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The Best Things to do in Fresno, CA

Hidden gems in this California gateway town.

a bridge and pond at the Japanese garden in Fresno California

For several years, my brother and his growing family lived in California, and the nearest airport to them was the little local airport of Fresno, CA. It’s definitely not the California destination that anyone will think of first, but it has something of a reputation as the gateway to California’s iconic National Parks. If you’re flying in to visit Sequoia or Kings Canyon, or Pinnacles, or even Yosemite, odds are that Fresno is going to be your closest airport!

But this doesn’t mean you should sleep on Fresno itself! I spent several years hopping in and out of Fresno, looking for that post-flight lunch or killing time before a return flight, and I have recommendations! Two fun attractions to while away an afternoon, and that lunch spot that you absolutely cannot miss.

Food first? Food first!

My favorite restaurant from all my years of Fresno arrivals is a local gem called Pismos Coastal Grill. This place slides under the radar for a lot of visitors, tucked away in a strip mall on the north side of town. But this restaurant and fish market serves up amazing seafood dishes and other coastal classics. You can choose from market fresh seafood boils or fry ups, or from a menu of classic sandwiches and entrees. I had a properly life changing fish sandwich here, and while having just flown in from the central time zone and not having eaten since an early CST breakfast definitely played a role, most of it was the excellence of the fish sandwich.

Shinzen Japanese Garden

This first attraction I’d like to highlight for you is a perfect serene escape. It’s a beautifully manicured Japanese Garden with gorgeous groves, a stunning lake and koi pond, classic Japanese bridges and structures, and a bonsai garden. 

For me the highlight was the bonsai garden. I’d never seen so many bonsai trees in one place before. Double check the hours on the bonsai garden before you go though, it’s only open when there’s a docent available and keeps shorter hours than the rest of the garden.

Entry fees are modest and well worth it. Whether you’re planning to explore the whole garden, or simply sit in front of the koi pond and try to process everything that went wrong during that thanksgiving celebration with your relatives that you just left, this is the perfect place to relax, reflect, and admire the beauty of the world around you in the way that only a zen garden can give you. Emotional turmoil or not, it's definitely one of the best things to do in Fresno

Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Fresno’s local zoo is a fairly small institution, but one that packs a punch! They have a wide array of beautifully laid out exhibits, showcasing everything from sea lions, to Asian monkeys and tigers, to creatures of the African Savannah. The African animals exhibit is especially interesting, as it’s largely composed of one single massive habitat that allows many of the animals to interact, and lets you as the guest look across this wide space and see dozens of species at once! Plus, there were a few animals present at the Fresno Zoo that I’d never seen in person before: namely anteaters and cheetahs!

When you’re visiting the Fresno Zoo, I recommend upgrading to their middle-tier ticket, Admission Plus. This gets you admission to the zoo, plus a giraffe feeding experience and access to Stingray Bay. I’d never fed a giraffe before, so that experience alone was well worth it for me! And I also highly recommend visiting their stingray exhibit. I almost skipped it, seeing as I’d touched plenty of stingrays at plenty of aquariums in my day. But the difference here is that these stingrays are used to being fed. You can purchase food for them when you check in with your pass, but even if you don’t, these stingrays come right up to you! Yes they’re looking for food that you may or may not have, but it’s hands down the most friendly batch of stingrays I’ve ever encountered, meaning you get to pet a LOT of stingrays!

There's no Shortage of Fun Things to do in Fresno!

Whether you’re in Fresno for a few days, or just stopping through on your way to a national park, check out one of these amazing attractions, and go eat a life changing fish sandwich.

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Love and Shenanigans,


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