Halfway between Yosemite National Park and San Francisco sits Modesto—the city where fresh food, outdoor adventure and delicious almond butter shakes come together to create a unique California experience. Located 90 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite Valley and wine country, Modesto is the perfect base camp for your next getaway to Northern California.
Take advantage of wide, open spaces as you travel past almond trees on your way to Modesto’s gastropubs and farm stands. If you take Hwy. 132, it’s the most scenic route from Yosemite to the Central Valley and the Bay Area. As you drive around town, you’ll notice 125 murals painted by an international group of mural masters vibrantly covering building walls and downtown areas.
Then, there are the gastropubs like Contentment Brewing Co., Commonwealth with 24 rotating beers on tap and Camp 4 Wine Cafe, all with fantastic patios. The hip and modern Camp 4, named after Yosemite’s famed rock climbing basecamp, is filled with black and white photos of Yosemite and of legendary rock climber Royal Robbins, the first to climb Half Dome in 1957. It’s owned by Robbins’ son Damon Robbins.
Other great local food joints in Modesto include Bauhaus where you’ll enjoy an elegant experience paired with delicious plates of Gambas al ajillos (a dish of Spanish garlic shrimp), pickled daikon and whatever else is in season. If you are more in the mood for a delicious sandwich made with locally butchered meat, head to Village Butcher. Sit down or grab BBQ favorites to-go. Looking for pizza? Try Paul’s Rustic Oven. Want options for everyone? Head to Modesto “Grub Hubs” where an array of food trucks are lined up with everything from tacos to pizza and kebabs.
And if you really want to see a wondrous sight, head here during mid-February through mid-March when pink and white blossoms blanket thousands of almond trees, creating a patchwork of pink hues against a green backdrop. It’s the perfect place to capture stunning photos and experience almonds in a new way. You can download an Almond Blossom Cruise map online at visitmodesto.com/almond-blossom-cruise/.
“It’s literally one of the prettiest things you’ll ever see,” says Todd Aronson, CEO of Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau, who notes most people don’t have a visual for how beautiful blooming almond trees are. “You literally have millions of acres of pink and white blossoms.”
Farmstands and Shopping in Modesto
Because Modesto is in the heart of the Central Valley where an abundance of fresh produce, fruit and almost 75 percent of the world’s almonds are grown here, it’s worth stopping at a farm stand. For more than 100 years, Smith Ranch peaches have had a strong following from locals and even chefs as far away as San Francisco and Napa. Other great farm stands include Rodin Ranch, selling dried fruit, nuts and fresh produce, and Loretelli Farms that sells plums, pluots, white peaches, strawberries and local produce.
For traditional shopping, there’s the Vintage Faire Mall, which is home to Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Apple Store and more. It actually attracts double the number of people annually who visit Yosemite National Park.
See a Show at The Gallo Center for the Arts
And if you’re spending the night, check out a performance. The Gallo Center for the Arts has two theaters where you can see comedy, Broadway touring groups and Modesto Symphony Orchestra. Yes, the center is named after the city’s most famous family. The E.&J. Gallo Winery, the largest family winery in the world, is based here.
“Modesto is warm and friendly — a place where you’ll find kind people, incredible hospitality, varied lodging for every budget, and just that right mix of comfort and culture,” says Todd Aaronson, CEO of Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau. “There are so few places you can go today and enjoy a live show (be it a play, a blues band or the symphony) and enjoy local cuisine yet still be in bed by 9 or midnight, if you choose.”
Seasonally, Modesto offers some interesting sights. In November, you can actually watch the salmon spawn from one of the bridges east of town. There is a Paddle with the Salmon event with four dates when travelers can get tickets to kayak three miles on the river to see the salmon. Learn more at www.tuolumne.org/events/paddle.
At the end of March, the Modesto Marathon takes place— it’s a Boston and New York City marathon qualifier. With high temperatures averaging 69 degrees that month (and lows averaging 46), Modesto makes for a fantastic course.
Modesto as George Lucas’ Birthplace
Want a little trivia? American filmmaker George Lucas was born in Modesto.
Lucas based his breakout film American Graffiti on his teenage years cruising the streets of Modesto in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Take a spin back in time and cruise the streets that inspired his 1973 film on 10th and 11th Streets downtown between G and K Streets.
Afterwards, park your car and walk to the pedestrian-only stretch of 10th Street Plaza where you’ll find restaurants, an 18-plex movie theater and perhaps live music in the summer. It’s worth strolling J Street where most of the city’s art galleries, and an antique shop, are clustered.
In mid-June every year, the Annual American Graffiti Festival and Car Show takes place in Modesto. Celebrating classic cars, there’s a parade, hundreds of food, craft and specialty booths, live music throughout the festival, a screening of American Graffiti, a rod & custom car show and more.
For more information:
Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau
1008 12th St in downtown