20 Best Things to Do in Modesto, CA

Modesto, CA

Welcome, friends! Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley, Modesto is a city that often surprises visitors with its vibrant blend of culture, history, and outdoor beauty.

It's a place where the lush grapevines, the golden fields, and the bustling cityscape weave a tapestry of experiences that are sure to delight any traveler.

So, buckle up and prepare to explore some of the best things to do in Modesto, California

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Larry Naples, John Cary, Dana Coleman, Jonathon Chance, Chris Wilbert, Mathew Fitzsimmons and Sara Sanchez.

Marvel at the Timeless Beauty of McHenry Mansion

Exterior of McHenry Mansion
Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every time I pass by the McHenry Mansion, I'm transported back to the times when it was first built in 1883 by Robert McHenry.

It stands as a proud testament to the past with its beautifully restored Victorian-Italianate style.

I've walked those 23 rooms, each one telling a different story of the past when the mansion served as a temporary sanitarium.

The intricate designs on the walls, the antique furniture, and the overall aura exude a timeless charm.

Not to mention, the staff at the mansion is super friendly and full of stories that make the mansion come alive.

A visit to McHenry Mansion is like stepping into a time portal and getting a glimpse of the bygone eras.

A personal and cherished memory was my parents' wedding at the McHenry Mansion on Valentine's Day.

Dining room in McHenry Mansion
Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The mansion dressed up for the occasion, with twinkle lights and beautiful flowers, was a sight to behold.

The staff was incredibly hospitable, ensuring that everything went smoothly and that the day was truly unforgettable.

Catch a Performance at the Prospect Theater Project

Nothing quite compares to the magic of live theater; around here, the Prospect Theater Project is the place to be.

Staffed by an amazing group of individuals with a genuine love for the arts, it's the perfect place for anyone with an interest in live theater.

Even if you're a beginner like I once was, you'll find that the staff and volunteers at the Prospect Theater Project nurture an environment where curiosity thrives.

I remember going to the theater for the first time with no knowledge of the theater world other than my childhood performances.

But their plays, which range from the classics to contemporary works, immediately drew me in.

I've been a regular visitor at Prospect Theater Project ever since, always eagerly awaiting their next play.

And the theater itself? It's a welcoming, intimate space that fosters creativity.

I've even had the pleasure of hosting my friend's live album release there.

The staff and volunteers could not have been more helpful and communicative, ensuring the event ran smoothly.

But the best part of all?

Being so close to the actors. It's an experience that only a close-knit theater group could provide.

Peruse the Classic Car Exhibit of The Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum

It's not every day that you get to step back in time and bask in the glow of shining chrome and vintage steel.

My recent visit to The Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum surely was an excursion to remember.

Although the museum is still in the process of gathering more exhibits, the fascinating and detailed stories behind the existing classic cars made the visit worthwhile.

The highlight of my day was the delightful chat I had with the curator about their upcoming plans for the museum.

It is quite evident that the museum is on its way to becoming a prominent destination for classic car enthusiasts like me with its unique and growing collection.

What's more, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they offer free entry and parking, which is a rarity these days.

A short visit to the museum is enough to fill your soul with nostalgia, and there's a small gift shop for you to take home a piece of history.

Not to mention, The Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum has clean restrooms, ensuring a comfortable experience for all visitors.

Unleash Your Curiosity at the Great Valley Museum and Planetarium

Being part of the local community, I've always been in search of intriguing places that offer unique experiences.

And I'm glad to share that one such place is the Great Valley Museum and Planetarium, a hidden gem that offers an enriching adventure right here in our city!

I recently took my kids to the Dinosaur exhibit, and it was an evening filled with joy, excitement, and lots of learning.

Not only did they get to see the gigantic fossils of dinosaurs, but they also engaged in fun activities like face painting and a scavenger hunt.

We were even lucky enough to win a raffle!

What I admire about the museum is its commitment to quality.

Every exhibit, be it the vast collection of taxidermy or the exceptional animal exhibits, displays a high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The lifelike scenes depicting animals in their natural habitats, complete with faux animal droppings, are a testament to their dedication.

The museum is not just a place for kids.

Even as an adult, I found myself learning a lot about our region and its diverse wildlife.

The best part? It doesn't burn a hole in your pocket! The affordable entry fee makes it a perfect place for a family outing.

But the fun doesn't stop at the exhibits! The gift shop is brimming with interesting items.

From crystal bracelets to handmade soaps, there's something for everyone.

My kids couldn't resist bringing home a cute little plastic frog.

The Great Valley Museum and Planetarium is constantly changing, with different exhibits and activities planned throughout the year.

So, there's always something new to look forward to.

Hop on a Gastronomic Trip at Modesto Certified Farmers' Market

Every Saturday morning, I make it a point to start my day at the Modesto Certified Farmers' Market.

It's become somewhat of a ritual for my partner and me as we look forward to sipping our coffee, indulging in some delectable food, and soaking in the vibrant atmosphere.

Our absolute favorite has to be the tacos from Cocina de Alinas.

My go-to is the Chido Taco, while my partner swears by the Neta Taco.

Every bite of these hand-made tortillas filled with flavorful chicken and topped with an amazing green sauce is a treat to the senses.

The market is a treasure trove of local products.

From honey to hummus, cheese to jams, and pastries to jewelry - the eclectic mix of offerings always leaves us spoilt for choice.

Even if it gets a little crowded, the market remains clean and well-kept, making our shopping experience enjoyable.

The fresh produce section may not be vast, but what they lack in size, they make up for in quality.

We usually find 2-3 booths stocked with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The lemonade booth deserves special mention for their refreshing beverages and excellent service.

And the best part is almost all booths accept cards, making transactions hassle-free.

No visit to the Modesto Certified Farmers' Market is complete without enjoying the live music.

The lively band adds a festive feel to the market, making our weekend shopping trips all the more enjoyable. Plus, finding parking is never an issue.

Stepping into the Mistlin Gallery, I immediately felt transported into an artistic haven nestled right here in downtown Modesto.

I've always found that the gallery brings a unique charm to our city with its fun exhibits, showcasing a mix of diverse art mediums and professional photographs.

The Mistlin Gallery isn't just a place to admire art but also a platform to learn and create.

One of the highlights of the year at the Mistlin Gallery was the 6x6 fundraiser that they hosted until December 24, 2022.

The fundraiser was an open call to all, encouraging anyone to donate a 6x6 artwork or photo that was sold for $36.

The response was overwhelming, with over 300 submissions, including one from me and one from my neighbor.

I ended up adding a couple more photos to the collection I bought!

But it's not just about the artwork.

The gallery also features stunning jewelry crafted by local artisans. It's always a sight to behold, with each piece telling its own unique story.

Have a Picnic at McHenry Recreation Area

The McHenry Recreation Area, located on the beautiful Stanislaus River, has been my go-to spot for family outings for years now.

Here's the link to their site McHenry Recreation Area if you want to check it out.

It's a peaceful, wooded park and camping destination, perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

The park offers a lovely sandy beach, an enchanting sight perfect for lazy afternoons.

The picnic tables are placed thoughtfully around the area, just far enough from the water to provide safety for the little ones but close enough to enjoy the serene views.

Remember, though, the current can get quite strong even at knee depth, so we always bring life vests to ensure everyone's safety.

My biggest piece of advice would be to plan your trip early.

This place can get crowded, especially during the peak times, which are usually around noon.

The charm of McHenry Recreation Area lies in its tranquility and the welcoming nature of the people.

It's always an awesome experience to visit this place, with everyone being super nice and friendly, which adds to the allure of it being a small yet wonderful escape.

Walk Your Fido at Elk Park / Modesto Dog Park

There's no better way for me to spend the day than seeing my furry friend frolic happily at Elk Park / Modesto Dog Park.

It's a canine paradise where my dog can run around and play with a variety of other amazing canines.

The best part? It's all safely fenced in, making sure that no one's precious paw-friend can get out and run into the traffic.

What makes it even better is the segregation section for small dogs.

It ensures that my little guy doesn't accidentally get trampled by the bigger dogs.

As a dog owner, this kind of thoughtfulness means a lot.

It ensures that I can kick back and enjoy a chat with the friendly folks who frequent the park, not constantly having to keep an eagle eye on my pet.

The cleanliness of the park is something worth mentioning.

Everyone seems to be mindful about picking up after their dogs, which keeps the park tidy and pleasant.

Elk Park / Modesto Dog Park isn't just about the dogs, though.

It's situated next to a canal with a walking path, making it a prime location for a relaxing stroll once the dogs are tired out.

Although they recently cut down the old oak, the park still offers plenty of shade for a sunny day.

It's one of those places where you can come with your dogs and leave with memories.

Stroll through Mavis Stouffer Park

There's nothing quite like a trip to Mavis Stouffer Park to reconnect with nature and remind myself of the beauty that surrounds us in our daily lives.

Wandering through the park, I often feel like I've stepped into a painting, with the scenic views of the river, the lush green fields, and the abundance of trees whispering in the wind.

The park is my sanctuary.

Whether I am seeking solitude or a place to hang out with my family, it never disappoints.

The picnic pavilion is a great spot for outdoor meals.

Feasting on sandwiches while watching the river flow brings a unique tranquility that only nature can offer.

The walking trails are another favorite of mine.

Each step brings a new perspective, leading me through open fields and closer to the river's edge.

Not to mention, the sports fields and stadium add a lively touch, perfect for those energetic weekends when we feel like kicking a ball around.

But the pièce de résistance of Mavis Stouffer Park has to be the butterfly garden. It's a truly magical place that seems to transport me to another world.

Watching the butterflies dart among the beautiful flowers, you can't help but feel a sense of peace and contentment.

Cool Down at Freedom Park

There's something truly special about spending a sunny day in Freedom Park.

It's not just a park, it's an urban oasis, a playground for all ages, a place where the community comes to play and relax.

Visiting the park, you'll find me basking in the green spaces, enjoying the lush greenery that stretches as far as the eye can see.

It's the perfect locale for a picnic, and I often pack a lunch to enjoy with friends or family under the clear blue skies.

Freedom Park also features a playground that's a hit amongst the neighborhood kids. My niece, who's a little sensory-sensitive, was initially overwhelmed by the water spray feature.

But, once she got the routine of the sprays down pat, she couldn't get enough of it!

On a hot day, it's the perfect way to cool down, and the children seem to love it.

Be warned, though, that some kids turn the slides into makeshift water slides, which can make them slippery for the younger ones.

The park is usually bustling with people.

From parents engrossed in their own games to children running around, it is always lively.

One of my favorite features of Freedom Park is the abundant seating, all facing the playground.

It's nice to be able to sit and keep an eye on the little ones as they play.

The open field is also great for sports like soccer, and there's even a basketball court.

If you're planning a bigger gathering, the gazebo is the perfect spot.

It can comfortably accommodate a party of around 20, and it's always a good idea to get there early to claim the spot.

Catch a Game at the John Thurman Field

If you're ever in city and craving for some quality baseball action, you won't go wrong with a visit to John Thurman Field.

This baseball stadium is where my family and I have made countless memories of cheering for our home team, the Modesto Nuts.

The atmosphere is electric, and the stands, which can accommodate around 4,000 fans, are always filled with excited supporters.

Every game promises not just a thrilling sporting spectacle but also a fun, family-friendly environment.

Whether you go with your kids or hang out with friends, you're guaranteed a fantastic time.

The food selection could use some improvement, though. I find the offerings a bit limited, especially for those of us who prefer munching on sweets during a game.

But for the beer lovers, you're in for a treat, as the stadium sells more beer than anything else.

But John Thurman Field isn't just about the baseball; it's also about the entire fan experience.

When the Modesto Nuts, the Seattle Mariners' single A team, are playing, it's always a good day.

The three Nuts Mascots never fail to entertain the crowd, and there's plenty of fan interaction to keep everyone engaged.

And the best part? Kids get to run the bases on certain days!

Plus, you can't miss the shaved ice/snow cones - they are an absolute treat on a hot day.

Without a doubt, a trip to John Thurman Field is always a home run.

Immerse Yourself in Art at the Gallo Center

Exterior of Gallo Center
OsotedeMonte, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I must admit, I've always been fascinated by the performing arts, and believe me when I say the Gallo Center for the Arts is one of the crown jewels of Modesto.

I've been visiting this place ever since it opened its doors in 2007 and my experiences have been nothing short of spectacular.

One of the many memorable experiences at the Gallo was when I saw the symphony.

It was absolutely captivating, and the acoustics, especially from the balcony seating, were phenomenal.

The view from up there was just as enchanting, giving you a unique perspective of the performances.

Of course, you have to pay extra to enjoy a drink during the show, but it's a small price to pay to support the arts and prevent spillage.

The staff at the Gallo Center for the Arts always ensures to provide a friendly and helpful atmosphere.

The staggered seating throughout the theater is well arranged and the restrooms, as well as the entire theater, are kept sparkling clean.

One thing that can't be missed is the grand and elegant architecture of the building, reflecting the artistic spirit of the place.

Before you attend a show, there are tons of eateries and bars within walking distance to explore.

And trust me, the location couldn't be more perfect.

I've seen some fantastic performances here, from the symphony to a show by Donny Osmond and even a show by the YES company.

Take Pictures with the Blossoming Almond Trees at Rodin Farm

Ah, Modesto! The city I proudly call home.

Here, every year from mid-February to mid-March, a special event unfolds, and it's a sight you wouldn't want to miss.

The almond trees at Rodin Farm start to bloom, and it's a sight as breathtaking as it is therapeutic.

Visiting the farm during the peak season of almond blossom is an experience I look forward to every year.

The air is so fresh, filled with the sweet scent of blossoms, that it's like walking into a natural aromatherapy session.

The farm attracts visitors from all walks of life, and it's not uncommon to find families, photographers, artists, and nature lovers congregating here to enjoy the view.

Rodin Farm truly transforms into a living art exhibit during this time, and it's an added perk that it's a family-owned, local ranch.

The owners ensure the safety of the property and the visitors with their well-set guidelines.

There's ample parking space, and you can bring your own snacks for a little picnic amidst the almond blossoms.

It's important to check the weather before planning your visit, and if you, like me, are prone to seasonal allergies, make sure to pack your antihistamines.

Remember to respect the farm and the blossoms, take as many pictures as you want, but leave no trace behind.

I assure you, that once you've experienced the almond blossom at Rodin Farm, you'll want to make it an annual event.

After all, it's not just seeing a farm, it's experiencing the best of what Modesto has to offer.

Sample Wines at E & J Gallo Winery

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit the E & J Gallo Winery, which is conveniently located in our city.

And let me tell you, it was an experience to remember!

As I entered the property, I was met with a friendly greeting from the staff members.

There is a scale on the property that had been out of order for some time, but to my delight, it was back up and running.

This little feature allows you to weigh your vehicle before and after you load up with wine, a pretty handy tool for those of us who tend to get carried away with our purchases.

The service at E & J Gallo Winery is top-notch.

I was promptly directed to an office where my loading door was assigned, and once my vehicle was loaded up, I was guided back over the scale again.

Bond with Your Kids at Funworks Modesto

I've always been a fan of a little friendly competition and a whole lot of fun and laughter, and I found just that at Funworks Modesto.

Picture this - 18 acres of family-friendly amusement, nestled right in the heart of our city.

From go-karts that make you feel like a race car driver to the thrill of hitting the perfect pitch in the batting cages, every visit to Funworks Modesto becomes an adventure.

And if you're a fan of mini-golf like me, be ready to shell out a bit more because the golf course comes with an additional charge.

But hey, the friendly cashiers are always there to guide you to the most economical packages.

But let me tell you about the best part - the indoor treehouse play area. My kids absolutely love it.

They could spend hours on end exploring and playing.

And while they are burning off all that energy, I get to enjoy the decent selection of arcade games they have.

Have a Family Outing at Boomers Modesto

Oh boy, what a day at Boomers Modesto!

We decided to have a family outing to this national amusement center chain, and it was a hoot.

I have to say, the mini-golf was a hit with the kids, and I found myself reliving my teenage years with the go-karts and arcade games.

The kids were excited to try out the bumper boats, but unfortunately, they were not operating that day.

The staff Boomers Modesto were phenomenal - super helpful and kind. They explained how everything worked - from the tickets to the games, which was a godsend for us first-timers.

Their patience and friendliness added a cherry on top of our thrilling day out.

There was an array of food choices which saved us from the hassle of packing a picnic, and the cleanliness of the bathrooms was a pleasant surprise.

For the adults, there was an unexpected surprise - beer and sports on TV! It turned out to be a fun day for us, too, not just the kids.

For a more cost-effective outing, I would recommend looking into their specials or arriving later in the evening.

Play Ball Games at Graceada Park

Growing up in Modesto, California, one of my favorite places is Graceada Park.

I was there just this weekend, and my fondness for this park has only grown.

I remember as a child, the thrill of running through the water that sprouts magically from the pavement.

Now, as an adult, I watch my children experience the same joy.

One thing I particularly love about Graceada Park is its shaded paths.

Even during the blazing summer days, it remains a cool sanctuary.

The playground, too, is thoughtfully shaded, saving kids from the sting of the hot sun.

The tennis courts have been a recent interest for me, perfect for a friendly match. But it's not all about sports.

One of the recent improvements that caught my eye is the cleanliness.

It's clear that a lot of effort has been taken to keep the park tidy and safe for visitors.

Of course, there are some homeless people who find shelter here, but they mostly keep to themselves, staying away from the bustling areas.

A trip to the other side of the street will lead you to a field perfect for soccer, football, and baseball.

As a sports enthusiast, this is a great spot for a friendly match or even just to practice.

Practice Your Wheels at Beyer Skate Park

Ever since they changed up Beyer Skate Park, I've noticed a bit of a shift in its vibe.

It's not as crowded as it used to be five years ago, which I think is a good thing for those who really want a larger space to practice and play.

Beyer Skate Park has managed to maintain its neatness and cleanliness.

For young beginners, they might find the ramps a bit challenging.

They are quite steep, making it difficult for novices to navigate.

It's ideal for the more advanced skateboarders and BMX riders out there.

Take Snaps of the Modesto Arch

Daytime view of Modesto Arch
Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com

The Modesto Arch, in all its humble glory, has always been the heart of our city.

Painted over from its original red/brown hue, it now stands as a vibrant beacon amidst our daily hustle and bustle.

I must say, the transformation has done wonders to its appeal.

The arch is almost clandestine, hiding in plain sight at a busy intersection.

I laugh at myself sometimes as I realize how often we locals breeze by it without a second glance.

But let me tell you, it's worth a look. You'll just have to remember to lift your gaze once in a while, especially if you're driving.

I can't count the number of times I've driven right under it without even realizing it!

The inscription on Modesto Arch, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health," is somewhat of a mystery that adds to its charm.

I've heard tourists question it, but for me, it's a peculiar quirk that I've come to associate with my hometown.

Although it was erected in the 1920s, it holds a timeless appeal.

Now, if you're interested in doing a little more than just admiring the arch, it's become a popular spot for selfies amongst the younger crowd.

You might have to wrestle a bit with the constant traffic for that perfect shot, but it's all part of the fun.

Also, if you're feeling peckish, the Golden Arches (McDonald's) are just across the street.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Hiking at Yosemite National Park

Calm waters of Yosemite National Park
Daniel Vine Photography / Shutterstock.com

There's a surreal beauty to waking up early in the morning and catching the first golden rays of the sun, as they gently pour over the majestic cliffs of Yosemite National Park.

Getting an early start isn't just about catching the sunrise, you also beat the usual crowd that often swarms the iconic locations by midday.

I've been living here for years, and each day feels like a new brush with nature's stunning artwork.

Exploring this park is like walking into a 3D painting. The verdant valleys, towering redwoods, and crashing waterfalls seem too perfect to be real.

Of course, the park's size can be overwhelming to many visitors, but I've discovered that the trick is to plan your stops.

Hiking here is an experience that can't be matched.

Yosemite National Park offers numerous trails that cater to all types of adventurers.

My personal favorite is the Lower Falls trail, a shaded pathway that's perfect for leisurely strolls with the family.

The trail ends with a stunning view of one of Yosemite's most breathtaking waterfalls.

Welcome sign of Yosemite National Park
Maks Ershov / Shutterstock.com

Yosemite National Park is a hub of activity and every season brings its own magic.

Imagine river rafting in the summer, the icy water splashing against your skin in stark contrast to the heat.

And in the quieter months, the park becomes a serene haven away from the bustling crowds.

For those planning a trip, I highly recommend spending at least two days here to fully appreciate its beauty.

While there are accommodations within the park, I've found that staying just outside offers a more peaceful experience and a headstart for those sunrise hikes.

Scenic waterfall at Yosemite National Park
Stephen Moehle / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Modesto, California, offers a blend of bustling city life and serene natural beauty, all within arm's reach.

Whether it's the old-world charm of the McHenry Mansion, the thrilling performances at the Gallo Center for the Arts, or the scenic beauty of Yosemite National Park, there's always something for everyone.

Every time I explore my city, I am reminded of the richness it has to offer.

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