Grand movie theaters have always been great gathering places for their cities, and that’s certainly true of the spectacular Warnors Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Fresno. Originally a Pantages Theater that staged vaudeville shows, this 1928 landmark (it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places) now hosts an eclectic assortment of performances and community events.
According to the preservation organization Historic Fresno, the theater blends a variety of architectural elements: Moorish Revival, Spanish, and Italian Revival touches all add to the structure’s romantic, Old World look. There’s extensive use of terra cotta, and a tiered tower above the marquee rises to a lantern and cupola.
The Warnors was designed by B. Marcus Priteca, who served as the architect on all of the theaters owned and operated by the Pantages organization. But the Warnors remained under Pantages ownership for only a year before Warner Brothers purchased and renamed the building the Warner’s Theatre; Historic Fresno says it was renamed the Warnors Theatre in the 1960s.
Now the 2,100-seat Warnors Center is one of the most visually stunning spaces in the entire Central Valley, especially as light shows paint in vivid colours the elaborate interior, with its ornate, flattened dome. Come here for the center’s classic film series, as well as concerts by the likes of Fresno’s own Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony Award-winning actress who has been honored in four different acting categories.
Listen to the historic pipe organ, which has 1,035 pipes and 720 keys to replicate the sound of a full orchestra. Made by the Robert Morton Organ Company, the instrument once provided background music for silent films and is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world still used for performances at the original location.
Insider Tip: Take a free theater tour during ArtHop events in downtown Fresno, the first and third Thursday of each month.
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.