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Things To Do In Visalia To Guarantee An Awesome Trip!
Jason and I had the privilege of visiting Visalia twice this past year. Unless you live in the area, you probably don’t know much about this mid-sized city in California, but I hope to change that.
Visalia is located in the Central Valley, a region responsible for providing half the fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the United States. It’s also a popular base for exploring two nearby national parks; Kings Canyon and Sequoia. And while it is a bustling city home to over 132,000 residents, it’s historic downtown gives it a small town feel. It’s like getting the best of both worlds in one trip.
I was impressed at the array of things to do in Visalia and will share our favorites with you.
Visit Visalia hosted our travels, but all opinions are our own.
Learn About Tulare County
I’m a museum lover and get pretty excited when I discover a lesser known institution focusing on local history and culture. The Tulare County Museum--located in Mooney Grove Park--should be required for any visitor to the area. As the first stop on our agenda, it perfectly framed the rest of our visit. I was fortunate to be given a tour by the museum curator, Amy King.
We started with an impressive exhibit of baskets from the Native American Yokuts tribe. Then we explored several historic buildings on the grounds of the museum including Visalia’s first jailhouse and a one room schoolhouse. This museum is popular for school field trips, so I think it's ideal if you're exploring with young kids or grandkids. This isn't a stuffy art museum where nothing can be touched and everyone must be quiet. Instead there's plenty of space to run around and many large, interesting exhibits to touch and explore.
My favorite exhibit detailed sixteen different cultural groups that helped settle the Central Valley. Waves of immigration over decades brought many different influences to the region that are still felt today.
Admission to Mooney Park is $6 and includes museum entrance. The day we visited the weather was pretty chilly, but on a warm day it would be fun to stroll the park grounds admiring the many resident peacocks.
Stroll Through Downtown Visalia
Red brick buildings line Visalia’s Main Street along with historic buildings in a variety of architectural styles ranging from Italianate to Art Deco. If you are short on time, take a quick stroll through the downtown to appreciate its style and vibe.
But if you have more time, pop into the Visit Visalia office and grab a brochure outlining a historical walking tour. Explore the sites of the city’s first church, courthouse, and school house. Be sure to look out for the curbs that still anchor thick, iron rings used to tie a horse’s reins after it’s rider dismounted.
Throughout downtown you’ll find dozens of independently owned shops, restaurants, and cafes. I especially liked Casas Succulents and Cactus, a mostly outdoor shop with hundreds of plants in fun and unusual containers. If you need a sweet treat, try Bee Hive Bake Shop selling a nice selection of danishes, cupcakes, and cakes.
Also in downtown is Arts Visalia, a non-profit gallery offering exhibits of local artists. While we were visiting the current exhibit featured works of sculptor, Peggee Davis. Ms. Davis began her sculpting career after retirement and focuses on mixed media works.
Visit Farmer Bob’s World
Most Americans live in urban settings and are unaware of how our food is grown or where it comes from. Farmer Bob McKellar wants to change that so he turned a portion of his 94 year old family farm into an educational attraction called Farmer Bob’s World.
Located in a large grove of orange trees, Farmer Bob’s World is a collection of educational exhibits intended to teach kids and their families about citrus farming. The highlight of the experience is a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the orange trees with a narrated introduction to citrus farming. After the ride we had the opportunity to pick two oranges to take home.
Jason and I were especially fortunate to meet 91 year old Bob McKellar. He has no interest in kicking back and retiring, but instead wants to share his passion for citrus farming with families.
Tickets for a farm tour and wagon ride are $15 and are currently available Wednesday through Sunday. I’d recommend allowing at least two hours for the visit.
Enjoy Great Food In Visalia
Visalia’s location in the middle of Central Valley--one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions--means there is plenty of excellent food to be had. After two visits Jason and I have made our way through many restaurants and want to share our favorites.
Right after you make your hotel reservations, get yourself a table at Vintage Press. We were fortunate to have brunch here on our last day and it was the perfect ending to our trip. The meal began with a three tiered stand loaded with fruit and mini pastries being set on the table. While I wanted to eat everything, I saved room for our delicious entrees, in my case grilled salmon. The food is complemented by the vintage decor featuring dark wood, mirrors, and stained glass. And don’t forget to order a glass of wine. According to Wine Spectator, Vintage Press has one of the best wine lists in the world.
Perched atop the Art Deco styled Darling Hotel is Elderwood, serving a selection of excellent steak and seafood entrees. A list of original cocktails includes The Carrie Bradshaw, What’s Kraken, and an Oaxacan Old Fashioned. If the weather is cooperative, sit outside on the rooftop terrace to enjoy expansive views of Visalia and the surrounding area.
If you're beer lovers like us, Visalia has several options for imbibing. Brewbakers Brewing Co. is the oldest brewery in town and always has at least six beers on tap. We dined here one night and enjoyed a few beers along with some tasty food. I definitely recommend their Sequoia Red.
To try a large variety of local beers then head to BarrelHouse Brewing. I had the opportunity to sample about a dozen beers including sours, IPA’s, lagers, and stouts. With an outdoor beer garden, live music, and food trucks, this is a seriously fun way to spend a few hours.
Explore Kings Canyon And Sequoia National Parks
Any trip to Visalia should include Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Home to thousands of the massive Sequoia trees, these two parks in the Southern Sierra Nevadas offer hiking, sightseeing, horseback riding, and much more. We’ve had a chance to visit each park this year, but have only scraped the surface. We definitely need to go back!
In Sequoia National Park head deep into the park to view the General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume. No, it’s not the tallest or the widest, but it has more wood in its trunk than any other tree on Earth. It’s 275 feet tall and approximately 2,200 years old. The tree is named for the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Explore the three mile Congress Trail to see many more impressive trees including The Senate and The House. And don't be afraid to visit Sequoia National Park in the winter!
In Kings Canyon National Park be sure to check out Grants Grove, home to the General Grant, the third largest tree in the world. The .7 mile General Grove Loop Trail winds through several giant living Sequoias and a fallen, hollowed out tree through which visitors can walk. This is a fully accessible, paved trail.
If you want some expert assistance during your time in these parks, consider booking a tour. Sequoia Guides offers private guided hikes, snowshoeing, and star gazing in either park. Owner Krista Simonic is passionate about the trees, the park, and its history and her enthusiasm is infectious. A wonderful way to explore Kings Canyon is on top of a horse led by local guides. Grant Grove Stables offers one and two hour guided rides.
The entrances to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are each about an hour outside of Visalia. They are managed as one unit, so you’ll pay $35 to enjoy both for up to seven days.
After a season of intense wildfires, not all parts of these parks are open. In addition, winter can bring heavy snow which can also impact park accessibility. Be sure to check the website prior to your visit and plan accordingly.
Best Hotels In Visalia
Visalia is a mid-sized city with many options for accomodations ranging from budget to luxury. No matter your needs, you'll find a great place to stay.
During our first visit to Visalia we spent two nights at the Marriott and definitely recommend it. It’s location means you’re within a ten minute walk of everything downtown. And it has all the things you expect from a Marriott; clean, comfortable rooms, an onsite restaurant, pool, and fitness center.
For our second trip we stayed three nights at the Comfort Inn & Suites and had an equally good experience. We enjoyed the large suite and included hot breakfast each morning. It’s location is also downtown making it very convenient.
So Many Things To Do In Visalia
I’ve become very fond of Visalia and all of the people we’ve met while exploring it. I can’t believe it took us so long to explore such an important and beautiful part of California. The next time you’re speeding along the freeway on your way to Northern or Southern California, consider spending at least a day exploring this region--you won’t regret it.