesla offers wall connectors that can be installed at home or wherever you normally park your Tesla. The company says this is the most convenient option, but you’ll want to make sure to install one with a power output that matches your Tesla’s onboard charger, typically a 40, 60, or 90-amp circuit breaker, according to Tesla.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.