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California’s biggest inland city makes for a great home away from home while you explore the sights around the San Joaquin Valley. Along with the proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite National Park, you can find plenty of local attractions and sights to see while you’re looking for things to do in Fresno. Water parks and amusement parks brighten up the outdoors, clubs and live theaters keep the city alive well into the night, and a grand collection of storybook houses and century-old buildings await in airy, historic neighborhoods to add a special brand of charm to your stay.
Known as the center of Fresno’s LGBT and heavy metal communities, the Tower District hosts a great collection of small businesses between Route 180 and Fresno City College. The area gets its name from the venerable Tower Theatre, which has anchored the row of shops, bookstores, restaurants, and nightclubs along Olive Street since 1939.
Bordered by the Yosemite Freeway, San Joaquin River, and suburban-style homes, Woodward Park has some of the best nature you’ll find within the Fresno city limits. The park itself has lakefront paths, a fenced dog park, a BMX track, and a disc golf course, all just north of the hotels and outlets of River Park Shopping Center, and a 3.5-mile (5.6-km) loop trail lets you leave the city life behind for some time exploring along the river.
An urban triangle marked by 3 state highways, Fresno’s city center offers one of the most dynamic settings in the Central Valley. Pedestrian malls run past food trucks, farmer’s markets, breweries, and art installations, while some of the biggest Fresno hotels and convention centers share the neighborhood with theaters and sporting venues that form the central spine of the city.
A few of the historic buildings from Fresno’s boom-town days are still standing, giving you a sense of the city’s unique knack for design. The Queen Anne-style railroad depot and the Old Fresno Water Tower still stand out amid the downtown landscape, and the palm trees along Kearney Boulevard lead you past the vineyards and strawberry fields at the outskirts of town. The koi pond at Shinzen Friendship Garden offers a peaceful, meditative setting, and the San Joaquin River Parkway shows off the savanna-like scenery in the heart of the Central Valley.
Fresno’s greatest asset is its proximity to some of the best destinations in the Sierra Nevada. You’re barely an hour’s drive away from Yosemite National Park, while highways 168 and 180 lead straight from the city to Kings Canyon National Park and Sierra National Forest. You can tackle the slopes at China Peak or take a hike to Half Dome, and be back in town by day’s end.
There’s plenty to find while you’re in the city, too. Visit Fresno Chaffee Zoo to see nearly 200 species, from sea lions to African birds, or check out the amusement parks that offer attractions from waterslides to fairy-tale adventures. You can get a more laid-back experience at the unique subterranean courtyards of Forestiere Underground Gardens, or visit the Kearney Mansion Museum to see the century-old home of the developer whose vision helped to shape the region’s character.