Fresno has traditionally been known as a stopover for travelers on their way to Yosemite or Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. But these days the biggest city in the San Joaquin Valley has a lot more to offer than restrooms and refreshments. In its galleries, wineries and historic buildings -- like the landmark 1894 Fresno Water Tower and 1928 art-deco Warnors Theatre -- you'll find art and culture. You'll also find the freshest possible local produce for sale in numerous farmers markets here in California's agricultural hub. Culture and agriculture, urban and rural combine in Fresno to make for a vibrant destination unlike any other in the Golden State.
A creative work of art and masterful function that took 40 years to complete, the Forestiere Underground Gardens are a series of subterranean gardens and living spaces built by the slightly twisted (or very hot) genius Baldasare Forestiere from 1906 to 1946. There are fruit trees, grapes, dining and bedrooms, all sited below the surface. For unique creations by local artists, the Fresno Art Museum is a must-see. If you're traveling with your family, good kid-friendly attractions include the Rotary Storyland and Playland Family Amusement Park, Blackbeard's Family Fun Center and Camelot Park. Wine lovers appreciate Fresno as a less-crowded alternative to the Napa Valley. There are a number of wineries around Fresno that offer wine tasting and, often, a chance to chat with the winemakers themselves.
The charming Tower District around the Tower Theatre is full of upscale and modest restaurants, trendy cafes and culture venues that are popular with Fresno's alternative crowd and gay residents. It's a great place to relax and take in the city's surprising diversity with a hot or cool brew. If you're craving fast food, sushi or steak, explore the restaurants at River Park shopping plaza. If your taste buds are in the mood for fresh cheese, olive oil, ice cream and other delicious specialties produced by agriculture students, head to the Fresno State University Farm Market at Chestnut and Barstow. For a sampling of more local produce, make sure to check out the Vineyard Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. Another great stop for fresh food is Bentley's Patio, a tree-lined open area with two large fountains and free musical shows.
If you want to get out of the heat, Fresno has a number of modern malls with the requisite stores. River Park Shopping Center is the go-to shopping spot for Fresno residents. An outdoor alternative is Fulton Mall downtown. The Tower District has boutiques, bookstores, record shops and other locally owned stores for a retail experience that's a little more authentically Fresno. If you want to take home a taste of the area, be sure to drop in at the Sierra Nut House for nuts, dried fruits jellies and jams.