Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Stanislaus County, CA

  • Published 2023/03/26

Flocks of visitors troop to Stanislaus County in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley for many good reasons.

With a total land area of 1,494 square miles, the county’s California central valley agricultural region is popular among foodies.

Stanislaus is where visitors can share in the region’s bounty of wines, walnuts, milk, cattle, poultry, and other farm produce.

First settled in 1854 by Spanish colonists, the county also has a fascinating history to tell.

After more than 150 years, Stanislaus now incorporates nine vibrant cities, offering various points of interest.

Indeed, there’s so much to enjoy on this list of the best things to do in Stanislaus County.

Tour the McHenry Mansion

Exterior of the McHenry Mansion

Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The McHenry Mansion is located on 15th Street in downtown Modesto, offering a glimpse into the lifestyle of well-to-do Californians in the 19th century.

Built in 1883, this mansion was originally the residence of Robert McHenry, a prominent local rancher, and politician.

The mansion flaunts a Victorian-Italianate architectural design with some 23 rooms.

At one time, it served as a sanitarium and was restored for preservation in the early 1980s.

The mansion opened for tours in 1983, from Sunday to Friday.

These tours are free and family-friendly, allowing visitors to have tea and shop for souvenirs at the McHenry Mansion Visitor Center and Gift Shop.

Shop Local at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market

The Modesto Certified Farmers Market is a seasonal attraction held from May to October in the Stanislaus County seat of Modesto.

Visitors will enjoy shopping in this market’s open-air setting on 16th Street in Modesto downtown near the county library.

The vendors offer artisan and bakery products, agricultural produce, cold/packaged and organic food, drinks, and hot food.

Microgreens and edible flowers, which are great for salads, wraps, and sandwiches, are among the must-try items in the Modesto Certified Farmers Market.

Watch out for the family activities the market regularly hosts, such as kids’ crafts, raffles and giveaways, and live musical entertainment.

Visit the Great Valley Museum

The Great Valley Museum is on the Modesto Junior College campus’s Blue Gum Avenue campus.

The museum offers visitors various permanent and thematic rotating exhibits on science and natural history.

It permanently displays over 200 taxidermy specimens and artifacts in five California habitats.

This collection dates back to the pre-1800s, before the colonial period and agricultural expansion in California.

The Great Valley Museum also features a hands-on Discovery Room with dozens of live animals kept for shows.

Another museum attraction comes in a display on the indigenous Me-Wuk Tribe that inhabited California’s Central Valley region.

Additionally, this museum is one site for Science On a Sphere, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This facility provides 400 datasets projected onto a 1.5-meter sphere, showing real-worldwide natural phenomena, like hurricanes and earthquakes.

Experience Space at the William R. Luebke Planetarium

The William R. Luebke Planetarium is another attraction within the Science Community Center on the Modesto Junior College campus.

Each Friday and Saturday, the planetarium typically offers three programs you can choose from.

These spectacles are each aimed at a different age range, allowing visitors to experience space like never before.

The shows are projected on the planetarium’s 40-foot dome to simulate our universe on a night sky.

Cutting-edge projection instruments and full-dome planetarium films are used in the fantastic shows at the William R. Luebke Planetarium.

Camp Out at the Turlock Lake State Recreation Area

The Turlock Lake State Recreation Area, accessible from Lake Road in the unincorporated community of La Grange, offers visitors a spacious campground.

This campground sprawls over 66 acres along the southern banks of the Tuolumne River.

It offers 63 campsites, 15 for tents, and the rest for trailers and small RVs.

The 3,500-acre Turlock Lake is about a quarter mile southwest of the campsite.

The outdoor recreational activities you can enjoy at the lake include swimming, boating, water skiing, windsurfing, and fishing.

Opportunities for biking, hiking, and picnics also draw visitors to the Turlock Lake State Recreation Area.

Hunt Wild Ducks at the Modesto Reservoir Regional Park

Visitors with a hunting license can stalk wild ducks at the Modesto Reservoir Regional Park, accessible via Reservoir Road off Yosemite Boulevard.

Located a few miles east of Waterford, the reservoir has 20 duck blind spots designated for licensed hunters.

The park comprises 3,200 acres of land and 2,800 acres of water.

Besides duck hunting, the park offers swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, and boating opportunities.

Fishing can also be enjoyed at the reservoir, stocked regularly with largemouth bass, rainbow trout, redear sunfish, channel catfish, and bluegill.

Hike or Bike on the Tuolumne River Trail

The Tuolumne River Trail winds along its namesake River’s scenic banks in Modesto.

Parking for hikers and bikers on the Tuolumne River Trail is available in the spacious parking lots of the Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto.

From here, you’ll pass through the dense woodlands of the 500-acre park stretching over seven miles along the banks of the Tuolumne River.

Along the trail, you can catch glimpses of the other areas of the Tuolumne River Regional Park.

These areas include Mancini Park, Legion Park, Dryden Park Golf Course area, Gateway Parcel, and riparian habitat.

Practice Your Swing at Dryden Park Golf Course

The Dryden Park Golf Course is a municipal link with an 18-hole layout woven on the southwest banks of the Tuolumne River in Modesto.

This public course offers par 72 play over 6,574 yards from its back tees.

For lady golfers, the course plays a par 74 over 6,574 yards from the forward tees.

Dryden Park Golf Course is a delight for novice and expert golfers alike.

It has medium-sized greens, small bunkers, and wide fairways lined with mature pines and oaks.

Golfers can fine-tune their game at the two-putting greens and driving range here.

Catch a Show at the Gallo Center of the Arts

Exterior of the Gallo Center of the Arts

OsotedeMonte, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Catch world-class cultural shows and events at the Gallo Center for the Arts on I Street in Modesto.

This state-of-the-art cultural center has two venues: Mary Stuart Rogers Theater, with 1,248 seats, and the Foster Family Theater, with a 440-seat capacity.

The center also has four resident companies: Central West Ballet, Modesto Performing Arts, Modesto Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Modesto.

They can quickly fill a season’s performances at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Tickets to performances in the center’s two theaters can be purchased as a package of five or more shows.

Besides opera, drama, and concerts, the center’s presentations include family-friendly shows like the Peking Acrobats and the region’s Student Matinee Series.

Join the Tastes of the Valley Wine and Cheese

The Tastes of the Valley Wine and Cheese is an annual event in early October.

During this event, you’ll sample the best wines and beers in and around Stanislaus County.

Local restaurants and cheese makers also participate in this gathering at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock.

Besides food and drinks, the Tastes of the Valley Wine and Cheese also features silent and live auctions of exciting items.

Proceeds from this event are donated to Agriculture Studies Program at Stanislaus State and the Stanislaus County Friends of the Fair Foundation.

Take the Family to Funworks Modesto

Fun for the whole family is in store at Funworks Modesto on Coffee Road in Modesto.

This family entertainment center has operated since 1960 and added various facilities.

Funworks Modesto operates on an 18-acre site where the attractions include a three-level go-cart track, the only one of its kind in California.

The amusement center also offers a 54-hole mini-golf course and a nine-station batting cage.

In addition, it boasts bumper cars and boats, an XD motion simulated ride, Highway 66 Bowling, and an arcade.

Try to Leave Escape Modesto

Test your problem-solving skills at Escape Modesto, where you can bring or join a team in an immersive game.

This fun facility is located on 11th Street in Modesto and offers three challenging escape rooms.

One room is King Tut’s Treasure, designed for five to 12 players who’ll hunt for the Egyptian royalty’s valuables before time runs out.

Another is Prison Break 2.0, where a team of six to 12 members is given an hour to bolt out of jail.

The third choice is CSI: Modesto, where you can lead up to 12 agents to solve a murder case.

Cheer the Warriors at the Ed & Bertha Fitzpatrick Arena

Check the game schedule at the Ed & Bertha Fitzpatrick Arena if you’re visiting the city of Turlock.

This sports venue on 1 University Circle at the Stanislaus State is the home arena of the Warriors men’s and women’s basketball teams and its women’s volleyball team.

The Warriors have won 12 national championships in Division II of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).

They have also earned two national baseball championships and entered the Final Four in basketball for men and women.

Almost 250 Warrior players have become All-American athletes since 1968.

Catch an exciting game at the Ed & Bertha Fitzpatrick Arena!

Catch a Show at the State Theatre

A trip to Stanislaus County becomes much more enriching if you drop by the State Theatre in Modesto.

The theatre’s art deco-style building on J Street alone is a delight, especially in the evening when its neon signs light up.

Every time you visit Modesto, you can catch cultural, educational, and entertainment shows at the State Theatre.

The State Theatre opened in 1934 and has become an iconic landmark in downtown Modesto.

Check out its schedule of shows, which includes films, concerts, comedies, and other stage performances.

Grab a Beer at Contentment Brewing Company

The craft beers of Contentment Brewing Company are worth the stop for beer lovers in Modesto.

They started production in 2019 and became an instant hit among locals and visitors alike.

It gained immediate recall among beer patrons.

The brewery has identified itself with the “Water Wealth Contentment Health” slogan bannered on Modesto’s circa 1912 welcome arch.

This brewery is also in a great location on Campus Way.

You can find them at the terminus of the city’s famed Virginia Bicycle Trail near Modesto Junior College.

A visit to this brewery’s family-friendly taproom offers 19 craft beers, ranging from West Coast Pale Ale to Norwegian Stout and Belgian Saison.

Teetotalers won’t feel left out at Contentment Brewing’s taproom, as it offers hand-crafted non-alcoholic drinks like cream soda, root beer, and wanderoast coffee.

This Modesto watering hole welcomes guests in an air-conditioned taproom seating area with a living room ambiance.

While enjoying your drink, you can have fun in the taproom’s original 1960s-style retro shuffleboard table.

A huge homemade Quad Ring Swing game and several classic board games are also available for visitors.

Contentment Brewing Company also has a spacious, open patio area where customers can chill around a fire pit.

Likewise, the craft brewer hosts live music entertainers and stand-up comedians from Thursday to Sunday.

To top these all up, the brewery has linked up with local food trucks offering plenty of menu choices if you get hungry.

Final Thoughts

Stanislaus County is a rising star among travel destinations in California.

The cities in its fold, especially county seat Modesto, offer visitors an exciting mix of things to do in Stanislaus County.

Remember this list of the best things to do in Stanislaus County, California, when planning an itinerary to the Central Valley.

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