If you are taking a road trip to Sequoia National Park or Kings Canyon National Park, Visalia, California, is the ideal base from which to explore as it is only 35 miles (~50 minutes) from Sequoia and ~55 miles (~75 minutes) from Kings Canyon National Parks. If you have the time, I also highly recommend undertaking the Majestic Mountain Loop and adding Yosemite National Park to your journey.
Use this travel guide to find 19 wonderful things to do in Visalia, California, including the best attractions, restaurants and hotels.
FUN FACT: Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1864, an early settler, Nathaniel Vise, named Visalia after his family. Interestingly, he moved to the area from Visalia, Kentucky, which also carries his family’s moniker.
Visalia, the oldest town in Tulare County, is a delightful place to learn about the area’s agricultural history and indulge in tasty fruits, vegetables, restaurants and bakeries.
FUN FACT: Did you know California is the leading agricultural producer in the United States? 99% of commercially grown almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, peaches, persimmons, pistachios, prunes and walnuts consumed throughout the world are produced in California. Much of it originates in the Central Valley.
Wonderful Things to Do in Visalia, California
Seeking fun and free things to do in downtown Visalia, California? I’ve got you covered with Visalia attractions!
Historic Architecture Walking Tour
As someone who enjoys historic architecture and relishes exploring California gold rush towns, I never miss an opportunity to take walking tours to learn more about the towns I visit.
TOP TIP: Stop by the Visit Visalia tourist office at 112 E. Main Street from 8-5 Monday to Friday to pick up a pamphlet for a self-guided 45-minute walking tour.
Exploring downtown Visalia after dinner around sunset provided a delightful backdrop to revel at buildings dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s and appreciate how they have been repurposed.
The Visalia Fox Theater, Southern Pacific Depot, Tulare County Jail and Art Deco annex (now the Darling Hotel) are my favorite buildings on the downtown Visalia walking tour.
Visalia Fox Theater
Do you enjoy live entertainment? If so, you can attend a performance at the Visalia Fox Theater. Operating since 1930, this notable theater’s Spanish-style design transports you back to old Hollywood.
TOP TIP: Check the theater schedule to see what events are taking place while you are in town.
Downtown Visalia Mural Tour
During your walking tour, it’s worthwhile to seek out the sizable murals interspersed throughout downtown Visalia. For me, the Giant Sequoias and Moro Rock are the most striking.
These two murals will stoke your excitement for visiting Sequoia National Park as these are two iconic views you will have while in the park.
Art on Fire – Painted Fire Hydrants
While walking around downtown Visalia admiring the historic architecture and murals, keep your eyes peeled for one of the 22 colorful fire hydrants along Main Street.
FUN FACT: Talented Visalia artists painted the fire hydrants, which also serve the dual purpose of fundraising for Arts Visalia, a visual arts center that provides art exhibitions and art education programs.
Check out the Arts Visalia website to see exhibitions offered during your visit.
Pacific Treasures & Gourmet
If you share my addiction to home and gourmet food stores, Pacific Treasures & Gourmet is not to be missed. Since I’m always seeking new gadgets, cookware, sauces, oils and spices for cooking and baking, this is an enticing store to visit.
Things to Do Around Visalia, California
Wondering what else to do in Visalia, California? Check out these activities and experiences in and near Visalia, California.
Visalia Farmers’ Market (2100 W. Caldwell Avenue)
Visiting the local Farmers’ Market is one of my favorite things to do in Visalia, California, allowing you to support local businesses while discovering handmade gifts and indulging in fresh fruits, vegetables, and treats.
If you visit Visalia on a weekend, the Visalia Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday year-round from 8-1130AM.
Wander amongst 60+ vendors and pick up goodies for your Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park explorations and spoil yourself with delicious breakfast treats.
Some of my favorite vendors include:
- Prairie Flour Bread Company – select whole or sliced sourdough loaves. Their jalapeno cheddar sour dough, which isn’t overly spicy, is the BEST sourdough bread I’ve ever had. My sliced loaf stayed soft and fresh for a week!
TOP TIP: Since many items sell out by 9am, stop here first.
- Baked – their hand pies and bagels are DELISH!
TOP TIP: Grab a vegan, olive oil sea salt brownie if they have it. I am STILL dreaming about this rich and chewy delight and trying to figure out how I can recreate it!
- Cinnamon Roll Shack – your mouth will water choosing amongst strawberry, apple, walnut or pecan raisin cinnamon rolls.
TOP TIP: Ask for icing on the side if you won’t eat it immediately.
- Sweet Provisions Crepes – nine different crepes will tantalize you. Monkey Business is decadent with peanut butter, Nutella, bananas, and chocolate syrup
- Quesadilla Gorilla – start your day with a meat or veggie quesadilla
- Top of the Hill Jams – you can’t go wrong with orange marmalade, fig jam, or some of their unique spicy options
- La Blu – peruse the beautifully colored and flavored macarons
- Café Kaweah – grab coffee and grilled panini sandwiches
Tulare County Museum in Mooney Grove Park
The Tulare County Museum, located in Mooney Grove Park, only 5 miles (15 minutes) from downtown Visalia, California, is a fun place to learn about the Yokuts Indians history with your family.
Interesting exhibits include handwoven baskets, mortar and pestles for grinding acorns, arrowheads, historic buildings, covered wagons and farming equipment.
FUN FACT: Did you know that one Yokuts family would consume 2000 lbs of acorns each year!?
The beautifully displayed baskets are woven from tule grass. Baskets served a variety of purposes, including gathering, cooking, carrying food and sifting. Women used gambling trays to play dice. Interestingly, dice were made from walnuts and abalone shells.
FUN FACT: Small baskets take three to four weeks to create while larger baskets can take a year to weave!
I personally loved learning that different designs are used for male and female cradle boards to carry babies. The cradle board cover provides sun protection while the beads entertain infants.
TOP TIP: Be sure to walk around the outdoor Pioneer Village, which includes a schoolhouse, log cabin, jail, and blacksmith shop dating from the 1800s.
I also enjoyed admiring a vintage tractor, pick up truck and covered wagon in the large barn. You can also delve into all the groups that have impacted agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. Dutch, Japanese, Mexican, African American, Native American, Italian and 10 other groups have been highlighted.
Go Native! Native American Cultural Celebration at Kaweah Oaks Preserve
Since my visit to Visalia, California, coincided with the annual Go Native Cultural Event, I had the opportunity to immerse and learn even more about the Native American Yokuts tribe at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve. Drumming, classes and Indian Tacos are some of the event highlights.
FUN FACT: Kaweah Oaks Preserve, covering 344-acres, is one of the few places you can see an oak riparin forest in the San Joaquin Valley.
Observing the classes gives an appreciation for how tule grass is selected and used to create the lovely handwoven Yokuts baskets you can see at the Tulare County Museum. Witnessing the Yokuts dice game and seeing how fire sticks are used as firestarters is fascinating..
INTERESTING FACT: I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Malone, the event organizer. Jennifer’s mother, Marie Wilcox, devoted 20 years to creating a dictionary for the Wukchumni language to preserve the legacy and aid younger generations before she passed away in September 2021. Learn more about Marie’s legacy in this New York Times article.
To find future Go Native! Event dates, check out the Sequoia Riverlands Trust site.
Dry Creek Preserve
Dry Creek Preserve, a reclaimed and restored gravel quarry, is a lovely place to stop on the way to Sequoia National Park for disc golf, a picnic, hiking or mountain biking.
TOP TIP: In the spring, it’s a great place to spy wildflowers.
FUN FACT: An onsite nursery grows the native plants used to restore the Dry Creek Preserve and other Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT) preserves. Check dates that you can volunteer at the nursery on the website and learn more about the preserve’s history on Tulare County Treasures.
Best Places to Eat: Visalia, California Restaurants
As a dedicated foodie, chatting with locals always allows me to discover the best places to eat. While in Visalia, California, I encourage you to indulge in as many of these restaurants and bakeries as your schedule allows.
FUN FACT: USA Today and Rand McNally have named Visalia, California, one of “America’s Best Small Towns for Food.”
Component Coffee Lab (514 E Main St)
After Angie, the Visalia Farmers’ Market manager, raved about Component Coffee Lab’s hip space, artisanal coffee and baked goods, I made a special stop. Waiting in line is absolutely worth it! Enjoy their creations in their welcoming indoor space or outdoor, shaded patio.
Since I’m super sensitive to caffeine and sound like a commercial voiceover ratcheted up to 3x speed if I consume it, I gravitate towards teas rather than coffees. If you are a coffee drinker, you’ll covet their curated offerings.
TOP TIP: If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you should ABSOLUTELY order Component Coffee Lab’s salted toffee chip cookie. This behemoth cookie will reward your tastebuds with oats, coconut, espresso, semi sweet chocolate chips and toffee bits. I wish I had bought two!
They also offered a brioche donut glazed with Nutella, which is yummy.
I personally appreciate how Visalia businesses support one another. Component Coffee Lab offers Baked’s bagels, which you can also find at the Baked Store or Farmer’s Market. The Jalapeno cheddar bagel is on point with its perfectly baked in cheese layer.
Next time, I intend to try their Hibiscus Ginger Lime Spritzer, cacio e pepe scone (my favorite Italian dish in scone form!) and their hot honey chicken sandwich.
Cellar Door (101 W Main St)
Tate Darwin, Cellar Door’s chef, is a food artist. Tate innovates tapa-style small plates, allowing you to pair his exquisite dishes with his innovative pre-prohibition cocktails.
Since I’m not a gin drinker, they substituted vodka for gin in their Lavender Smash cocktail, muddling it with lavender, lime, sage and St. Germain soda.
Trained at the Culinary Institute in NYC, Tate sources the ingredients for his seasonally changing menu from the Visalia Farmers’ Market.
FUN FACT: To perfect the taste and presentation, Tate workshops every dish at least ten times before plating and serving them to customers for the first time.
To save room for subsequent dishes, I resisted the temptation to gobble up the in-house crafted bread and butter with sea salt. Following Tate’s suggestion to squeeze lemon juice on my charred asparagus enhanced the flavor. I can’t imagine eating asparagus any other way now.
Although tempted to drink my roasted radishes’ balsamic glaze, I refrained and saved leftovers, enjoying them for breakfast the next morning.
Pacing myself, I reserved room for Tate’s divine butternut squash curry with Persian rice. As a butternut squash fanatic, this dish is perfectly seasoned with cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and turmeric.
TOP TIP: To maximize flavors, Tate freshly grinds spices in a coffee grinder. I plan to adopt this chef hack to elevate my Indian dishes, which I make at least once a week.
Elderwood Restaurant & Lounge (210 N Court St)
As part of your Visalia walking tour, you will admire the Darling hotel and spy the rooftop Elderwood Restaurant and Lounge atop this Art Deco building.
After returning from hiking in Kings Canyon late one evening, I relished the warm breeze as I noshed on Elderwood’s sourdough bread and butter while sipping on a refreshing raspberry lemon drop cocktail that my server had suggested.
TOP TIP: Elderwood is popular for good reason. Reservations are recommended for brunch from 7:30-1 or dinner from 4:30-9:30.
Their pistachio crusted tofu with chipotle spiced lentils is scrumptious and sizable. After polishing off this dish, I didn’t have room for the pot de crème dessert I’d been planning to order.
If you enjoy red wine, they offer an Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon that I discovered on a recent Paso Robles visit and highly recommend.
Baked (110 S Church St)
If you aren’t able to visit the Visalia Farmers’ Market on a Saturday, you’ll be happy to know that Baked, a female owned business, has a brick and mortar store too.
Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 7AM to 3PM, their hand pies are not to be missed! I savored every morsel of my cherry hand pie and wished I’d tried the guava and oreo hand pies too. Their brownies, especially the vegan, olive oil sea, salt version, are divine!
Other delicious offerings include focaccia, vegan cakes and cupcakes, bagels (jalapeno cheddar is my fave), danishes, coffee cakes, and scones.
Quesadilla Gorilla (302 W Main Street)
After starting as a pop-up in Visalia in 2013, Quesadilla Gorilla has developed a devoted following. With brick and mortar locations in Visalia, Fresno, Hanford, San Luis Obispo and a food truck in Three Rivers, they are continuing to expand further and will soon franchise.
FUN FACT: Quesadilla Gorilla has used crowd-funding bonds to fuel their meteoric growth, allowing loyal patrons to invest and realize returns.
Choose from the “dilla of the day,” meat and veggie options or build your own. Vegan cheese is available too. Complement your quesadilla with their homemade salsas, including “avocado salsa” (tomatillos, onions, garlic and avocado) and the house favorite “liquid gold” (smoked chiles with garlic).
If you are craving something sweet, they also have a Nutella quesadilla. Is my Nutella addiction apparent yet?
Farm Fresh Bowls (5427 W. Cypress Way)
Seeking locally sourced, nutritionally balanced bowls for breakfast or lunch? Farm Fresh Bowls has you covered. Choose from oatmeal, yogurt, granola, acai, egg, or baked potato bowls from the convenient drive through. Smoothies, cider and coffee are also available.
Using my reusable cutlery and metal straws from my sustainable travel essentials allows me to minimize my environmental footprint when enjoying on the go meals.
Frosted Muffin (2145 W. Whitendale Avenue)
Located only three miles (~10 minutes) from downtown Visalia, Frosted Muffin is a locally owned, family business worth a stop. Choose from one of the six cupcake flavors they offer every day. Or, mix it up with one of the six flavors that changes daily. Some of their unique combinations include: Rolo, strawberry cobbler and peanut butter cookie. Get in my belly!
Where to Stay in Visalia, California
Choose from a number of lodging options while you immerse in all the memorable things to do in Visalia, California.
If you want to stay in a historic Art Deco hotel in the heart of downtown Visalia and be walking distance from all Visalia’s attractions, the Darling Hotel is a terrific option.
FUN FACT: This boutique hotel used to serve as the Tulare County courthouse.
TOP TIP: Make sure to dine at the rooftop Elderwood Restaurant and Lounge and enjoy the panoramic views. More on my favorite dish and drink above.
Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center
The Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center is a modern downtown hotel option. If you are a Marriott Bonvoy rewards member, this convenient location affords you the opportunity to walk to downtown while also earning Marriott Bonvoy points.
TOP TIP: Enjoy food, cocktails and live music on the outdoor patio at the DT Lounge on Fridays from 5-9PM and Sundays from 3-6PM.
Changing up their menu every quarter, the DT Lounge sources local, fresh ingredients. I really enjoyed my hummus plate and California bowl with tomatillo salsa. Their blackberry margarita is also delish!
Holiday Inn Express
If you don’t mind a short eight-minute drive to downtown, the Holiday Inn Express is a nice option.
You can indulge in their free onsite breakfast or head next door to Farm Fresh Bowls for their myriad breakfast bowls. The hotel is also walking distance to Fugazzis Bistro, which offers salads, pizzas and pastas for dinner.
I’d love to hear your favorite things to do in Visalia, California when you visit.
Thanks to Visit Visalia for hosting me – all opinions and review are my own!