As the temperatures cool and leaves begin to change color, the town of Visalia swings into gear for the fall season. The surrounding farms of Tulare County are busy harvesting a bounty of fruits and vegetables, and everyone is ready to celebrate with an impressive line-up of festivals.
Visalia can be found in the Central Valley, California’s most productive agricultural region, providing more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States. While it’s a mid-sized city offering visitors all modern conveniences, it also has a small town feel. Stroll along the historic Main Street lined with family-owned boutiques and restaurants, browse a gallery featuring home-grown artists, or relax at a bar selling locally crafted beers. And when you consider that there are two national parks just an hour away, you’ll understand why Visalia is such a perfect destination.
This trip was hosted by Visit Visalia, but all opinions are my own.
Things To Do
There’s always plenty to do in Visalia all year long, but fall is an especially great time to visit. Be sure to allow enough time to enjoy all this city has to offer.
1. Have Fun At A Festival
The Chamber of Commerce kicks off the festival season with Oktoberfest in late September. As one of the largest events of its kind in the Central Valley, Oktoberfest provides guests with plenty of food, drinks, music, and fun. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance since this festival often sells out.
Next up is Taste of Downtown Visalia, held each year in mid-October. Enjoy food from over 30 restaurants representing cuisines from all over the world. Also offered are beer and wine tasting, and of course, live music.
Probably the most unique festival is Taste The Arts (also held in October) featuring a “Fun With Food” sculpture contest. Music and performances are offered on three stages along with displays of 70 regional visual artists and their paintings, sculptures, steelwork, photographs, and jewelry. Admission is free and activities are offered for all ages.
2. Appreciate The Art
Housed inside a former creamery, Arts Visalia is a local non-profit gallery supporting the visual arts and artists. Each month features a new exhibit of paintings, sculptures, or photography. Art classes are also available for children and adults. Currently, the gallery is displaying the work of local sculptor, Peggee Davis. A great way to experience this gallery is at First Fridays, taking place once a month from 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Enjoy some wine and cheese, browse the exhibits, and meet the artists.
3. Explore Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Parks
During your visit to Visalia, be sure to set aside a day to visit Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks. Both are managed as one unit, so you’ll pay just once and be able to explore two impressive parks.
One of the best ways to be introduced to Kings Canyon National Park is on top of a horse. Grant Grove Stables offers 1 or 2-hour guided rides through a grove of Giant Sequoias. Along the way, you’ll see the General Grant tree — the third largest tree in the world — and the Gamlin Cabin built in 1872. It’s also possible to spot wildlife like deer and black bears.
After your ride, be sure to take the short walk through Grants Grove and stand at the base of the 267-foot-tall General Grant Tree. Look for the fallen Sequoia that’s been hollowed out for visitors to walk through. Giant Sequoias can only be found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so appreciate this rare sight.
Throughout both parks are hundreds of miles of scenic hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Visit Visalia has a list of the best trails in both the parks and nearby national forests. There are also paved, accessible trails available.
Pro Tip: Weather conditions vary wildly in both parks depending on the day, elevation, and time of year. Be sure to consult the park websites for conditions before visiting.
4. Eat And Shop At The Farmer’s Market
Visiting one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions during harvest season practically requires a stop at the Visalia Farmers Market. Come prepared with your reusable shopping bags.
Taking place every Saturday morning, rain or shine, the Farmers Market is home to over 30 vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, nuts, olive oil, and homemade gift items. You’ll also find prepared foods from around the world.
Be sure to visit Farmer Bob Todd and purchase some of his delicious watermelon juice. Then head over to Haas Olives for excellent olive oil sold in repurposed bottles.
5. Drink Lots Of Beer
Visalia has its own microbrewery district serving beers from all over California and beyond. The largest selection is available at BarrelHouse Brewing with 26 beers on tap. Whether you love stouts, sours, IPA’s, or lagers, there is something for you here. There’s live music on the weekends and food trucks dishing out delicious fare. If you’re visiting with kids, you’ll enjoy the large outdoor beer garden.
Within walking distance are Brewbakers Brewing Company, Visalia Brewing Company, and Sequoia Brewing Company.
6. Stroll Along Main Street
Take a walk along Visalia’s tree-lined Main Street and browse through its locally-owned boutiques. This time of year you’ll appreciate the changing color of the foliage.
Pacific Treasures & Gourmet sells gourmet packaged foods, candles, jewelry, and gift items. Casas Succulents & Cactus has a large assortment of plants already potted in vintage pots, perfect for your home or a gift. If you prefer vinyl over streaming apps, then head to Velouria Records and explore their large selection of records. Along the way, you’ll also find a few vintage stores, clothing boutiques, and home decor shops.
7. Eat Lots Of Great Food
Whether you’re looking for fast casual or fine dining, Visalia has plenty of options when it comes to restaurants. And with all that local produce to be had, the food here is really good.
For a special celebration, or just to enjoy dinner in an upscale venue, make reservations at Vintage Press. The interior is decorated with dark wood, unique architectural features, and vintage decor. In the bar area, you’ll find a baby grand piano perched high above the tables and an oversized, old fashioned wooden bar. Fall is the ideal time to visit since roasted baby pumpkins stuffed with smoked chicken are on the menu. According to Wine Spectator, Vintage Press has one of the best wine lists in the world.
For something quick and casual, head to Pita Kabob. Their selection of healthy salads, kabobs, and wraps is perfect for a lunch date or family dinner. Round out your meal with a large selection of beers from the West Coast, both on tap and by the can.
Valhalla Restaurant and Gift Shop is like stepping into Denmark. Family-run for 3 generations, their Scandinavian-inspired fare is delicious and comforting. Come for breakfast or brunch and enjoy the Danish classic, æbleskiver, small pancake balls topped with powdered sugar.
Join the locals for authentic Mexican food at Chapala Grill. Located in a nondescript mini-mall, this popular spot offers a large menu of all the Mexican favorites along with a few lesser known dishes. Mole lovers will definitely want to try their version served over enchiladas. And be sure to wash it all down with one of their classic or fruit flavored margaritas.
Located on Main Street, Fugazzis combines stylish decor with excellent California cuisine, all rounded out with a classic cocktail menu. Entree options include pasta, pizza, sandwiches, steak, and seafood. The chicken tequila fettuccine comes highly recommended.
Where To Stay In Visalia
Visalia offers a wide range of accommodations ranging from budget to luxury. Selecting one of the hotels near the historic downtown is recommended so that restaurants, shops, and breweries are all within walking distance.
Comfort Suites Visalia Convention Center provides guests with large suites, perfect for a family or a longer stay. Each room includes a refrigerator and microwave. A hot breakfast is included featuring a “make your own waffles” option. Photos of the nearby national parks adorn the walls of each room, reminding guests to get out and explore.
The Marriott at the Convention Center offers spacious rooms, an onsite bar and restaurant, and a pool. The nearby Sequoias are reflected throughout the hotel in its decor, making this feel less like a standard big chain hotel and more like a boutique inn.
For something both unique and upscale, the Darling Hotel is perfect. Located in the former Tulare County Court Annex, this Art Deco building has been lovingly restored and features a rooftop restaurant with great views of the city.
Visalia is a great destination any time of year, but there’s something extra special about the fall. Come visit during the harvest season and you’ll enjoy temperate weather, fall foliage, and plenty of delicious and locally grown food. If possible, time your trip to participate in at least one of the fun festivals.
For more activities and interests to explore around Central California, check out these articles: