With new naturalistic enclosures and roughly 200 species of animals, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo gives visitors up-close looks at wildlife from around the globe.
Spreading over 13 acres designed to re-create the plains and savannah landscape of Africa, the beautiful African Adventure is the Central Valley’s answer to a wildlife safari. Opened in 2015, the exhibit is like the continent in miniature.
Upon entering, you’ll see grazing wildebeests, with majestic elephants moving across the expanses in the distance. Two trails explore the exhibit: Take the Twiga Trail to not only see but also feed reticulated giraffes, the world’s tallest mammal. The second trail leads past a pride of lions lounging and playing atop boulders before it reaches an overlook for a closer view of elephants wallowing in a mud hole. And there are always surprises: You might spot cheetahs scrambling up their climbing tree, then gazing down at passers-by.
Once you’re out of Africa, travel to the land Down Under at the Roo Walkabout, another new environment that debuted in 2016. The exhibit is home to red kangaroos, emus (a flightless bird that stands more than six feet tall), and kookaburras, whose laughing calls inspired the song that kids have been singing around campfires for generations.
California gets plenty of love at the zoo too. Fresno may be more than 150 miles from Monterey County but Sea Lion Cove—inspired by the incomparable marine environment at Point Lobos, south of Carmel—is the next best thing to a day along the coast. As you watch the sea lions and harbour seals playing in the water (be sure to go nose-to-nose with them at Pacific Point View, a 35-foot subsurface window), you’ll catch whiffs of salt air and also see brown pelicans, a once endangered bird whose populations are recovering. Honoured with the Associations of Zoos & Aquariums’ prestigious Top Honor Exhibit Award in 2014, Sea Lion Cove also offers two Keeper Chats each day.
The zoo has even more animals, exhibits, and kids’ play areas on the way for 2018–2019. A new African River exhibit will feature hippos—including an underwater viewing area—guenons (an African primate), and African birds.
Insider Tip: Starting in May, the zoo hosts Evenings on the Savannah, a series of summer events at African Adventure, with live music and special dinner entrées.
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.