Words you might not think go together, “Family Fun in Fresno.” However, Fresno is home to one of the most interesting and unique attractions in California: Forestiere Underground Gardens. Fresno also offers families a “must see” zoo and beautiful parks. In addition, time your trip correctly and you might find some amazing produce and fruit along the Fresno County Fruit Trail.
Forestiere Underground Gardens
5021 West Shaw Ave., Fresno, 93722, (559)271-0734. Info: www.undergroundgardens.com.
This historic site is a California State Landmark. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Forestiere Underground Gardens was founded in 1906 by Sicilian immigrant, citrus grower and visionary Baldassare Forestiere.
Forestiere, spent a period of 40 years, from 1906 to until his death in 1946 crafting a vast network of rooms, tunnels and courtyards as a subterranean escape from the Central Valley summer heat.
The intricate pathways were created section by section, over a span of 10 acres, without the aid of blueprints. It is considered to be a spectacular and unconventional example of vernacular architecture.
He used only shovels, picks and other hand tools during his excavations, going as deep as 25 feet underground and spanning more than 10 acres.
He grew fruit trees and grapevines underground and many original plantings still thrive in the underground gardens.
Countless hours were spent excavating the hardpan layer that cements much of Fresno’s soil to create his underground home. It had a summer bedroom, a winter bedroom, a bath, a functional kitchen, a fish pond, and a parlor with a fireplace.
Interspersed amongst the beautiful stone walls and archways are grottoes and courtyards that allow for pockets of light.
Forestiere Underground Gardens is operated by members of the Forestiere family through the Forestiere Historical Center.
Due to the nature of the historic site, access is only granted through an hour-long walking tour. Accompanied by a tour guide, you’ll learn about the life and work of Baldassare Forestiere, Sicilian immigrant, citrus grower, and visionary, and see some of his grandest creations.
Forestiere Underground Gardens is open weather permitting Wednesday-Sunday. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. If raining call first.
Tickets: Adults: $19: seniors, students with ID and military $17; children 5-17 $9, under 4 free.
Woodward Regional Park
7775 Friant Road, Fresno, 93720. Info: http://www.playfresno.org/facilities-venues/woodward-park
The 300-acre Woodward Park, truly has something for everyone including five miles of trails, an authentic Japanese garden (Shinzen Japanese Garden) and three playgrounds with numerous play structures.
The park, located on the south bank of the San Joaquin River, is also considered a bird sanctuary.
The facility also includes a dog park, streams and lakes, duck feeding, par course, biking, River Trail, frisbee golf course, covered picnic areas and a BMX racing course.
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle, $3 for seniors and free with disabled parking permit.
Shinzen Japanese Garden
114 W Audubon Drive, Fresno, 93720. Info: www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org.
One of the most beautiful walks in this traditional Japanese Garden is the walk around the water to view the old Japanese lanterns.
It is a wonderful place to stage a beautiful family photo, as well.
Japanese Gardens are a place for quiet, reflection and peaceful strolls. If you have high-energy young children this might not be the place for you. Neighboring Woodland Park would be a better choice. Screaming children running down the garden paths are not a welcome sight for visitors expecting the calm and serenity of a Japanese garden.
However, for older children it is a place to explore, learn and experience an aspect of a different culture.
The Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Clark Bonsai Collection at Shinzen is a living museum encompassing the history of the art of bonsai in California and an educational center for the appreciation and practice of the art form. When the world-renowned Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture ceased operations, its impressive collection of bonsai was transferred to the Golden State Bonsai Federation and the Shinzen Japanese Garden.
Tickets (cash only): Adults $5; ages 4-14 $1, under 4, free. Family (two to five people) $7. Parking $5. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday and holidays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Clark Bonsai Collection hours: Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 10 a.m. 4 p.m.
Fresno Chaffee Zoo
894 W Belmont Ave, Fresno, 93728. Info: www.fresnochaffeezoo.org
This family-friendly zoo offers kids a chance to watch marine mammals frolic in Sea Lion Cove and see elephants, lions, and giraffes in the recently opened African Adventure exhibit. In addition, the zoo offers plenty of staff, volunteers and docents to interact with and add to your experience.
African Adventure is a 13-acre, multi-phase expansion which features new animal species in spectacular naturalistic exhibits, as well as many multi-species, that together will emulate the African plains and savannas. African Adventure is a brand new, state-of-the-art home for a pride of lions, a family herd of African elephants, cheetahs, white rhinos, a giraffe feeding station with 360-degree views of the savanna, and a dine-in restaurant called the Kopje Lodge.
Modeled after Point Lobos, Sea Lion Cove is one of the most unique and beautiful new sea lion exhibits in the country. Experience barking sea lions, harbor seals and brown pelicans. The exhibit offers four unique vantage points. At the “nose-to-nose” viewing window, get so close you could seemingly reach out and touch the sea life. Watch sea lions porpoise and play from above at the “cliff overlook” or visit “the shore” while children build sand castles in the sand play area. Follow the coastal path down to “Pacific Point View,” a 35-ft underwater viewing window where you can watch sea lions glide gracefully beneath the water, performing playful acrobatics through the underwater archway.
The zoo includes other attractions, as well:
Stingray Bay: Touch or feed cow-nose rays and southern stingrays as they glide beneath your fingertips.
Roo Walkabout: An Australian walk-through exhibit which features red kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, emu and kookaburras in a unique, multi-species exhibit setting.
Dino Dig: Great for kids. Excavate a full-size T-Rex and other fossils, like a real paleontologist in the Dino Dig. Tools are available in the dig site.
Tickets: From $7.95 to $12.95. Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Fresno County Fruit Trail
Map and info: www.gofruittrail.com
If you time your visit right you can also follow the Fresno County Fruit Trail, with produce stands overflowing with ripe seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The Fresno County Fruit Trail is a self-guided tour through California’s agriculture heartland. The Fruit Trail celebrates the beauty, flavor and culture of the with orchards full of ripe fruit.
While fall is the traditional time to find the best and ripest fruit you can visit Simonian Farms, 2629 S. Clovis Ave., Fresno, 93725, www.simonianfarms.com, year round. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
This fourth-generation family farm grows and directly markets more than 180 varieties of fruits and vegetables and has a large selection of dried fruit and nuts. “Simonian Farms Old Town”, a western themed town in a 5,000 sq. ft. barn, includes an old west wine tasting saloon, Route 66 shooting gallery and general store, antiques and memorabilia.