As the Northern California’s San Joaquin Valley’s urban hub, this list of things to do in Fresno merges the region’s famed agricultural history with natural treasures and a lively downtown. Its central location allows you to spend the day exploring town or venture into one of the many nearby national and state parks, including Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon.
Orchards in full bloom, fresh produce, and public gardens remind you of the region’s perfect growing conditions, while museums and the Big Fresno Fair introduce you to the area’s history and contemporary culture. A small- town atmosphere coupled with big-city entertainment make Fresno one of California’s best kept vacation secrets.
Here are 19 things to do in Fresno that we know you and your family will love.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN FRESNO
- Best Budget Hotel. Courtyard by Marriott Fresno is 7 miles from the Fresno Yosemite airport. It’s a typical no-frills Courtyard but the price is right! It’s a short distance to featured activities such as the Shinzen Friendship Garden.
- Best for families. SpringHill Suites Fresno has breakfast and a pool making it a great accommodation with kiddos in tow. All suites have kitchenettes with refrigerators, microwaves, silverware and pantries.
- Best Downtown. DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center is a more premier accommodation for the area, and it’s a half a mile from downtown activities.
SHINZEN FRIENDSHIP GARDEN
As one of the most popular parks in Fresno, Woodward Park has a lot to offer, including the historic Shinzen Friendship Garden. Established in the 1980’s, the garden was an international project linking Fresno and its Japanese sister city, Kochi.
Built with the area’s Japanese-American community in mind, the garden continues to celebrate cultural diversity with events, festivals, and botanical curiosities. Adopt a bonsai tree from the Clark Bonsai Collection, take a seat by the koi pond or visit the Ume Grove in springtime to relax under a canopy of plum blossoms and cherry trees.
Stop by the recently renovated Tea Garden and House to learn more about the art of the tea ceremony and take part in other events like pruning workshops, traditional celebrations and tours. The Shinzen Friendship Japanese Garden is open Wednesday to Sunday, and is located just north of central Fresno.
SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY
Known as California’s agricultural hub, San Joaquin Valley makes up the majority of the state’s Central region. The area is a prominent grape, nut and citrus producer, responsible for many of the fruits and vegetables you might find at your local grocery store. Grapes grown in the valley are used to make many of the fine wines Napa, California, is famous for.
Mount Diablo State Park and the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve are full of hiking opportunities, while urban hubs like Stockton, Bakersfield and Modesto offer nightlife, dining, and indoor attractions. Many of the valley’s major cities are no more than a two hour drive away from the California coast, and natural wonders like Yosemite and Sequoia National Forest.
Staying in San Joaquin Valley as you explore Central California helps you get to know the state without the commotion of San Francisco or Los Angeles. The region’s small towns, family vineyards and quaint history keep things local as you make your way through the valley’s eight counties.
FRESNO CHAFFEE ZOO
Located in Roeding Park, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo tourist attraction is your stop for wildlife viewing, attractions and special exhibits. With the “Total Zoo Experience” Ticket, visitors get access to the zoo’s best loved activities, including Zoo-rassic Park’s animatronic dino showcase.
Feed giraffes face to face from the elevated Twiga Terrace, watch marine mammals frolic underwater at Sea Lion Cove and stroll (or hop) through the Roo Walkabout, which features kangaroos, kookaburras and wallabies along with other Australian animals. Keep an eye on the zoo’s Keeper Chat and Bird Show schedules for a chance to hear expert insight and get to know rare birds up close.
Don’t miss the zoo’s 13-acre African Adventure, which transports you to a Savanna Safari in the middle of California. Lions, elephants, and cheetahs are just some of the animals that call this environment home. The Kopje Lodge is on site for dine-in lunch overlooking the plains.
For an even more interactive experience, sign up for Trunk Time with the elephants, Gills & Thrills with sharks and stingrays or even the White Rhino Scratch. The Zoo is open daily and includes the Safari Cafe, Kudu Cafe, and gift shop area.
If you need to cool down, head out to the water park! Open yearly starting in late spring, Fresno’s Island Waterpark is the perfect place to cool off, especially with the little ones in tow. With day and season pass options, the water park offers equal amounts of laughs and leisure.
After riding top speed down the Bora Bora Racers slide or taking on the Nature’s Furies spiral, unwind on the gently rolling Waimea River. Then, head to ‘Ohana Bay’s four-slide water playground and do it all over again.
When you’ve gotten your fill of ocean currents at the Tidal Wave Pool, stop by the Aloha Cafe, Sharky’s or Waikiki Willie’s for snacks and drinks. The water park is open daily during its summer season.
FORESTIERE UNDERGROUND GARDENS
Fresno’s Forestiere Underground Gardens is one man’s lifelong project in the form of one sprawling underground labyrinth. Starting in the early 20th century, Sicilian Baldassare Forestiere hand-crafted a network of paths, courtyards and gardens underneath his Fresno-area land.
Using only a few basic tools and his hands, Forestier created an architectural oddity inspired by ancient Sicilian catacombs. His underground haven is also home to many varieties of citrus and other fruit trees whose peaks reach ground level.
The gardens are a recognized historical landmark, living sculpture and ornamental feat all in one, preserved and maintained as a local jewel. Your entry ticket includes a guided walking tour, during which you’ll learn about the life of the artist and the stories behind his four decade-long undertaking.
FRESNO COUNTY WINE JOURNEY
The area of San Joaquin Valley between the San Joaquin River and King River is known for its rich soil, temperate climate and agriculture, making it one of the nation’s top grape producers. The Fresno County Wine Journey is your ticket to the bounty of the region, with 13 wineries, two breweries, and a distillery to choose from.
With an emphasis on local and family businesses, the list includes award winning brews, wines and spirits for any palette. The official Journey takes place one weekend a year; the wristband included with your ticket gives you access to any of the 14 member establishments, which host tastings, vendors, and live performances.
Even if you miss the Journey weekend itself, any venue from its member list is worth stopping by on your drive through the Central Valley — use it as a hand-picked itinerary for any wine lover.
FRESNO ART MUSEUM
If you’re planning on spending a day out in town, drop by the Fresno Art Museum to see what’s on display. Chances are, you’ll end up spending at least a few hours touring both the permanent collection and diverse rotating exhibitions.
The museum’s permanent collection includes pre-Columbian art, textiles and artifacts, as well as a stunning piece by muralist and painter Diego Rivera. With a history of supporting women artists, the museum presents work by a chosen female artist each year, along with other contemporary makers.
Main exhibits include prints by Andy Warhol, photographs by Ansel Adams and children’s book illustrations by Rafael Lopez. The museum is open Thursday to Sunday and features a gift shop.
BIG FRESNO FAIR
Taking place every October, the Big Fresno Fair attracts thousands of locals and visitors to the largest event in the Central Valley. The fair’s attractions, showcases and vendors are inspired by the area’s agricultural history, and the result is a timeless annual festival for all ages.
Before you go, take a look at the fair calendar, which lists all of the events happening across the span of two weeks. Live music, horse and dog races, stunt shows and on-stage entertainment are sure to keep you busy.
The fair also gives locals a platform to exhibit their art and handiwork, as well as compete. As you wrap up your visit, don’t miss the carnival, concessions, and the Big Fresno Fair museum, which chronicles the history of the event.
For the opportunity to view Central California’s blossoms in full bloom, take a slow drive or bike ride on Fresno’s Blossom Trail. Prime viewing season is between February and March, and events associated with the trail promise family fun; the Blossom Trail Train located in Reedley, California is a treat for young rail enthusiasts.
Wondering what flowers you’ll be seeing along the way? Take a look at their blossom guide to learn more about the trees on the trail. Worthwhile stops on the drive include historic Sanger, the Orange Cover citrus growing region, Kingsburg’s Swedish village, and Simonian Farms.
FRESNO DISCOVERY CENTER
For a hands-on learning experience that’ll keep the kids intrigued, visit the Fresno Discovery Center, located right next to the Fresno-Yosemite Airport. The center’s exhibits and galleries are interactive and include a Reptile Room with live critters, as well as a fossil-dig where visitors can search for specimens on-site.
The 1-acre, 90-year-old Deutsche Cactus Garden houses an incredible collection of cacti and succulents which you can tour at your own pace.
The Discovery Center is open weekday mornings and closes early on the weekend, so be sure to plan ahead.
THE VINEYARD FARMERS MARKET
Open for business on Wednesdays and Sundays, the Vineyard Farmers Market features Fresno’s local growers, vendors and artisans all under one roof. Vendors include fruit growers, coffee roasters, artisanal dairy producers, craft chocolatiers and more.
Many of the products are seasonal, sustainable and cultivated with tradition in mind. Stop by the market to pick up healthy, fresh groceries for the whole week, or pick up specialty gift items to remind you of your time in California’s agricultural heart.
The Vineyard Market is one of the best ways to get to know this special city in California like a local by supporting small- scale growers and meeting the people behind the products.
And if you’re looking for more — you’ll also find the River Park Farmer’s Market every Tuesday and Saturday at the River Park shopping district.
ROTARY STORYLAND PLAYLAND FAMILY AMUSEMENT PARK
Open year-round with varying seasonal hours, Rotary Storyland and Playland make up Fresno’s premier family fun park. Bringing fairytales to life, the park has attractions, exhibitions and events split between two main areas.
Highlights include Storyland’s character-driven exhibits, which include favorites like Alice in Wonderland and the 3 Little Pigs. The Willis B. Kyle Express Train takes guests on a park tour by rail, while the Daniel R. Martin Children’s Theater turns the stage over to visiting performers.
Even adults will join the little ones in remembering their favorite stories as they discover all the park has to offer. Storyland and Playland are just south of Reading Park, conveniently located near the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
GARDEN OF THE SUN
Hidden in Reedy Park, Garden of the Sun is a demonstration garden created and maintained by the UC Cooperative Extension. Both ornamental and functional, the garden showcases growing and gardening processes in a relaxing space open to all.
Fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetables and herb beds are just some of the plants that make up the garden. Visitors can also learn what it takes to maintain a healthy garden thanks to a compost demonstration area.
Garden of the Sun also offers Master Gardener-led tours, as well as educational events throughout the year. Reedy Park is located just south of the Fresno Discovery Center, so you can easily visit both in one day.
KEARNEY MANSION MUSEUM
Showcasing the home and historic role of one of Fresno’s most prominent 19th century figures, the Kearney Mansion Museum is a must-stop for history lovers. M. Theo Kearney’s sprawling Fruit Vale Estate is now home to four original structures and the Fresno County Historical Society.
Once known as the “Raisin King,” Kearney developed revolutionary agricultural practices, which you can learn more about on a guided tour of the historic site. Original structures include the mansion, servant’s quarters and Ice House.
The museum provides insight into the Central Valley’s 20th century rise in agriculture, as narrated by local experts. Tours are available Friday to Sunday; keep an eye on rotating exhibitions featured in the Servants’ Quarters Gallery as well.
MEUX HOME MUSEUM
For another quaint museum experience, visit the Meux Home Museum to tour a 16-room Victorian mansion right in the center of town. Guided tours invite you to get lost in the ornate home of Dr. Thomas Richard Meux, and learn about the architectural and decorative details that make it so distinctive.
The mansion’s garden is also open to the public, bringing you an unexpected gothic experience in the heart of the valley. Tours are available Friday to Sunday and take up to one hour.
FRESNO GRIZZLIES MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
If you’re missing your local sports team, stop by Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno to see the minor league baseball team in action. There’s no better way to get to know the local community than cheering on the Fresno Grizzlies, especially if you have a free evening. You can check the schedule, look up stats and purchase tickets in advance on the Grizzlies’ official website.
Chukchansi Park is the perfect spot to enjoy some friendly competition at sunset; views of the skyline and the Sierra peaks make this one of the region’s most iconic venues.
TIOGA-SEQUOIA BREWING COMPANY BEER GARDEN
If you’re planning a night out in town, visit Fresno’s Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company Beer Garden for drinks and bites. The brewery was founded in 2007 and prides itself on top-tier brewing inspired by the Central Valley. Food trucks keep the menu interesting, and the beer list offers a full cast of classic, limited edition and high gravity brews for you to choose from.
Kick back with a Firefall Red Ale or step out of your comfort zone with the MochaMidnight Imperial Stout. With beers named after local nature sites, this microbrewery is uniquely Fresno; the garden is the ideal spot to plan tomorrow’s in-town adventure or national park day trip.
Currently in its 68th season, the Fresno Philharmonic brings world class live performance to Central California.
The Philharmonic’s Daniel R. Martin Masterworks and Fresno Pops series offer a contemporary take on a classic orchestra program, featuring leading music innovators and arrangements based on popular music. Held in the William Saroyan Theatre, performances are both exciting and professionally executed, treating you to the kind of live music experience you might expect from a much larger city.
Visit the Philharmonic’s “Upcoming Events” page for tickets and more information.
DAY TRIP TO SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NPS
Located only a two hour drive west of Fresno, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park beckons nature lovers from around the state and beyond. As the home of the famed giant sequoias, the park is a learning experience in the lives of these incredible trees as well as preservation efforts to keep them alive.
Hiking trails, scenic drives, and even winter activities make this park a year-round destination. Whether you’re taking on a snowshoeing trail in the winter or exploring the foothills in the summer, the park promises unforgettable vistas and a glimpse into one of the country’s most diverse ancient ecosystems.
Stoic and looming, the park’s sequoia groves are an important reminder of the timelessness of the natural world. Keep an eye on fire or weather related closures as you plan your visit.
Is Fresno, California, worth a visit?
Yes, Fresno is worth a visit! It’s the largest city in the Central Valley region, and features great parks, many beautiful gardens, and some one-of-a-kind attractions.
What is Fresno best known for?
Fresno is best known for being an agricultural hub. In addition, its known for its proximity to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks.
When is the best time of the year to visit Fresno?
If you’re looking for milder temps, the best times to visit Fresno are in the spring or fall.
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WHERE TO STAY IN FRESNO
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