Top 12 Things to Do in Fresno, California

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Emily Johnson

As the fifth largest city in California, Fresno provides plenty for visitors to see and do. Located in the agriculturally rich Central Valley, Fresno brims with cultural attractions, historic sites, and ample outdoor recreation options spread across wide boulevards and sunny parks.

AttractionDescription
Forestiere Underground GardensA unique underground complex featuring gardens, courtyards, and passageways, created by Baldasare Forestiere to escape the heat.
Fresno Chaffee ZooA leading zoo with diverse species and conservation programs, offering close encounters and special kid zones.
Meux Home MuseumA restored Victorian-era home showcasing late 19th-century domestic life and architecture.
Fresno Art MuseumHighlights contemporary Californian artwork, photography, and folk arts, with regular exhibitions and artist lectures.
Woodward ParkA large park with ponds, gardens, playgrounds, and paths, known for its Shinzen Friendship Garden and seasonal events.
Forestiere Day Train ExcursionOffers scenic train rides through the Sierra, featuring historical narration and beautiful landscapes.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo Safari Night ToursEvening tours of the zoo with illuminated exhibits, entertainment, and themed events.
Discovery Center Science MuseumA science museum with interactive exhibits on various topics, traveling shows, and an IMAX Dome Theatre.
Save Mart Center Concerts & ShowsA major events venue hosting concerts, shows, and performances with a variety of seating options.
Underground Gardens Wine Tasting ToursWine tasting tours featuring local wineries and vineyards, highlighting the region’s grape cultivation and wine production.
Fig Garden Village Shopping & DiningA shopping and dining area set in a quaint village atmosphere, with boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.
ConclusionFresno offers a mix of urban and cultural attractions, historic sites, and outdoor activities, with something for everyone.

From admiring rare sequoia trees in nearby Sierra forests to sampling the region’s fresh produce at farmers markets, Fresno invites adventures. This list offers 12 top attractions and activities for fully experiencing Fresno’s distinctive city vibe blending small-town charm with progressive urban energy.

Forestiere Underground Gardens

Name and Location: Located in Fresno, California, the Forestiere Underground Gardens offer a unique subterranean experience.

History and Significance: Created by Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere in the early 20th century, these gardens were hand-dug to escape the heat of the San Joaquin Valley. The site is a remarkable example of vernacular architecture and inventive landscaping.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore underground passageways, courtyards, and rooms featuring fruit-bearing plants, all beneath the surface of Fresno. The gardens are a testament to one man’s dedication and creativity.

Visitor Information: Guided tours are available, and it’s recommended to check the schedule and book in advance. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for cooler temperatures underground.

Hand-dug beneath the surface by Sicilian immigrant Baldasare Forestiere starting in 1906, this fascinating landmark comprises terraced gardens, courtyards, and arcaded passages stretched over ten acres yet completely underground to escape the harsh Central Valley heat in an era before air conditioning. Visitors today enter the dim, cool grottoes to admire citrus trees, grape vines, and flower beds thriving thanks to natural temperature regulation and skylights allowing diffusion of faint sunshine. Odd claustrophobic beauty characterizes the space as one wanders Forestiere’s handiwork wondering over the monumental decades-long achievement.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Name and Location: Located in Roeding Park in Fresno, California, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is a key attraction for wildlife enthusiasts.

History and Significance: Established in the 1920s, the zoo has evolved over the decades to become a conservation and education center, home to over 190 species.

What to Expect: The zoo features a range of exhibits, including African Adventure, Sea Lion Cove, and the Tropical Rainforest. Visitors can see a variety of animals up close and learn about conservation efforts.

Visitor Information: Open daily, except for certain holidays. Admission fees apply, with discounts for Fresno County residents, seniors, and children. Check the zoo’s website for special events and educational programs.

Renowned as one of the premiere zoological facilities in the United States, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo occupies over 190 acres in Roeding Park near downtown. Visitors delight in close encounters with cheetahs and hippos, rhinos and tigers. The zoo’s respected conservation programs help protect vulnerable species globally like mountain gorillas in Central Africa and sea turtles in Southeast Asia. Special kid zones feature playscapes and petting corrals with friendly domestic goats, sheep and llamas. Riding the Sea Lion Express mini train tour provides helpful orienting overviews plus waving western lowland gorillas nearby.

Meux Home Museum

Name and Location: This historic Victorian home is located in downtown Fresno, California.

History and Significance: Built in 1888 for Dr. Thomas Richard Meux and his family, the Meux Home Museum is an example of Queen Anne style architecture, offering insights into the lifestyle of a prominent Fresno family at the turn of the century.

What to Expect: Guided tours of the house reveal period furnishings, décor, and the history of the Meux family and Fresno during the Victorian era.

Visitor Information: Tours are available on weekends or by appointment. Admission fees apply. Special events and holiday tours are offered throughout the year.

History and architecture buffs appreciate this stately Victorian-era manor located downtown near Fulton Mall that occupied four decades renovating. The Meux family constructed the impressive Second Empire and Queen Anne brick structure in 1889 at the height of Fresno’s early agricultural boom era. Abandoned for decades mid-century, the home narrowly avoided demolition before extensive renovations restored original detailing on floors, lighting, stained glass and more. Costumed docents lead engaging guided tours focusing on evolving late 19th century domestic living practices. With myriad stories embedded in the walls revealing Fresno’s past, the Meux Home Museum merits visiting.

Fresno Art Museum

Name and Location: Situated in Fresno, California, the Fresno Art Museum showcases modern and contemporary art.

History and Significance: Founded in 1949, the museum has a commitment to exhibiting works by artists with diverse backgrounds and includes a significant collection of Mexican art from the 20th century.

What to Expect: Exhibitions change periodically and include a variety of media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video art. The museum also hosts educational programs and special events.

Visitor Information: Open Thursday to Sunday. Admission fees apply, with free admission days offered periodically. Check the museum’s website for current exhibitions and events.

As the premier venue fostering creativity in the Central Valley, the Fresno Art Museum (FAM) stages compelling exhibitions highlighting established and emerging talents. Collections center around three themes: contemporary artwork of California, innovative photography-based media, and folk arts interpreting the region’s cultural diversity. FAM frequently partners with other local arts groups for special shows, like the recent fiber arts traditional Hmong paj ntaub pieces displayed alongside modern textile works. With lawn art installations and regular artist lectures supplementing galleries packed with provocative pieces, FAM’s offerings enlighten and inspire.

Woodward Park

Name and Location: This large public park is located in northeast Fresno, California.

History and Significance: Donated to the city by the Woodward family in 1968, the park spans over 300 acres and serves as a major recreational area for the community, with various landscapes including a bird sanctuary and Japanese garden.

What to Expect: Walking and biking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, and the Shinzen Japanese Garden. The park is a popular spot for outdoor activities, family outings, and special events.

Visitor Information: Open daily from dawn to dusk. There is a parking fee. The Japanese garden has separate admission and hours.

At 300 acres, Woodward Park provides plenty of room for recreation and relaxing amidst its numerous ponds, exotic specimen trees, Japanese gardens, playgrounds, amphitheaters and biking paths. The 40-acre Shinzen Friendship Garden features a traditional teahouse structure, placid koi ponds and strolling trails under shade trees. Seasonal attractions happen throughout the massive grounds from summer concert series at the Paul Paul Theater to holiday lights displays sparkling around Christmas. Easy highway access and affordable amenities like paddle boat rentals make Woodward Park both convenient and budget-friendly for carefree family fun.

Forestiere Day Train Excursion

Name and Location: While there is no specific “Forestiere Day Train Excursion” in Fresno, visitors can explore regional train experiences or excursions around California that offer scenic and historical journeys.

History and Significance: Train excursions in California often highlight the state’s rich rail history and scenic landscapes, offering a unique perspective on its diverse regions.

What to Expect: Depending on the excursion, passengers can experience breathtaking views, historical narratives, and sometimes themed journeys or dining experiences aboard restored or replica train cars.

Visitor Information: Specific details, including departure locations, schedules, and ticket prices, vary by excursion. It’s recommended to research available train tours in California and book in advance.

For sightseers interested in admiring gorgeous Sierra scenery the old-fashioned way, the Forestiere Day Train offers round-trip excursions to wishful mountain destinations straight out of the past. Passengers board restored early 20th century coaches to ride the vintage trains along scenic routes showcasing the steep San Joaquin River Gorge, tranquil high-country lakes or even Yosemite National Park on some summer dates. Locomotives include streamlined diesels pulling silver steam-piped cars as conductors narrate historic details about railroad operations integral to developing Central California decades ago. With seats or private cabins available, the Forestiere Day Train turns back wheels of time crossing spectacular landscapes.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo Safari Night Tours

Name and Location: Fresno Chaffee Zoo offers special Safari Night Tours, allowing visitors to explore the zoo after hours.

History and Significance: These night tours provide a unique opportunity to see nocturnal animal behavior and learn about wildlife conservation under the guidance of zoo educators.

What to Expect: A guided tour through the zoo in the evening, experiencing the sights and sounds of animals at night. Special activities and animal encounters may be included.

Visitor Information: Safari Night Tours are typically offered during the summer months. Advance reservations are required, and tours are subject to availability. Check the zoo’s website for dates, times, and pricing.

After regular daytime hours visiting furry and feathered residents, Fresno Chaffee Zoo transforms into an adult-oriented wonderland Friday and Saturday evenings thanks to illuminated decor and lively entertainment options spread throughout exhibits. Safari Night Tours allow experiencing habitats styled for nocturnal animals’ active cycles, with docents explaining key habits after dark. Cap nights by riding camels, watching acrobats or dancing along with live bands. Special holiday overlay events like Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo or brewfest themes encourage dressing up costumes provided while making merry amidst cheetahs and penguins.

Discovery Center Science Museum

Name and Location: This hands-on science museum is located in Fresno, California, offering interactive exhibits for children and families.

History and Significance: The Discovery Center is dedicated to inspiring curiosity and exploration through science and natural history, featuring indoor and outdoor exhibits, a planetarium, and native plant garden.

What to Expect: Educational exhibits on a variety of topics, including physics, biology, and astronomy. Outdoor areas include a dinosaur park and space for picnics and exploration.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday through Sunday, with admission fees for entry. Special events and programs are offered throughout the year. Check their website for current exhibits and activities.

With dozens of hands-on educational exhibits spread over three spacious stories right downtown, the Discovery Center Science Museum engages inquisitive minds of all ages through interactive play. Permanent display themes range from aviation and astronomy to geology and sustainable living, each zone using activities and multimedia to interpret concepts accessibly. Traveling special shows like Animal Secrets featuring lifelike robotic creatures or Brickfest LEGO extravaganzas visit annually. An IMAX Dome Theatre screens fascinating nature documentaries on its five-story tall curved screen accompanied by stunning surround sound. For sparking brighter futures through science, the Discovery Center leads by inspiration.

Save Mart Center Concerts & Shows

Name and Location: The Save Mart Center is an entertainment and sports venue located on the campus of California State University, Fresno.

History and Significance: Since opening in 2003, it has hosted a wide range of events, including concerts, family shows, sporting events, and graduations, becoming a focal point for entertainment in the Central Valley.

What to Expect: A state-of-the-art arena hosting top performers, bands, and shows from around the world. The venue features seating for up to 16,000 people, with food and merchandise vendors available during events.

Visitor Information: Event schedule and ticket purchases are available on the Save Mart Center’s website. Parking is available on site, with fees varying by event.

As the premier large events venue for Central California seating over 15,000 attendees, the Save Mart Center at Fresno State University attracts huge touring acts ranging from celebrity comedians and pop stars to Broadway musicals and family Disney on Ice extravaganzas. With luxury suites, club seats and affordable general admission, the arena-sized performance hall boasts excellent views from every angle. Parking proves easy thanks to the Save Mart Center’s location near Highway 41 with dozens of vendors selling merchandise onsite. Big city entertainment accessible without big city hassles makes Save Mart Center shine as Fresno’s stalwart showplace.

Underground Gardens Wine Tasting Tours

Name and Location: Building on the concept of the Forestiere Underground Gardens, local vineyards and wine cellars in the Fresno area may offer wine tasting tours that combine subterranean settings with the experience of sampling local wines.

History and Significance: Fresno’s location in the Central Valley places it within one of the richest agricultural zones in the world, including a burgeoning wine industry that takes advantage of the region’s climate and soil.

What to Expect: A tour of wine cellars or vineyards, learning about the winemaking process, and sampling a variety of wines produced in the region. Some tours may offer insights into the unique aspects of underground wine storage and production.

Visitor Information: Advance booking is usually required, with options for group or private tours. Check with local vineyards or wine tour companies for availability, age restrictions, and pricing.

The fertile soil and hot sunny days around Fresno create ideal terroir conditions for cultivating fabulous grapes that translate wonderfully when processed into delicious wines by knowledgeable vintners. Multiple tasting rooms dot charming small towns just outside the city limits, typically anchoring historic downtown blocks allowing leisurely strolling between them. Sample bold Tempranillo and subtle Chenin Blanc pouring freely while snacking local cheeses and olives. Favorite area wineries like Riley’s Vineyard in Clovis or Viaggio along the Blossom Trail northeast of Sanger welcome oenophiles interested in learning appellation nuances while sampling award-winning pours.

Fig Garden Village Shopping & Dining

Name and Location: Fig Garden Village is an upscale shopping and dining destination located in Fresno, California.

History and Significance: Established in the 1950s, Fig Garden Village has long been a premier shopping center in Fresno, featuring a collection of high-end retail stores, boutiques, and restaurants in a pleasant outdoor setting.

What to Expect: A variety of shops offering clothing, home goods, beauty products, and more. Dining options range from casual cafes to fine dining restaurants, catering to diverse tastes and occasions.

Visitor Information: Open daily, with individual store and restaurant hours varying. The village hosts special events and holiday activities throughout the year. Ample parking is available on site.

Built around a former 1920s-era estate orchard of mistletoe-draped fig trees, Fig Garden Village enchants visitors with its quaint lanes dotted by chic boutiques, fine art galleries, salons and nearly one dozen restaurants ranging from casual cafes to white tablecloth establishments. Strolling street musicians serenade leisurely meals al fresco during temperate months when brilliant flowers erupt from lush window boxes. Shops occupy chalet-style structures inspired by European mountain architecture capped with fairy tale turrets and red tile roofs that make traversing the village feel like crossing into a storybook realm filled with tasty temptations and style at every turn.

Conclusion

Visitors who bypass Fresno assuming a lack of attractions suitable for vacation itineraries will surely leave surprised once discovering its diverse urban parks hosting music festivals, small town emerging arts scene punching above its weight class and surrounding countryside offering agricultural adventures plus gorgeous Sierra vistas. Family-friendly science museums and charming shopping villages mix with historic sites memorializing hardworking immigrant roots that built Central Valley communities through ingenuity and perseverance.sample Fresno’s blend of natural beauty meeting cultural passions for creating quality experiences proving California’s underrated “inland island” brims with uplifting promise when given closer inspection.

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