Undiscovered Travels in Visalia
By Joe Laing, El Monte RV
If there were ever a beauty contest for Central Valley towns, Visalia would most certainly be among the finalists. With the imposing Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, this picturesque hamlet 230 miles southeast of San Francisco welcomes visitors with towering trees, stunning vistas and plenty of small-town charm.
Located in Tulare County in the San Joaquin Valley, a region famous for its rich and varied agricultural output, Visalia and the surrounding areas offer a bountiful array of natural and man-made attractions that everyone in the family can enjoy year-round. Sports enthusiasts can indulge their passions for hiking, biking, rock climbing and water sports, such as boating, fishing, kayaking and white water rafting. Wildlife watching, canoeing, horseback riding, an old time theater and silent contemplation of the world’s oldest living things are just some of the options for those who prefer their thrills with a little less adrenaline. Visalia makes for an ideal spot for setting up base camp to explore both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
So pack up the vacation gear and get ready for some serious fun! The following list should help you get started toward planning a truly memorable vacation.
Fox Theater – First opened in February of 1927, the Fox began with the latest in “talkies” and live entertainment, and continued to run until 1996. After a three-year restoration largely funded by local groups, the Fox was brought back to life and offers a variety of live entertainment throughout the year. Come see the beauty of a genuine “movie house” and imagine what a night out was like in a world before computers, cell phones and digital everything.
Visalia Adventure Park – Everything from batting cages and bumper boats to lazer tag and mini-golf await at this family-oriented theme park. Don’t miss the arcade, where game machines are loud and full-sized.
Minor League Baseball – Take everyone out to the ball game and enjoy a game of minor league baseball at Recreation Park. The Visalia Rawhide, previously known as the Visalia Oaks, is a Class-A Advance team of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kaweah Oaks Preserve – Located 12 miles away in Exeter, this 322-acre preserve is home to more than 300 species of animals and plants, including one of the last valley oak riparian forests in the San Joaquin Valley. The primary purpose of the preserve is to do just that – preserve nature for all to enjoy. You may bring a picnic but there are no trash cans, so pack it in, pack it out; hunting, fishing, fires or alcoholic beverages are not permitted. Open dawn to dusk, 365 days a year with free admission.
Lake Kaweah – Where water-lovers come to play! Bring your boats, skis and fishing tackle – this attraction really hops in May and June when the water levels in this man-made lake are at their highest.
Sequoia National Park – You absolutely do not want to miss this park, home to the world-famous General Sherman tree. At 2100 years old, it is the largest living tree in the world. Hiking and camping opportunities abound, along with some of the most amazing scenery anywhere.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park – The town of Allensworth was founded by U.S. Army veteran Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth in 1908 as a place where African-Americans could own property and otherwise live the American dream. It was the only California town founded, financed and run by African-Americans. The restored town features nine buildings, including a schoolhouse, a hotel, a general store and several homes, and is about 40 miles from Visalia.
Balch Park Station – Experience the unspoiled beauty of the High Sierra and the Giant Sequoias from atop a horse. Choose a one-hour or day-long ride, or customize a plan to fit the skill level of everyone in your family. Pack trips and extended trips are also available. Reservations are required. Located in Springville, about an hour from Visalia.
Cat Haven Wild Animal Park – Who doesn’t go a little soft at the sight of an exotic animal, especially a big cat? Come and see some of the rarest animals on the planet, included the Amur, clouded and snow leopards. Make sure to wear your hiking shoes for the tours, and bring plenty of water. Located in Dunlap, about 50 miles from Visalia.
Kings Canyon – Still looking for more breathtaking scenery? The second National Park in the area is about two hours or so away from Visalia, and serves up even more jaw-dropping views, not to mention rock climbing and the chance to go spelunking in Crystal Cave. The park is also home to the General Grant Tree, also known as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree.”
An excellent place to camp with your motorhome while visiting Visalia would be the Visalia / Sequoia National Park KOA. Another option would be the Country Manor Mobile Home Community who has 20 available spaces for short-term rental.
As you can see, there’s so much to do here that you’re probably going to have to spread it out over a couple of vacations, just to do it all!
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