Spend time in Fresno and you’ll quickly discover that this Central Valley city has a homegrown art scene independent of those in California’s larger metropolitan area.
With a history that dates to the late 1940s, the celebrated Fresno Art Museum (FAM) is the city’s most prominent cultural destination. Built in 1960, the museum building has nearly tripled in size over the years, and now serves as the impressive home for a collection that focuses on contemporary American art, modern and folk art from Mexico, and pre-Columbian ceramics—some as old as 2,500 years.
Among the most renowned works in the permanent collection is El dia de las flores, Xochimilco, a 1926 painting by Diego Rivera. Definitely check the schedule for an innovative lineup of special exhibitions. Recent events have included shows about iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (who was married to Rivera), California nature photography, and the works of legendary photographer Ansel Adams.
FAM partners with Arte Américas, another prominent Fresno arts institution. Focused on Latino arts and culture, from the traditional to the avant-garde, Arte Américas’ galleries include one that displays works from FAM’s collection. The center hosts a variety of events, including Nights in the Plaza, a summer concert series held at La Plazita, its landscaped outdoor space.
Across the street in Fresno’s Cultural Arts District, Arte Américas recently unveiled a mural inspired by the works of Rivera and dedicated to Central Valley writers—among them, Fresno native son and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist William Saroyan.
For another way to experience Fresno’s creative vibe, on the first and third Thursday of every month, the Fresno Arts Council hosts ArtHop. The first Thursday event centers on downtown Fresno and the Tower District, where you can meet local artists, listen to live music, and enjoy extended hours at museums and galleries. The third Thursday ArtHop event features venues in outlying parts of the city.
Although it’s in the heart of California’s most productive agricultural region, Fresno is also a sophisticated city of gorgeous gardens and parks, with a vibrant creative community and one unforgettable (and underground) attraction you won’t find anywhere else.
Visit the Central Valley’s largest city and discover the exciting Tower District neighbourhood, with shopping, dining, and a nightlife hotspot named for its centerpiece—a landmark, neon-lit Art Deco theater that opened in 1939. Catch the cultural scene at its most dynamic during the twice-monthly open-art program, ArtHop, held in studio and gallery spaces downtown and in other parts of the city. The Fresno Art Museum is also a must, both for its beautifully displayed permanent collection of pre-Columbian artifacts and also its innovative exhibitions showcasing everything from children’s book illustrations to contemporary works from Mexico.
Along the San Joaquin River, 300-acre Woodward Park, the biggest in the city, truly has something for everyone: five miles of trails, an authentic Japanese garden, and three playgrounds. Speaking of the kids, across town they’ll also love the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where they can watch marine mammals frolic in Sea Lion Cove and see elephants, lions, and giraffes in the recently opened African Adventure exhibit.
For an unforgettable only-in-Fresno experience, explore a subterranean living space at Forestiere Underground Gardens, a labyrinth of stone walls, tunnels, and courtyards hand-dug by an Italian immigrant, who had decided that living underground was the best way to keep cool during the Central Valley’s hot summers.
For sports fans, there’s Pacific Coast League baseball at Chukchansi Stadium, home of the Fresno Grizzlies. Meanwhile, the teams at Fresno State University have earned one of the most avid followings of any college in the country (Bulldog alum Aaron Judge is a rising star with the New York Yankees).
At some point, be sure to get out into the farmland surrounding Fresno. In spring, drive or bike the 62-mile Blossom Trail, a loop lined by brilliantly blooming fruit and nut trees. During summer, the drive morphs into the Fresno County Fruit Trail, with produce stands overflowing with ripe seasonal fruits and vegetables.