If Paris is “The City of Light” then Fresno is the city of Christmas lights in December, thanks to the two miles of holiday decorations between Shields and Shaw Avenues along Van Ness Boulevard—better known as Christmas Tree Lane.
Every year, millions of bulbs glisten from 300 trees and 140 lavishly decorated homes in the Fig Garden neighborhood. One of the country’s longest-running holiday spectaculars, the big light show at Christmas Tree Lane has been a Fresno tradition for more than 90 years. Other than a few notable times—during wartime restrictions in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the energy crisis of 1973—Christmas Tree Lane has glowed brightly every year since 1920. But the tradition had a somber beginning when a single tree was illuminated as a tribute to a child who had passed away.
While everyone dreams of a white Christmas, Christmas Tree Lane has gotten much greener in recent years. Yes, it takes a lot of electricity to illuminate all of those lights but thanks to improved efficiency and wiring, power use has plunged by nearly 50 percent in the last decade. More than 100,000 people come out to Christmas Tree Lane annually to marvel at the displays during a roughly three-week run that concludes on Christmas night.
Insider Tip: Check the website schedule for Walk Nights, when Van Ness Boulevard is closed to traffic.
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.