17 Best Things to Do in Merced, CA

Merced, CA
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As Merced County's capital city, the city of the same name lies at the southern part of Silicon Valley and serves as the county's seat of government.

Merced, a charter city founded on April 1, 1889, is governed by a council-manager system.

This town took its name from the nearby Merced River.

Following their removal from the West Coast under Executive Order 9066 during World War II, Japanese Americans from central California took refuge in the Merced County fairgrounds for four months before permanent detention at the Colorado Granada internment camp.

The "Gateway to Yosemite," the city of Merced, California, is less than two hours away from Yosemite National Park to the east and Monterey Bay to the west.

Recreational sports clubs, youth groups and organizations, music courses and performing arts ensembles, community service programs, art and physical exercise, churches, and yearly events like parades and fairs are just some of the activities available in Merced, California.

Here are the 17 best things you can do in Merced, California:

Explore the Merced National Wildlife Refuge

View of Birds at Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Lee Eastman of Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are almost 10,000 acres of natural landscapes to safeguard in this national wildlife refuge.

Created in 1951, it aims to preserve native grasslands, vernal pools, and marsh.

In the beginning, the Merced National Wildlife Refuge's primary purpose was as a distraction for wintering waterfowl from the farmland that surrounds the area, where they caused foraging damage.

View of Birds at Merced National Wildlife Refuge
ggcarrle / Shutterstock.com

Now, the refuge serves as a critical breeding ground for large flocks of visiting waterfowl, arctic nesting geese, shorebirds, and water birds, and other small creatures.

With more than 500 acres of irrigated grassland, the city's national wildlife refuge provides native species and migratory wildlife homes.

View of Merced National Wildlife Refuge
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Get Closer to Animals at Applegate Park Zoo

More than half of the animals at the Applegate Park Zoo come from wildlife rescue facilities and now call it home.

The park, established in 1962, contains various habitats for the animals to dwell in, allowing visitors a look into their native environments.

Several picnic sites and a playground are available for guests to enjoy alfresco lunches in the park.

The Merced Zoological Society (MZS) also operates a gift store and arranges special events and gatherings from which the proceeds benefit the Zoo's maintenance.

Make a Wish at Laura's Fountain

Whenever we see a fountain, our first move is to throw a coin and wish for romantic success.

Well, we know a place in Merced where you can do that, somewhere that also has a romantic and tragic origin.

Built by Charles Huffman in 1888, Laura's Fountain honors his loving wife, Laura.

This monument, originally located in front of the El Capitan Hotel, was relocated to its current location in Applegate Park in 1935.

Tour the Historic Merced County Courthouse Museum

View of Historic Merced County Courthouse Museum
Diego Grandi / Shutterstock.com

This courthouse-turned-museum commits itself to convey the narrative of the pioneers of the Great Central Valley and show Merced County's history.

It is open to the public on weekends and holidays.

At the junction of W. 21st and N Streets, the museum is within the Merced County Courtroom, a three-story historic structure completed in 1875 and functioned as the city's courthouse from 1875 until 1975.

View of Historic Merced County Courthouse Museum
Diego Grandi / Shutterstock.com

The building, designed in the Italianate style by State Capital Architect Albert A. Bennett, is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

It is also one of the state's earliest historic structures, constructed in 1850.

Access to the museum is free, and it is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday.

Cap off Your Day at The Partisan

Locally owned, locally run, and locally created Merced's live music venue since 2007.

An 18th-century structure contains the bar.

The state's historic resources inventory served as a saloon from 1885 to 1888 before becoming Fred Clough's Furniture Store.

Before The Partisan, Trails End pub and Rudy's Jazz and Blues lounge rented the property.

Partisan has a selection of live bands and DJs, as well as Karaoke evenings.

Cocktails, beer, and cuisine are all on the menu at this bar.

If you're lucky, you can catch special events and parties in the bar, as well as themed nights.

Picnic While Sipping Wine at Vista Ranch

Explore the agricultural plots, gorgeous vineyard, and contemporary tasting facility of this attraction.

There are also picnic areas and a large event center.

Bear Creek Ranch, where this property stands, is home to multiple seasonal and year-round farm plots producing fresh food such as strawberries, broccoli, sweet corn, and Swiss Chard.

Vista Ranch offers these at the farm market on-site and at other events around the 20 acres of George Fancher's Ranch called Bear Creek.

Outside the tasting room, there are bocce courts for some summertime fun.

Small-batch wines from Vista Ranch & Cellars' 3.5-acre vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Primativo are available at the tasting area, located in a 1910 farmhouse circled by agricultural plots and fruit trees.

Take a Look at Inspiring Pieces and Performances at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center

This multifunctional center that houses an arts facility, a gallery, and a performance venue, devotes itself to encouraging and developing artists in the city.

The Merced County Arts Council maintains the 28,000-square-foot county arts center located at 645 W. Main Street.

It hosts a variety of changing exhibits and displays featuring the works of local and regional artists.

In addition, the center provides art workshops and educational activities for all ages, financial assistance for developing artists, and rental facilities for special occasions and gatherings.

Grab Some Fresh Produce From Merced Fruit Barn

Outside View of Merced Fruit Barn
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

This homey farmstall in Merced offers fresh produce, including fruits, vegetables, and other products produced by the farm.

Located at East Highway 140, it is a few miles away from Yosemite National Park.

In addition to selling delicious treats like dried and candied fruit, nuts, honey, gourmet items such as jams, jellies, and marmalade, as well as trays and gift baskets for special occasions, this barn also offers a variety of other services.

A fantastic green area has picnic tables outside the Merced Fruit Barn, where guests may rest and taste the fruits and vegetables on offer.

Outside View of Merced Fruit Barn
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

Have Fun With Your Kids at Rockin' Jump Trampoline Park

This trampoline park caters to the whole family with a range of entertaining games and activities like trampoline dodgeball, open jumping arenas, slam dunk courts, and climbing walls.

All ages are welcome to join in the fun at Rockin' Jump, founded to give an alternative to typical exercise and fitness activities.

Group and birthday packages are also available at the facility, featuring the arenas named Stunt Bag, Open Jump, X-Beam, and other attractions.

In Open Jump, you and your friends may jump together, do acrobatics, and have a great time.

Experience Different Attractions During the Merced County Fair

The Merced County Fair takes place each June to benefit the local community and the surrounding area.

The fair has exciting entertainment, music headliners, rodeo, tractor pull, auto and motor racing, rides, midway fun, and thrills.

An extensive assortment of exhibits is on display during the fair, with topics ranging from agriculture to gardening to floricultural to art to photography to crafts to hobbies to home arts like baking and sewing to mechanical science to big and small animal displaying, judging, and auctions.

The fair takes place at 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced.

Catch a Show at Playhouse Merced

This charming little Playhouse on Merced's Main Street offers top-notch live entertainment.

With their ticket pricing, you'll get much more, including anything from musicals to more serious, traditional plays. Tickets can be purchased online, via phone, or in-person at the box office.

The newly refurbished lobby features a selection of beer, wine, and light food.

Attend a performance at Playhouse Merced to show your support for live theater.

Students and the elderly can take advantage of special pricing.

Enjoy Different Water Activities at Lake Yosemite

View of Lake Yosemite
MR1, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It was established for irrigation reasons in 1888 and is still providing water to farmers in the nearby Merced County, lying in the undulating Sierra Foothills west of Merced.

There are designated sections for boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, sailing, and making a splash on the lake, owned and administered by the Merced Irrigation District.

Lake Yosemite beachfront has shady picnic spots with tables, grill pits, bathrooms, a children's playground, and a fully operational marina.

Bond With Your Furry Friend at Merced Dog Park

There are more facilities in the eight-acre Merced Dog Park than in other public parks.

You'll be able to stay hydrated because there is a constant flow of water. Instead of bringing your dish, you and your dog can drink from the fountains inside the enclosed area, which provides a high and low water dispenser.

In addition to the dog park, there are public bathrooms nearby.

The amount of open space provided by this park truly distinguishes it from the others.

It's easier to play games like fetch and catch in this park.

Throughout the park, there is seating for the park's visitors.

Do wear sunscreen since you'll be exposed to the sun in this dog park for most of your visit.

Hunt for Vintage Items at Merced Antique Mall

Merced Antique Mall has approximately 7500 square feet of antiques and collectibles, as well as a big basement full of nostalgic treasures.

It has more than 30 dealers, and its inventory changes often.

Everyone can find something they like in its collection.

Books, clothing, jewelry, household utensils, anime figurines, toys, sports, magic, Pokémon, and Yugioh cards, and even knives are among the many things available.

It is a fantastic spot to go if you're looking for old-school vinyl.

The sign pointing to the store's basement, where there's even more merchandise, appears just as you believe you've seen everything.

Pleasant and experienced staff is always hand to assist customers.

Support Local Businesses at Merced Flea & Farmers Market

The original goal of the Merced City Council was to build a "farmers market" for the city.

They built a whole market in the 1980s after renting out this area from an agricultural fair.

After all these years, it's still a vibrant flea and farmers market that houses more than 200 sellers and over 4,000 weekly customers.

On behalf of the fair, private residents have taken over running the city's flea market.

Every Saturday, the market is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See Vintage Aircraft at Castle Air Museum

View of Castle Air Museum
Clemens Vasters from Viersen, Germany, Germany, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This museum in Atwater, 13 minutes away from downtown Merced, opened its doors to the world in 1981. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was the first aircraft featured at the museum.

The museum's collection now includes 49 aircraft, ranging from World War II-era planes to today's high-performance jets.

There are just a few specimens still in existence, yet the Castle Air Museum has one of the most impressive collections of military aircraft anywhere in the world.

View of Castle Air Museum
Clemens Vasters from Viersen, Germany, Germany, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Preserving military aviation legacy for future generations is the museum's ultimate goal.

It is open every day except New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Children under the age of 5 are free, as are active military personnel and their dependents.

Visit its official website at castleairmuseum.org for additional information.

Picnic at Henderson Park

It's hard to argue that Henderson Park in Snelling, California, is the best county park in the area.

The Merced River, popular with kayaks and paddlers during the summer months, is part of the magnificent landscape.

Henderson Park is tucked away from the road and swathed in towering trees, making it a more pleasant place to spend time.

Merced County Parks & Recreation advises against swimming in county parks, although swimming is not forbidden here. Swimming in this area is at your own risk, and the park has installed warning signs at the riverbank.

Final Thoughts

Nature and the great outdoors play a significant role in Merced County in California, founded on agriculture.

Attractions abound in the region, making it a popular destination for tourists who want to keep returning.