My girlfriend Maisie wanted to take an outdoorsy road trip for 4 days. My original plan was to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. Unfortunately, the Dixie Fire decided to change my plans. While the fire had not closed down Lassen park (yet), the smoke was creating unhealthy conditions. Lassen, unfortunately, must wait.
With 2 days of notice, I decided that we would visit the other National Park in California that I have yet to visit, King´s Canyon. Maisie had never been to King´s Canyon either so we decided to give it a go.
In order to recover from my second COVID shot the day before, I decided to spend the first day of the road trip in Fresno. By spending the first day here, we could position ourselves just an hour from the main entrance of King´s Canyon. I have also never really spent time in Fresno (a few years ago, I visited a unique underground cavern located at the city´s northwestern edge) so this seemed like a good opportunity.
Sunday, July 25, 2021: Fresno
After a slow start, Maisie and I drove up towards Fresno at 10AM. The non-stop drive would take 3 hours, but we planned to make a few stops along the way.
Our first stop was the town of McFarland. This farm town is known for its high school´s cross country team, which was the subject of a Disney film called McFarland. The town isn´t much, but the high school campus appears to take up half the town. There are many banners around town celebrating the cross-country team. This was at most a 10-minute stop that doesn´t involve getting out of your car.
Next, we visited the town of Delano. Just to the west of Delano is the Forty Acres, a compound that once housed the national headquarters of Cesar Chavez´s United Farm Workers of America. The Forty Acres was the site of Chavez´s famous public fast which was only ended after a visit from Robert F. Kennedy (RFK).
The United Farm Workers have since moved their headquarters to Keene, CA between Bakersfield and Tehachapi in a site that was recently declared Cesar Chavez National Monument. The Forty Acres are still owned by the union but are largely abandoned. Besides the buildings, there are a few informative plaques. The best way to understand this place would probably be on a guided tour from a Park Service ranger during the week.
Our next stop was lunch on the southern edge of Fresno. We stopped at a restaurant called Apple Annie´s, which -you guessed it- has lots of apple dishes. The food was really good and the memorabilia was fun. The restaurant had a few model planes suspended from the ceiling. I wonder if the owner realized that half the planes were in fact not US Air Force but the Luftwaffe.
By this point I was very tired and in pain from the vaccine. We checked into our motel and I took an hour nap. The nap, combined with an Advil and a liter of water did the trick and felt fantastic. It was now time to explore Fresno.
Fresno is the fifth most populous city in California with a population of over 500,000, but you wouldn´t know it if you visited. The town feels dead. The streets are lifeless and there is little density beyond downtown. Part of this is due to the stifling heat, but it is also due to the strong car culture and lack of attractions. That said, there ARE things to see in Fresno.
Maisie and I walked around the downtown. In addition to dated office and government buildings there are some restaurants and shops. Most of the shops sold Mexican clothing: mariachi outfits, quinceañera dresses and vaquero cowboy attire.
We made our way to Chukchansi Park, home of the minor league baseball team, the Fresno Grizzlies. The team was recently downgraded from AAA to A due to the great minor league reshuffling of 2020. The crowd was a pathetic 200 (at most). This was such a shame because the stadium was nice and the baseball was really fun!
After the game, we headed to the Tower District, the city´s most walkable and lively area. Here we actually saw people walking along the street. After dinner in the surprisingly delicious Sequoia Brewery pub, we got a pint at the city´s top bar: Goldstein´s Mortuary and Delicatessen which is neither a mortuary nor a delicatessen.
The next day, we drove up to Kings Canyon.
Fresno is not the most interesting city in California. Almost the entire city is suburban, so most people live in their car shuttling between their air-conditioned house and shopping centers full of chain restaurants.
That said, there are enough things to do to stretch a day out of Fresno. The downtown and Tower districts are walkable. The zoo and underground caverns are probably the city´s top attractions, but there are also a few other small museums.
Delano and McFarland are not worth visiting unless you are a true California history buff or want to stretch the legs and, in that case, will only take up a few minutes of your time.
Summer weather in the Central Valley is downright unpleasant. I would recommend visiting in the spring or fall when temperatures are cooler.
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