Ditch the Guidebook With These Off-Beat Ideas In Fresno County

By MEGAN EILEEN MCDONOUGH 

Guidebooks are great, but instead of sticking to the standard sights, let’s flip the script. From exploring underground gardens to meeting your favorite local artists face to face, here are five ways to go beyond your guidebook on your next trip to Fresno County.

 

Go Underground

Fresno County has no shortage of cultural attractions, but arguably the most distinct is one that takes visitors underground. Forestiere Underground GardensA trip to Forestiere Underground Gardens leads travelers through an underground mansion, complete with fruit-bearing trees and fresh grapes that grow below the surface. As you wander through the gardens, you'll see patios, grottoes and garden courts that lead to the four-room living quarters.

Perhaps more inspiring than the actual scenery is the story behind it. Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere arrived in America in 1901, eager to escape his wealthy father's demands and instead pursue his greatest passions. Thanks to his skill as a self-taught artist and builder, he made this dream a reality.

 

Chat With an Artist

Sometimes simply looking at art isn't enough to curve your culture craving. That's where ArtHop comes to the rescue. The bimonthly event takes place every first and third Thursday of the month, giving art fans ample time to take advantage. While you'll probably read a small blurb about ArtHop in your guidebook, there’s a lot more than meets the eye...in this case, quite literally.

In total, there are more than 50 participating galleries, artist studios and museums that take part, leaving plenty of opportunity to meet and greet the artists themselves. Do a little research ahead of time and choose your gallery visits accordingly. Don’t recognize the artist right away? Ask one of the greeters to point you in the right direction. 

 

Meet a Local Vintner

With fewer crowds than Napa or Sonoma and some pretty surprising varietals, Fresno County is a must for any wine connoisseur.Englemann Cellars Bottles Engelmann Cellars hosts wine tastings most Friday evenings (Saturday and Sunday by appointment), from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and it's a great way to meet the vintners and learn about the local wine-growing culture.

Since many of Fresno County’s wineries and cellars are family-owned and operated, meeting a vintner isn’t as tough as it might seem. Sometimes you’ll meet them by chance, during a tour or at a tasting. Other times, simply placing a call ahead of time works. This is especially true if you’re planning a private event at the property.


Take a Painting Class

If you’re traveling with the kids, why not tap into your own inner artist at an interactive painting class? The Artist in Me is the only place in Fresno County where adults and their kids can create art under the guidance of an instructor together. Similar to the Paint Nite concept, every class teaches students the art of painting, step by step. So, whether painting bubble-gum-colored cupcakes or wide-eyed hooting owls, you'll leave with your masterpiece in hand. 

Want to get your pup in on the action? Sign up for The Artist in Me’s popular Paint Your Pet class and surprise your pooch with a painting in her honor. This class requires a little prep work. Participants should send in a picture of their dog ahead of time so the teacher can first draw each pup on the canvases. 

 

Take an Unofficial Walking Tour

Fresno Water Tower

Fresno County might be better known for its lush landscapes and photo-worthy lookout points, but there are several stunning urban views hiding in plain sight.One such hidden gem is the Downtown Water Tower. With construction finished in 1894, which is quite ancient by Fresno County standards, the tower features American Romanesque architecture.

To see the tower in all its historical glory, head to the corner of Fresno and O streets in downtown Fresno. The tower stands 109 feet high and can store up to 250,000 gallons of water. Made of red brick, each layer is slightly smaller from bottom to top. Like what you see? It's all thanks to Chicago architect George Washington Maher.

 

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