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California’s San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, so it’s not surprising that the Fresno food scene is something we recommend for our travel planning clients.
You might surprise a native Angeleno or a Bay Area friend if you said you were headed to Clovis, Madera, or Fresno for dinner. Truth is, they might not even know where it is! We’re here to change that.
We visited this fruitful area on a recent trip with our friends at California Grown in celebration of Farmer and Farmworkers month and learned about the agricultural powerhouse that is the Central Valley.
First, let’s get to know the region as a whole and talk about some of the top things to do to get a taste of Fresno food!
San Joaquin Valley: California’s Heartland
California produces over 400 crops and more than 250 of those grow in the San Joaquin Valley aka the heart of the state’s Central Valley.
The San Joaquin Valley is like the donut hole of the Golden State in that it lies smack dab in the middle with the Tehachapi Mountains to the south, the Coast Ranges to the west, and the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east. It averages 50 to 60 miles wide and runs more than 450 miles if you account for the whole Central Valley.
Fresno and Madera counties are right in the heart of the Central Valley region, which means they’re in the center of the state too.
Look for the landmark aptly named “Where The Palm Meets The Pine,” which is the center of the state (measured lengthwise) and mark the divide between Southern California (palm) and Northern California (pine).
What Are Some Must-Do Things In Fresno, CA?
Squarely in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley is Fresno, which happens to be the biggest city in the Central Valley.
The city gets a bad rap but its location means you can drive to four National Parks — Yosemite, Sierra, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park) within an hour. Translation? You can visit the Shinzene Friendship Japanese garden or the Fresno Chaffee Zoo (with lions and cheetahs, oh my!) then head off on hiking trails among giant sequoia trees all in one day.
The best areas for restaurants and nightlife are Old Town Clovis and the Tower District in downtown Fresno where you’ll find fun things to do. We’re talking about exploring historic buildings like the Tower Theatre and visiting Chukchansi Park, the stadium where the minor league baseball team, the Fresno Grizzlies, play.
You’ll also find that local food trucks gather weekly in front of Fresno Brewing Company so it’s a great way for visitors to sip on craft beer while exploring the local food scene.
Other things to do in Fresno that are top attractions are the Fresno Art Museum, Roeding Park, Woodward Park, and the can’t-miss Baldassare Forestiere Underground Gardens.
Why Is The Fresno Food Scene Unique?
Fresno county has almost 2 million acres of the world’s most productive farmland. So if you’re asking “What is grown in California,” the answer is a lot and tons is from right here in the Central Valley.
Recently, a local farm movement gained momentum that aims to better food production through organic and sustainable practices. Add to it that the produce is the freshest you’ll find anywhere and it’s clear that farm-to-table takes on a whole other meaning when you’re talking Fresno food.
Since all we do is food-centric, well, we always have food on our minds when it comes to things to do in Fresno.
Not only is the Fresno food scene unique for its agricultural prowess but also for its diversity. The area has thriving Hmong, Chinese, Mexican, Basque, and Armenian communities which are reflected in the food producers, farmers, and restaurants in the region.
The Top 15 Things To Do To Get To Know The Fresno Food Scene
Whether you’re visiting the region to stock up on local produce, to visit Yosemite, or as part of a California road trip, here are the spots to score farm-to-table goodness that are high on our list of things to do to get to know the Fresno food scene.
Start At The Central Valley Farmers Markets
As you can imagine in a place with so much agriculture, farmer’s markets abound in Fresno and Madera, and locals all have their favorites. Here are a few to add to your list of things to do in Fresno:
Clovis Farmers Market
Start here for at taste of Fresno food. You’ll encounter fresh produce, dried fruit and nuts, food vendors, live music, and artisan crafts.
Clovis Farmers Market, Pollasky from 3rd Street to 7th Street, Clovis
Friday evenings, April to October
Vineyard Farmers Market
Look for every kind of fresh produce imaginable, honey, jams & jellies, nuts, flowers, artisan pastry, and freshly roasted coffee.
Vineyard Farmers Market, NW corner of Blackstone & Shaw, Fresno
Saturday morning & Wednesday evenings
Visit The Roadside Farm Stands
Make sure a stop at a roadside produce stand or farm is on your list of things to do in Fresno. There’s no better way to get a taste of the Fresno food scene than on the farms, many of which offer tours and run seasonal Upick operations. A few must visits are:
Look for: fresh produce, dried fruit & nuts, candy, cold drinks, jams & sauces, wine, and more displayed around antiques and farming history.
Simonian Farms, 2629 South Clovis Avenue, Fresno
Daily 9 AM-6 PM
Look for: the best strawberries, cherries & blueberries, fresh onions + garlic, fruit & veggies. Cash only.
Strawberry Stand, Highway 145 just past Storey Road, Madera
Spring-Fall, Daily 9 AM – 3 PM(sometimes later)
Sweet Thistle Farms
Sarah Shoffner hails from a family of farmers in Northern California, so it was only natural that she continued the tradition when she moved to the Central Valley. She set up shop on the land where Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery is located so it’s not a one-stop shop for farmstead cheese, a flower farm, and a pumpkin patch.
From summer into the fall they have an Upick flower option and a farmstand so you can gather fresh flowers and produce all at one stop.
Sweet Thistle Farms, 5365 N. Mendocino Avenue in Clovis
Follow The Food And Wine Trails
There are so many options of things to do in Fresno for food lovers that there are whole trails dedicated to specific foods and wines!
The Blossom Trail
Fresno is home to the “Blossom Trail” — a self-guided tour of the fruit and nut orchards that produce much of the state’s crop. The trail is home to many small, family-owned fruit stands during harvest seasons.
The Madera Wine Trail
Meanwhile, nearby Madera has a trail of its own: aptly named the Madera Wine Trail. Several family-owned wineries welcome guests year-round and offer a variety of wine styles.
Dessert wine fans will be in heaven, since the acclaimed Ficklin Vineyards, known for a California-style port, and Quady Winery, known for Muscat wines (get a slushie!) and vermouth are located in Madera.
Idle Hour Winery
If you’re headed towards Yosemite or just want a trip into the foothills, don’t miss Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst, where the wines are made with native yeast and Viognier is exceptional. Idle Hour has a small restaurant on-site with seasonal dishes and is also located with the Queen’s Inn, an intimate inn with a view of the valley.
If you venture to Oakhurst, you’ll want to visit Oakhurst Spirits for a taste or two. This small-batch distillery offers several types of whiskey, along with rum, vodka, and brandy. We’re fans of the spiced rum and vodka flavored with locally grown lavender.
Oakhurst Spirits, 40300 Greenwood Way, Oakhurst
Eat At The Local Restaurants
The Fresno scene is rich with farm-to-table dishes too, which is why eating local is on our list of things to do in Fresno for food lovers. Here are some of our top picks along with our must-order recommendations:
The menu changes daily at Trelio Restaurant in Clovis, CA, where Chef/Owner/Sommelier Chris Shackleford works directly with local growers. You can try to score one of the few bar seats or walk in, but your best bet is to make a reservation to secure your table at this dinner-only establishment.
The charcuterie is housemade and the fresh pasta is exceptional, but you may want to find out if the lemon pots de creme or flourless caramel fudge cake are on the dessert menu and order accordingly. There are tons of options for vegetarian and gluten-free diners here too, so feel free to take your friends.
Trelio Restaurant, 438 Clovis Avenue #4, Clovis
The Vineyard Restaurant
An institution in the San Joaquin Valley for over 40 years, The Vineyard Restaurant’s menu is a fabulous mix of modern dishes and old-school classics. The same farmers mentioned on the menu are often eating in the bar, where you can score a perfectly mixed cocktail or a glass of wine and a plush seat. Great vegetarian and gluten-free options are available, plus a killer (and large!) burger.
Check the specials and the menu for in-season dishes, including an ever-changing presentation of Mary’s Chicken (she’s from Madera) but know this: The California Raisin Grower’s Sandwich, Braised Lamb Shank, and Signature Lasagna never leave the menu, with good reason.
The Vineyard Restaurant, 605 South I Street, Madera (just off Highway 99)
A Few More Places To Eat Near Fresno
A few more local restaurants to try to get to know Fresno food are:
- Patio Cafe in Fresno for the best breakfast + brunch
- Annex Kitchen for housemade pasta and wood-fired pizza
- The Elbow Room for a fabulous steak and a perfect cocktail on the patio
- Tijuana’s Taqueria for Mexican food, cold beer, and big margaritas.
Buy Locally Grown Foods From San Joaquin Valley
It wouldn’t be farm-to-table if you couldn’t take it home, right? So be sure to add some artisanal food shopping to your things to do to try Fresno food. Here are our top picks of local food products from the San Joaquin Valley and where to find them:
Amber Balakian is a Harvard grad and fourth-generation California farmer, who takes her family’s organic heirloom tomatoes, blends them at peak ripeness, and jars them so we all can enjoy them all year long. Don’t skip the orange variety! Order Balakian Farms tomatoes online direct from the Fresno farm.
El Cap Coffee
El Cap Coffee (named for Yosemite’s El Capitan) is a small-batch roaster of single-origin coffee with a sizable central valley following. You can find them at farmers’ markets or online, and a tasting room is coming soon.
Order online: El Cap Coffee
Enzo’s Table features olive oil, almond butter, jam, granola, and more made locally.
Enzo’s Table, 1959 N Willow Ave, Clovis, CA 93619
Rosenthal Olive Ranch
Rosenthal Olive Ranch olives are grown and processed with care by a family in Madera – in fact, if you decide to call in your order instead of ordering online, you’ll talk to Mrs. Rosenthal herself. (Tell Karen we said hi if you call!)
If you love flavored oils, try the garlic or basil-infused oil – and the orange makes an amazing vinaigrette. If buttery EVOO is more your speed, opt for the 100% Arbosana variety, if you like peppery oil, the 100% Koroneiki EVOO is for you.
Rosenthal Olive Ranch
Sierra Nut House
Sierra Nut House has a huge selection of dried fruit and nuts, along with local honey, jams, sauces, olive oil, vinegar, and more. They also make their own line of soup mixes from dried local vegetables and beans – the Fresno Fog Split Pea sells out regularly.
Sierra Nut House and Bistro 7901 N Blackstone Ave, Fresno (Villagio center)
Sierra Nut House: 3034 E Sierra Ave, Fresno
Extend Your Trip To Yosemite
Though we’re sharing the top ways to try Fresno food, the truth is that Fresno is a major starting point for traveling to Yosemite. Plan to could extend your trip from Fresno to Yosemite with this itinerary.
Or, cross through the park and exit to the east through Tioga Pass, and head on to visit Mammoth Lakes.
Have Us Plan Your California Trip
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Photo Credit: All photos by Paprika Studios