Fresno, CA


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The county seat and economic hub of Fresno County, the City of Fresno is the fifth largest city in California and home to a population as diverse as its constantly evolving neighborhoods. Fresno has a long history and a thriving future as the financial, business, cultural, fun and entertainment capitol of California's agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley. It is also the entrance to Sierra National Forest and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and serves as a major gateway to Yosemite for travelers coming from Southern California. This prime geographical location makes Fresno an excellent stop for weary travelers looking for fun family activities to break up the monotony of a long drive.

Must see in Fresno
For a safe and clean spot to enjoy the California sunshine visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo where visitors have the chance to feed giraffes, pet stingrays and come face-to-face with sea lions. If the temperatures get a little too warm, head below ground to the Forestiere Underground Gardens for a quirky history lesson, a dose of architectural innovation and to let the kids (or the kid in all of us) live the wildest backyard fortress dream ever. No County Fair compares to a day at the Fresno Fairgrounds when the Big Fresno Fair is in town. The old-fashioned fun includes concerts, giant corndogs, blue ribbon pie, pig races, tractor pulls and a carnival complete with Ferris wheel.

Where to stay in Fresno
The Tower District (which is centered around the historic Tower Theater) is where the young, hip and those looking for fun like to stay. Gaining popularity due to its proximity to the original location of the California State University of Fresno, the Tower District is now home to various retail businesses, night clubs and several community events throughout the year such as Jamaica My Weekend, Mardi Gras, the Gay Pride Parade and Halloween in the Tower. Those who prefer nature over nightlife should stay in the Woodward Park neighborhood. Making up the north eastern part of the city, Woodward Park is a 300 acre regional park and bird sanctuary that features a dog park, equestrian trail, authentic Japanese garden, children's playgrounds, a lake, several picnic areas and miles of trails. The area is exceptionally family-friendly. For the best deals though, stay in Downtown Fresno. After many of the original buildings sat abandoned for years, Downtown Fresno has since gone through a boom of redevelopment. Old structures were demolished and replaced with new construction (including the Grizzlies stadium) and the area has been reinvigorated with small businesses like Teazer's World Tea Market, the neighborhood Farmer's Market, the CartHop food truck gathering at Fulton Mall and Yoga at the Market on Kern.

Best and worst time to go to Fresno
Although California is famous for sunshine, some find the dry heat in Fresno to be unbearable from late May through early August. For comfortable temperatures but still plenty of sun it's best to visit between October and January. Try not to travel after 4 p.m. between November and March though, when the Central Valley's famous Tule Fog can make driving conditions extremely dangerous.

Where to get lost in Fresno
A great area to simply wander around is in the Fig Garden Village shopping center, especially around Christmas time when the shops are decorated for the holidays. Not only is Fig Garden Village home to several upper scale shops like Williams-SonomaPottery Barn and Whole Foods Market but there are several places to quench a thirst on the go like Starbucks and Jamba Juice too. It also happens to be a hop, skip and a jump from Van Ness Blvd (between Shields Ave and Shaw Ave), home of Fresno's world famous Christmas Tree Lane during the month of December. Dating back to 1920, Christmas Tree Lane is one of the longest-running holiday events in the country and involves some 140 homes, 300 trees and millions of Christmas lights. The spectacular sight has been featured in numerous publications and television shows.

The best deal in Fresno
The Shinzen Japanese Friendship Garden in Woodward Park is easily the best deal in town. Not only is it beautiful, it's very affordable (only $5 for the entire family) and is home to several unique annual events like the Spring Blossom Festival, the Floating Lantern Ceremony and the Shinzen Cultural Faire. Visitors get even more bang for their buck by extending their visit to the surrounding Woodward park as well, where the views of the lake, ponds and trails can be enjoyed for free and kids can play on three separate playgrounds.

Transportation in Fresno
Although Fresno is the largest city in the United States without an interstate highway running through it, the 99 serves a similar function and is actually slated to be upgraded to interstate status in the near future, a goal that reflects the region's preference for vehicle transportation. Buses are another option in the region with a greyhound bus terminal in downtown Fresno, but be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution if visiting the area at night. Amtrak also serves Fresno with six daily trains running the San Joaquin route south to Bakersfield and north to Sacramento and the Bay Area daily.

Getting In from Fresno/Yosemite International Airport (FAT)
FAT (the IATA code was derived from the airport's former name: Fresno Air Terminal) is a smaller airport which limits the available amenities but assures easy access to rental car companies right off the plane and there are always taxis available at the airline terminal curb too.

Local tip for visitors to Fresno
Although a bustling city with a wonderful sense of community, Fresno does (like many major cities throughout the country) have problems with gang violence. Although rarely an issue during the day, locals know to be extra cautious at night and to avoid wearing a bandanna or excessive amounts of the colors red or blue to avoid any potential for trouble.

Author's bio: Ann Milligan is a wife, mom, author, artist and California native. She can often be found photographing golden poppies, dancing with her kids, watching internet cat videos and nom-nom-noming.