A Weekend in Visalia
For much of the summer I’ve been stuck at home and nursing a case of cabin fever. The open road was calling my name and all I wanted to do was get back out there. As soon as I was able I was ready to hit the road but where to go? Luckily, I was invited by Visit Visalia to come for the weekend and was practically in my car before the plans were finalized. I recently returned from my visit happy to have discovered an area rich in food and hospitality, agriculture and history and home to one of the greatest national parks around.
Located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, Visalia is the largest city in Tulare County and the gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Founded in 1874, it’s rich in history so I made sure to make Mooney Grove Park my first stop in town.
Mooney Grove Park was founded over 100 years ago and is California’s first county park. Located on the outskirts of Visalia it’s a gigantic open space that has tons of trees, a beautiful pond, historic structures and many, many geese and peacocks.
In addition, the park is also home to the Tulare County Museum and I made sure to pay it a visit.
The museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits and it very much reminded of the Kern County Museum. I arrived shortly before closing but I still managed to view some fascinating artifacts.
At the time, the temperature was well over 100 degrees so I was ready to leave the park and head to my hotel but I had one last stop.
The End of the Trail is a sculpture by James Earle Fraser that was created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. After the fair was over the statue was moved the Mooney Grove Park and resided there until 1968. As the original was plaster it was given to the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma and in return the park received a bronze casting. A picture doesn’t do the piece justice. It’s humongous, incredibly beautiful and the subject matter is heartbreaking.
After spending some time in the excessive heat I was happy to head to my complimentary room at the Visalia Marriott. The Marriott is located in the heart of the city at the convention center. Recently redesigned it offers an array of comfortable, modern rooms.
My spacious room contained a plush king sized bed, a cozy seating area, a contemporary desk and a large LED TV. In addition I had my own refrigerator, coffee maker and an array of complimentary beverages. Its also had two features that made me absolutely love it – laminate flooring (no germ filled carpet!) and many, many USB ports. The first thing I do when I get to a hotel room is charge my phone and usually I’m searching for the one outlet. This room not only had several outlets but also USB ports! I wish I had an array of phones to charge.
I would have loved to try out the on-site restaurant, Marriott Greatroom but I had other plans. In fact, I was heading right next door to the annual Boots, Brews and Bacon Festival at the convention center (I received a complimentary ticket).
Boots, Brews and Bacon is a festival that’s devoted to three things – beer, bacon and country music. Over the course of the evening there were several bacon dishes to try, countless beers to drink (thank goodness I was walking!) and good tunes to hear. When I arrived I headed straight to the Firestone Walker booth where I sampled the Rosalie beer rosé.
I’d never had a beer rosé before and it was delicious! Also delicious? The array of bacon treats on offer.
Various local restaurants competed to make the best bacon dish and among the offerings were bacon garlic chicken pizza, bacon cinnamon rolls, candied beer bacon and bacon baklava. The bacon baklava from Pita Kabob got my vote but they lost out on the trophy to the Cinnamon Roll Shack with their bacon cinnamon rolls (they were also very tasty).
Speaking of Pita Kabob, I had actually stopped there earlier for lunch and had a delicious Classic Pita Wrap.
When I road trip I tend to live off of popcorn, beef jerky and granola bars so it was nice to have a refreshing salad and wrap. All the items were fresh and flavorful and really made me wish Pita Kabob would open a new location in the LA area.
Back at the festival I continued to indulge in beer tastings, bacon bites and sweet tunes from artists like JJ Brown.
Before I knew it I was stuffed to the brim and headed back to my room for a good night’s sleep as the next morning I would be up early for a fun adventure at the national parks.
I was out of my room by 7am and knew I needed coffee for the 45 minute drive to the parks. I stopped at local spot Component Coffee Lab for an iced latte and a delicious lemon poppy seed doughnut.
I’m a total coffee snob (no Starbucks for me) and Component does it right roasting the beans in house. My latte was rich and full bodied and was the perfect pick me up for my drive. Before heading out of Visalia I took a quick detour to view a few of the city’s architectural gems.
I love historic buildings and Visalia is chock full of them. One day I hope to return (when the weather is cooler) so I can stroll around and take them all in.
Almost 20 years ago I first visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on a family vacation and over three days we did just about everything from hiking Moro Rock to exploring Crystal Cave. I’m so glad I have that trip under my belt because on this visit I only had a few hours and it would have been hard to choose what to do in that short time period. Since I previously had seen a lot I decided to visit my two favorite spots – the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia and the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon.
General Sherman is the world’s largest tree and, boy, is it a wonder. Pictures do not do it justice and it’s nearly impossible to comprehend just how large it is without seeing it in person. Sequoia trees are some of my favorite objects on this planet and to walk among them is pure joy.
I was lucky enough to visit on a beautiful day – there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was a comfortable 75 degrees (the park is at a high elevation). Everything about the park is picturesque and I loved my drive along Generals Highway almost as much as my hikes in the forest.
One admission gives you access to both parks and you really can’t do one without the other. They’re both so incredibly beautiful and filled with such a diverse array of flora and fauna that a visit should be on everyone’s bucket list. Yosemite may be our state’s most famous national park but Sequoia and Kings Canyon really have my heart.
After too long at home I was so happy to finally be back on the road for my visit to Visalia. It was a city brand new to me and I truly didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a beautiful city rich in history, filled with hospitality and devoted to its greatest treasure – Sequoia and Kings Canyon. It’s also rich in agirculture and I came home with bags of fresh peaches and plums from local farms. I had a wonderful visit – the first of many I’m sure – and hope others will visit so they too can discover its treasures.