Fresno isn’t exactly considered a small town by any means – with a population of over 520,000 it is the fifth largest city in California, and the 34th largest city in the entire nation! But for some reason the community pockets and neighborhoods in this city – Sunnyside, Downtown, Tower District, Woodward Park – are what make our sweet city seem so small.
After I graduated high school, I whisked off to college in sunny Southern California. People would always say to me, “you’re from Fresno, huh? What the heck do you do there?” I used to be seriously floored at the fact that these out-of-towners thought that there was nothing to do in Fresno. I promised them that I did more than “cow tipping” for fun growing up (who the heck really does that anyway?!).
Now that I am back as a valley resident, I love to show my visiting friends and family all that “small town” Fresno has to do, see, and explore. I know many of us will be opening our homes and hotel rooms to family this next week–and if you’re anything like me, you want to show them the town! Come on and show those valley visitors that “small town” is cool again, and take them through this local list of entertainment around the city:
- Say hi to the African Elephants at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. The new African Adventure at the zoo is a 13-acre expansion that boasts a pride of lions, a herd of African elephants, white rhinos, cheetahs, a new giraffe feeding station – all with 360 degree views of the savanna.
- Drive slow and sip cocoa down Christmas Tree Lane. It’s one of the nation’s longest running holiday events, perfectly paired with holiday music and wide-eyed children.
- Shop ’til you drop at River Park. If Santa didn’t get you everything you wanted on your Christmas wishlist, then fret not – REI, H&M, Wavelengths, and a long list of cute boutiques are at one of Fresno’s newest shopping destinations. Grab a burger at Five Guys or a cocktail at Ruth’s Chris bar if your Christmas crew needs a lunch break.
- Sip some wine at Moravia Wines – because the whole place is family friendly, and filled with wine sourced from all over the San Joaquin Valley.
- Day trip to Yosemite (or any of the other day trips I recently covered). In under 90 minutes you will arrive at one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
- Stroll down the historic Fulton Mall, and you’ll find downtown Fresno’s six-block pedestrian mall that was at one time considered “Main Street.” The Mall is the focus for Fresno’s downtown revitalization efforts, and currently has some local favorites like Peeve’s and ROOT General Store, to name a few.
- Eat a burger or grab a coffee in charming Old Town Clovis. The shops are small, the streets are quaint, and there’s always a friendly face.
- Take the littles to The Discovery Center and see their minds blown by science. Bugs, snakes, turtles, a room dedicated to space travel – my favorite part might be the fact that all of the signs here say “please touch!”
- Catch a Fresno State Basketball game at the Save Mart Center. Cheer on our Bulldogs, grab a hot dog, and enjoy.
- Do a beer tasting at Mad Duck Craft Brewery. This is one of the newer beer spots in town, but the vibe is right and the beer is good, so why don’t you just taste them all?!
- Feed the ducks at Woodward Park. So many trees, lakes and places to run and picnic at this 300-acre park, on the north side of Fresno. Entrance per car is $5, and you can stay all day and enjoy the crisp winter air.
- Enjoy the outdoors in the Shinzen Friendship Garden. This is my favorite place on earth in the spring, but the winter is so peaceful and serene, too. Located inside Woodward Park, the Shinzen Garden is filled with plum and cherry trees, camellias, irises and magnolias. There are seven breathtaking authentic Japanese-style bridges, including an arched double moon stone bridge (a symbol of double good luck).
- Ski China Peak while there is plenty of snow! Packed powder is the current state of the snow at this ski destination, just 65 miles from Fresno.
- Binge eat cheese at Sam’s Italian Deli. So what if you consumed your weight in Christmas cookies? This authentic Italian deli is basically like traveling to the old world.
- Light a candle at Saint John the Baptist Cathedral. Just off the 41 freeway, near the Amtrak station, you’ll see a most beautiful Gothic-Romanesque style church constructed of red brick, topped with two tall spires. Explore paintings, sculptures, and stained glass in what is considered the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
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