Fresno is located in the San Joaquin Valley, in the heart of California. It is the fifth largest city in the state and is in a very advantageous position to visit the parks of Sierra Nevada, which is why you’ll most likely find it on your way on a West Coast road trip. But there are more reasons to go to Fresno besides the fact that it is in a strategic position. Those who decide to stay and visit Fresno will find that it is a nice historic city, full of life, museums, gardens and a nice selection of hotels. Finally, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars and wine cellars that produce excellent local wine, open-air markets and artisan beer brewing companies. In short, Fresno is not only a place to rest after visiting the parks, but also a great stop with interesting attractions and great cuisine.
- A Strategic City to Visit Yosemite and Sequoia
- Things to Do in Fresno
- Fresno: Museums, Attractions and Places to Visit
- Fresno: Parks and Gardens
- Where to Eat in Fresno (and Where to Have a Drink!)
- Where to Stay in Fresno
A Strategic City to Visit Yosemite and Sequoia
If you’re traveling southeast from San Francisco, from Los Angeles to the north, or from Death Valley-Las Vegas towards the coast, you’re probably intending to visit the famous Yosemite National Park and/or Sequoia National Park/Kings Canyon National Park (if you are still undecided, I suggest you read our article on how to choose between Yosemite and Sequoia). In any case, you’ll have to choose a place to spend the night in order to break up the trip.
Well, as we have already mentioned in our in-depth article about where to stay between Yosemite and Sequoia, Fresno could be the best place to go. It is located west of the Sierra Nevada, about an hour and a half from the visitor center of Sequoia National Park and just over 2 hours from the visitor center of Yosemite National Park.
Things to Do in Fresno
Fresno was founded in 1856, just after the Gold Rush, and in a short time its importance grew thanks to the construction of the railway in 1872. In the city you’ll find many interesting artifacts of this historical period. Here’s a list of things to do and places to visit in Fresno, the best small city in the USA!
Most of the historic buildings are located in this area, some of which date back to the foundation of the city. I recommend:
- Saint John’s Cathedral is located at 2814 Mariposa Street. It was built in 1903 in the Romanesque-Gothic style and designed by the architect Thomas Bermingham. Its red-brick façade has three entrances and two unique cone-shaped square towers;
- Fresno City Hall was designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. Its modern style caused controversy because it clashed with the style the old buildings in the historic district of Fresno;
- The historic Fresno Water Tower was built in 1894 and was in operation until 1963. Today, it is used as the city’s information center;
- Fulton Street is the main artery of Downtown Fresno;
- Chukchansi Park, located at 1800 Tulare Street, is the stadium completed in 2002 where the Fresno Grizzlies, the Fresno baseball team, play. From the stadium, you can admire a beautiful view of the city and the Sierra Nevada;
- The Warnors Center is a wonderful theater with 2,000 seats built in the Colonial Spanish Revival style. It is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The theater opened its doors in 1928 and it was sold to the Warnors Brothers in 1929. It is still used today as a cinema and theater with live music and shows;
- Arte Americas, located at 1630 Van Ness Street, is the largest non-profit center of Latin American culture in the valley. The topics of the cultural center’s exhibitions include music, cinema, poetry, literature, photography and Latin American Art in general. In La Plazita, the area around the Arte Americas, there are events and live concerts every Friday night;
- Meux Home Museum at 1007 R. Street is an exceptional tribute to Victorian architecture. The staff, who is dressed in period clothing, welcomes guests into the building and explains the history of the house and about life in Fresno around the time the house was built. Guided tours are offered from Friday to Sunday from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
Fresno: Museums, Attractions and Places to Visit
While Downtown Fresno is the historic district, Tower District is the hub of nightlife and entertainment. Here you’ll find theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, bars and art galleries. The Tower Theater, which opened in 1939, is considered by some to be the best theater of its kind in California. It is located at 809 East Olive Avenue and can accommodate just over 760 people.
At 7160 West Kearney Boulevard, we find another historic residence listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Kearney Mansion, which can be visited on Saturdays and Sundays, is divided into two buildings, the villa and the annex with original Art Nouveau pieces. But what makes this place special is the park, which is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the state.
Forestiere Underground Gardens
Located at 5021 West Shaw Avenue, the Forestiere Underground Gardens are perhaps the city’s most unusual attraction. Baldassarre Forestiere, an Italian of Sicilian origin who immigrated to America in 1901, dedicated 40 years of his life, from 1906 to 1946, to the creation of an underground tunnel with stone-walled rooms, caves and gardens housing various plants, including lemon, orange and grapefruit trees. Some of the trees that you can still see today were planted by Forestiere, which makes them almost 100 years old! The gardens are open from Wednesday to Sunday. Click on this link to find prices and operating hours.
The Museums in Fresno
Among all the museums in Fresno, I recommend the Fresno Art Museum at 2233 North First Street. This museum, which opened in 1940, houses exhibitions, educational programs, workshops and Kenneth Stratton’s interesting permanent collection of pre-Columbian art.
The Discovery Center, at 1944 North Winery Avenue, is a museum featuring interactive exhibits related to botany, geology, electricity, and history. Turtles, cacti, dinosaurs, Miwok Indian houses… this interactive museum is ideal for families with children!
Fresno: Parks and Gardens
At 7775 Friant Road in the north of the city, you will find the largest park in Fresno and the Central Valley. The land was donated by Ralph Woodward to the city in 1968. Inside you can find, among other things, an amphitheater with 2500 seats, a Japanese garden and a large picnic area. In November, the Woodward Shakespeare Festival (or Shakespeare in the Park) is held in this park, with live theater performances.
The Shinzen Friendship Garden is located in Woodward Park at 114 West Audubon Drive. This 5-acre Japanese garden is a magical place. It is designed according to the 4 seasons and has waterfalls, streams, a lake and 7 bridges in Japanese style. In the spring, the cherry blossom trees are a sight to behold. Fresno’s sister city is Kochi, Japan and the garden was created in honor of this relationship.
To the west of the city there is another large city park called Roeding Park. It features a lake and several waterways, tennis courts, picnic areas and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
The zoo was opened at the beginning of the 20th century as a shelter for abandoned animals, and only in 1929 it officially became a zoo. Today, at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, you can visit the African Adventure section, an area with elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees and other exotic animals from the African continent. The zoo participates in a wildlife conservation program. In total, there are more than 190 animal species, and 94 of these species are endangered. The entrance to the zoo is located at 894 West Belmont Avenue and the cost of admission is $7.95 for children from 2 to 11 years old and $12.95 for adults.
Where to Eat in Fresno (and Where to Have a Drink!)
If you’re in town on a Wednesday afternoon or a Saturday morning, take a walk at the Vineyard Farmers Market (5132 North Palm Avenue, market on the northwest corner of Shaw Ave and Blackstone Ave), a market that has been selling local produce, especially fruit and vegetables, for over 35 years. Here you will also have the opportunity to have lunch or dinner prepared with typical local ingredients.
If you love craft beer, visit the Tioga Sequoia Brewing Company at 745 Fulton Street. The company, founded in 2007, offers various beer tastings as well as numerous events with live music and street food served by food trucks.
If you prefer wine, Fresno has some famous wineries that have produced award-winning wines over the years. This includes Moravia Wines at 3620 North Bishop, founded in 2012, which uses only San Joaquin Valley grapes and is open for tastings and events on weekends and Friday nights. I also recommend the LoMac Winery at 2674 North Westlawn Avenue, where the owners themselves present their wines… try the Merlot!
Where to Stay in Fresno
Those who love vintage signs will be delighted when they visit Fresno! Many of the old historic hotels are now closed, but the city still offers a wide range of hotels and motels to choose from. Since Fresno is more than just a mere transit point, it’s worth choosing accommodations that are conveniently located near the main areas of the city. You might want to choose a hotel closer to Downtown Fresno, the Tower District, Woodward Park or Roeding Park.
Here are some recommendations:
- Best Western Village Inn: The excellent value generally guaranteed at Best Western is also provided in its location in Fresno. There is also an outdoor pool, free parking and an eclectic breakfast. The property is conveniently located in the center of Fresno, near downtown, Tower District and the parks.
- Country Inn & Suites by Radisson: This place is perfect for those traveling along the main route between the two parks; it is halfway between Woodward Park and downtown. It has a semi-covered pool with a jacuzzi, free parking and a fitness center.
- Double Tree Hilton: Located in the center of town, this beautiful hotel offers an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a bar, a restaurant, free parking and is the ideal choice if you want to visit Downtown Fresno. The main attractions are all within walking distance.