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See the sights in Golden State cities like Merced, Santa Nella, Hollister, Fresno, and Oakhurst – with attractions like the San Miguel Missions and Yosemite National Park along the way.
In Merced, stop at Castle Air Museum, (209) 723-2178, with an excellent collection of vintage military aircraft and memorabilia from several periods. It’s next to the old Castle Air Force Base on Santa Fe Drive, east of 99. The Merced County Courthouse Museum, 21st and N streets, (209) 723-2401, is a beautiful 1874 structure with 8,500 square feet of historical exhibits on the county and state.
During months of May through October on Thursday nights, downtown offers the Farmers’ Market Festival, (800) 446-5353, with fresh produce, flowers, ethnic food and music.
Depart on 140 west to 165 and follow it south to Los Banos and Santa Nella. Take 152 west, passing by San Luis Reservoir, where birds of prey and other wildlife graze year round, to 156 and take it south to Hollister.
In Hollister, visit the San Benito County Historical Museum at West and Ann streets, and Old Town.
Head west on 156 to San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, (831) 623-4881, site of Mission San Juan Bautista built in 1797, and the 15th and largest Franciscan mission settlement in California. Destroyed several times by earthquakes and restored, the mission today is surrounded by historical buildings and still an active parish.
The San Andreas fault line is visible behind the cemetery wall and so is some portion of the original El Camino Réal trail that connected all the missions. The missions were roughly one day’s travel apart.
Follow US 101 south to Soledad, the oldest town in the Salinas Valley, and visit the Mission Nuestra Señora de La Soledad on Ft. Romie Road, (831) 678-2586. This 13th mission, built in 1791, has survived floods from the Salinas River. The original bell was made in 1799 and hangs in the courtyard.
East of Soledad on 146 are the volcanic rock ravines of Pinnacles National Monument, (831) 389-4485. Stay on US 101 to King City.
Highway 101 roughly follows the 650 mile historical El Camino Réal from San Diego to San Francisco. In King City, take a side trip (26 miles) to Mission San Antonio de Padua, (831) 385-4478. Founded in 1771 as the third California mission, it is tucked away in a valley of the Santa Lucia Range. Take G 14 southwest to Mission Road, following it north to the mission. Look for signs identifying remnants of its tannery, aqueduct and gristmill as you approach.
Return to US 101 via G 14 to 18 through Lockwood, passing on the east side of Lake San Antonio Recreation Area or take G 14 down the west side of the lake. This brings you to G19 and the beautiful, heavily wooded, Lake Nacimiento, (800) 323-3839 or (805) 238-3256.
Both of these lakes are favorite spots for fishing and water sports. Follow scenic G 14, Nacimiento Lake Drive and San Marcos Road into San Miguel and visit the San Miguel Arcángel Mission, (805) 467-3256. Founded in 1797 as the 16th of the mission chain, it linked the missions of San Luis Obispo and San Antonio.
Head south to Paso Robles. Helen Moe’s Antique Doll Museum is on 101 at Wellsona Road. Pick up a self-guided historical tour booklet from the Paso Robles Main Street Association, 835 D 12th Street, (805) 238-4103. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, check out the Farmers Markets in town. There are over 30 area wineries making up the Paso Robles Vintners & Growers Association, P. O. Box 324, Paso Robles, 93447, (800) 549-WINE (8463) or (805) 239-8463. Get their Wine Tasting Tour Guide and drive the scenic back roads to the vineyards.
Hearst Castle and the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, (800) 444-4445, is 45 minutes west via 46 and 1 in San San Simeon. Depart on 46 east to 41 through Kettleman City to Lemoore and Hanford.
Hanford Visitors Agency, 200 Santa Fe Avenue, Ste. D, (800) 722-1114 or (559) 582-5024, offers free, guided historic walking tours that includes China Alley, the 1893 Hanford Taoist Temple & Museum, the 1896 Courthouse & Square, the 1903 Hanford Carnegie Museum, and the Hanford Fox Theatre – one of the state’s oldest restored movie houses. Tours are available aboard a 1950 Studebaker Fair truck named “Freddie.”
Take Highway 198 West to Lemoore, an interesting farming community settled in early 1900s. Besides many historical sites to visit, the town is home base for the Navy’s Hornet Pacific Air Wings. Blue Angels perform here in the summers. At the edge of town, is the Palace Indian Gaming Casino.
Take 43 north through Kingsburg to Selma. Passing through Kingsburg, check out the downtown Swedish Village, (559) 897-5821, that preserves the community’s heritage. In Selma, see the Pioneer Village/Museum, Art Gonzales Parkway, (559) 891-2320, with historic buildings and displays. In nearby Reedley is the 1903 restored Mennonite Quilting Center, (559) 638-3560, and Watson’s Antique Farm Equipment Museum, 5761 S. Frankwood, (559) 638-7985.
Take 99 to Fresno. Visit the world renown Forestiere Underground Gardens, 5021 W. Shaw Avenue, (559) 271-0734. Roeding Park, 894 W. Belmont, adjacent to 99, (559) 498-1551, is 160 acres of playgrounds, fun rides, and the Chaffee Zoological Gardens, (559) 498-2671, with exotic mammals, birds and reptiles and a South American Tropical Rain Forest exhibit.
Fresno is known as “The Raisin Capitol of the World.” Noted author William Saroyan was a native. The Fresno Metropolitan Museum, 1555 Van Ness Avenue, (559) 441-1444, has special sections devoted to him and renowned photographer and former resident, Ansel Adams. Two restored turn of the century mansions worth visiting are Kearney Mansion Museum, 7160 W. Kearney Blvd., in Kearney Park, (559) 441-0862, and Meux Home Museum, 1007 R Street, (559) 233-8007. Both are open for guided tours only.
The Kearney mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Meux home was built by a former Confederate Army surgeon who settled here after the Civil War. Numerous antique shops makes the city a favorite spot for collectors. Also worth seeing is the elaborate Japanese Garden in Woodward Park, a 300-acre city park and bird sanctuary, at Audubon Dr. and Friant Road, (559) 226-8034. The area offers great fishing in nearby lakes and rivers. Depart on 41 to Oakhurst.
Tour the Oakhurst and Yosemite Area. Stop at the Southern Yosemite Visitors Bureau Information Center, 40637 Highway 41, Oakhurst, 93644, (559) 683-4636, for maps and information. Inside Yosemite at Wawona visit the Pioneer Village History Center. Drive portions of the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway, the “Hidden Heart of the Sierra”, made up of two major over-lapping loops.
Access is from Sky Ranch Road at the Ranger Station on 41. Unbelievable vistas, formations, historical buildings and markers, hiking, mountain climbing, and biking are accessible. On the byway, visit the Ross Cabin. Built in the late 1860s, it is used by the Forest Service to teach the skills of restoration and log cabin stabilization. It contains many artifacts from the 19th century.
Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is unlike any other place on the planet. If you enjoy the outdoors, a lifetime is not enough to explore and absorb all of its beauty and geological wonders. “Wonders” not to miss: Glacier Point, Half Dome, El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite Fall, Bridalveil Fall, and Mariposa Grove. Miwok tribe members, called Ahwahneeche, were here dating to 100 B. C. For information call (209) 372-0200 (recorded) or (209) 372-0265 (live.)
Take 140 into Yosemite Village, (209) 372-1240, passing through the Arch Rock Entrance Station. Entrance fee per car (good for seven days) and receive park information. If touring the park, drive to Curry Village and park in any day-use lots (other lots in Valley are only for short-term parking), then catch free shuttles to the Visitors Center, (209) 372-0299 at the west end of the mall. Pick up a free copy of Yosemite Magazine for park information and pictorial map. The magazine lists guided tour options available.
If time permits take the full-day Grand Tour covering Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove with a stop for lunch at Wawona and a Moonlight tour of the Valley Floor. Adventures into the High Sierra backcountry can be taken on mountain bikes, hiking or horseback. Village rental shops have bikes and trail maps. Call (209) 372-8348 for saddle trips from Yosemite Valley to: Mirror Lake, two hours, Vernal and Nevada falls, half day, and Glacier Point or Half Dome, all-day.
The Museum Gallery & Indian Cultural Museum are next to the Visitors Center. Winter activities such as snowshoe-hiking, skiing (downhill and cross-country) and ice skating are also enjoyed in the park. For less crowds, visit spring, fall or winter.
Take 140 south through Mariposa and visit the incredible California State Mining & Mineral Museum, (209) 742-7625, at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, two miles south of town on Highway 49. Displays of gold and other amazing minerals and a mining tunnel. Continue on to return to Merced.