Visalia, CA is the hidden vacation gem you’ve been looking for, and, before it catches on as the next go-to spot, you need to make this inclusive family-friendly destination a part of your spring or summer vacation plans ASAP. As the gateway to not one but two visit-worthy National Parks (Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon), we’re breaking down how to spend a few days in Visalia (but honestly, if you can take more time off to spend in this cute, retro-esque town, we promise you won’t be disappointed). Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Visalia with kids and have the vacation of a lifetime.
Day One in Visalia with Kids
What to Do: Drive to Visalia, Lunch at Orange Works Cafe, Tour Farmer Bob’s World & Play at Adventure Park
Driving to Visalia from LA: The drive to Visalia could not be easier—just head north on the 5, which becomes the 99, for three hours (a little more if you hit traffic), and you’re there. There are some spots to stop along the way if you need bathroom breaks or food—we noted lots of Starbucks, In-n-Out Burger joints and a couple of tempting outlet malls that were calling our name for some pre-summer shopping.
Insider Tip: Keep a lookout for the world’s largest Halo Box. This roadside attraction is located about 45 minutes from downtown Visalia and is almost impossible to miss, but also means you are close to your vacation destination. You’ll be able to explore more of Visalia’s rich citrus history later on in your visit.
Arrival Time: Noon
Instead of checking into your hotel right away (hotel check-in time for the Marriott is 4 p.m. although your room may be ready sooner), make a beeline for Orange Works in downtown Visalia. Parking is fairly easy in this small town and there aren’t any parking meters (so different from LA!).
This sandwich and ice cream shop has fun specialty sandwiches like The Jacque—a tri-tip sandwich with roasted garlic, pesto and brown mustard that was especially tempting, but even the grilled cheese and turkey sandwich (cause kids) were both tasty and satisfying. PS: Sandwiches are served on a Mexican French Roll and whatever voodoo magic is used to create these lovely loaves is working—they are amazing.
This is an optimal spot to enjoy the relaxed, small-town vibe. Once you’ve had your lunch, make sure to go back for the orange ice cream. Some have said it’s similar to a creamsicle but it’s way better—there are pieces of real orange in the ice cream and it is so satisfying, it makes you wonder why orange ice cream isn’t offered in more places. The also offer daily flavor specials—so, if for some reason, you aren’t into orange ice cream—you can always check their flavor board. You might find regular flavors like salted caramel and matcha or more unusual takes like Red Vines and Nutter Butter.
Good to Know: If there appears to be a line, don’t worry—this popular spot is used to cranking out the food and you’ll have your nosh in no time.
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Orange Works Cafe
209 W Main St. ste c,
2 p.m: Now that you’ve stretched your legs (and your stomach), head to Farmer Bob’s World—a 102-acre orange farm and agricultural classroom to discover more about the history of this valley, the lifecycle of the orange tree from seedling to maturity, and how they supply oranges not just to local markets but all over the world.
This farm was first established in the 1930s and there is a wealth of knowledge that gets dropped during the tour—including the natural ways they deter bees (it’s how they produce oranges without seeds), how much water an orange tree needs (a lot) and how many years it takes for orange trees to start producing fruit. You’ll never take an orange, or orange juice, for granted again.
There are two tour options at Farmer Bob’s but we recommend booking the wagon tour that includes a 40-minute tour of the property along with a kid-friendly video at the end. After, you can then tour the farm exhibits, pick an orange or two, see the demonstration orchard, as well as check out some animals living on the farm and then take some cute, farm-fresh photo ops.
Good to Know: Farm tours are reservations only. To avoid disappointment, book ahead. And if you visit in the spring, be prepared for orange blossom heaven—the flowers were intoxicating.
Hours: Closed Mon. & Tues.; Wed.-Fri., 9 a.m. & 2 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 9 a.m. & noon
Farmer Bob’s World
32988 Road 164
4-7 p.m: After you’ve checked into your hotel, finish your day at Adventure Park. Here the kids can run around seven acres of fun and play arcade games, go go-karting, try their hand a bumper boats (complete with water shooters) while parents can take a load off or join in the fun. This well-run establishment has all the hits, including miniature golf, batting cages, laser tag, and, when the weather heats up, an entire water park called Sequoia Springs for a cool, splash-tastic end to the (most-likely hot) day.
Good to Know: Food options include San Francisco-style personal pizzas (popular picks are the pepperoni and sausage and the chicken, bacon and ranch), along with hot dogs, salads, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks and more. This is the place to fuel-up as you’ll need the extra energy for tomorrow’s hike at Sequoia National Park.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., noon-7 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., noon-8 p.m.
5600W. Cypress Ave.
Day Two in Visalia with Kids
What to Do: Breakfast at Valhalla, Hike to General Sherman and The Congress Trail in Sequoia National Park with Sequoia Guide Krista Simonic & Dinner at Visalia Farmer’s Market.
8 a.m: For breakfast with a Danish flair, grab a seat at Valhalla Restaurant, located in downtown Visalia. Feeling indecisive? Order the Sampler, complete with eggs (your way), a Danish pancake, aebleskivers (kind of like Danish donuts) and homemade Danish sausage. There are also kid pancakes that come with banana eyes, egg-y hair and a bacon mouth. So cute!
314 W Center Ave.
9 a.m: The drive to Sequoia National Forest takes about 1.5 hours from Visalia and is a stunning drive but it is, also at times, a hair-raising one to get to the General Sherman trailhead. Krista Simonic, from Sequoia Guides, who was meeting us at the trailhead for a personalized excursion, recommended making the following stops along the way (which will also help if you have car sick kids): Hospital Rock for excellent examples of Native American pictographs and river access (1/4 mile trail leads to the beautiful Kaweah River) where restrooms are also available and then Amphitheater Point for an amazing panorama of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Good to Know: You’ll need an entrance pass to access the park but unlike Yosemite, you do not need a reservation. You can save time at the entrance by booking your pass ahead of time. It cost $35 for vehicles and is valid for 1-7 days and will also give you access to Kings Canyon. One pass for two parks!
Plan to bring your lunch, snacks and plenty of water with you for your hike—you can order sandwiches from the Marriott the day before and pick them up that morning.
Pro Parenting Tip: If your kids get car sick, stash a couple of those oranges you snagged from Farmer Bob’s in the car. If anyone is feeling queasy, peel an orange and smell it—while lemon citrus is known to disrupt nausea that occurs with motion-sickness, an orange will work in a pinch.
And if you don’t want to drive? From May 26 until Sept. 11, you can book a spot on the 16-passenger Sequoia Shuttle. For just $20, you get roundtrip service from most hotels in Visalia to Sequoia National Park, entrance fee included. The best part? The shuttle is wheel-chair accessible.
10:30 a.m.-3 p.m: At the General Sherman trailhead, you’ll find plenty of parking this early in the morning, a clean bathroom to use (highly recommend before embarking on the trails), and, if you booked a guided tour with Sequoia Guides, your personal and experienced tour leader waiting for you at the entrance to see these gentle giants. General Sherman is by volume, the largest known living single-stem tree on Earth and is estimated to be around 2,200 to 2,700 years old. Be prepared to be have your breath taken away by their sheer size (and also, expect somewhat of an altitude adjustment).
The hike to historic General Sherman is an easy one (it’s all downhill) and then subsequently, the 2.7 mile Congress Trail is a paved, easy to navigate hike where you get to see famous sequoias like The President, The House and The Senate (gotta love a theme). Just remember, the hike back to the car is uphill (keep an eye out for placards on the way back up that show you how far it is to get back to the top). All legs will be tired. Pace yourself, drink plenty of water and take as many stops as needed.
About Sequoia Guides: There is a library of knowledge about Sequoia National Park and while one could read some of it ahead of time, there is a magical quality to Krista’s on-the-trail information tour that is engaging for kids as well as adults. She is passionate about the park and the environment and is nimble enough to pivot during her tour—if the kids suddenly become more interested in the wildlife in the streams, she drops some surprising facts about salamanders (don’t miss out on the most unbelievable spot they’ve discovered them in the park).
She also knows all the perfect photo ops (and takes the photos!) meaning, Mom gets in the picture, every single time. There is so much to discover about this park but having a tour guide who knows the hidden gems and the best off-the-beaten treasures, raised our kid’s curiosity level (along with a providing a deeper understanding of why this park is particularly special and not just another hike through the trees). From showing us a paper wasp nests along the trail to pointing out real live marmots to learning how sequoias heal themselves after a fire, it’s a first-class course that left us all craving more. But the best part is we walked away thankful for getting to see and experience things we would have otherwise missed—it’s a real investment in maximizing your vacation.
Krista is also more than prepared—from first aid kits for those bumps and bruises that are bound to happen to what to do if you encounter a bear (lots of fun discussions with the kids about this one), having an expert around to help you navigate the forest and terrain—and everything that comes with it—allowed for a much richer experience, for all of us.
Insider Tip: Did you know that it takes heat (aka fire) to get a sequoia tree to drop its seeds? The beauty of these trees, with their gorgeous fire markings is that a forest fire is critical to their survival—without it, their pods wouldn’t open and drop the tiniest little seedlings all over the forest floor. Keep an eye out for these seedlings along the path, scoop them up and toss them into the forest—who knows, 1,000 years from now you could be the reason another giant has taken root.
Good to Know: Over time, if the tree isn’t permanently damaged by the fire, it will slowly heal itself and cover up the scarred fire marks. The crosscut section of a sequoia, at the end of the trail, shows at least 80 fires it endured and subsequently healed over. Talk about a lesson in resilience!
Parenting Pro Tip: Krista also showed us the difference between pine and fir trees. Fir (the shorter needled variety) is the pine-y, citrus-y smell we all know and love—she broke a couple of the needles and let us inhale them. A lightbulb suddenly went off—since we didn’t have any citrus for the car ride to the trailhead (parenting fail), we asked if we could take a few needles for the car ride home and break them open if anyone felt sick. Turns out, you can legally take a small amount of edible food out of the park (fir needles are often used to make tea) so we stashed a few in our pocket. They totally helped with car sickness on the way down (parenting win).
6 p.m: Once you are back in Visalia, and if it’s Thurs. night, head to Downtown Visalia’s Certified Farmer’s Market, located on Church St. for live music and foodie fare. It’s a small but mighty as there are plenty of options that are bound to delight adults as well as the kids. There is a crepe maker, called Sweet Provisions, an alcohol-free truck delivering delish alcohol-free wines and mocktails, must-have pizza by Big Papa’s Wood Fired Pizza and juicy, garlic-infused burgers from NOSH—all made from ingredients sourced at the market. Don’t miss the DIY succulent station—an absolute steal at $5 a pop and comes with an animal-shaped container of your choice.
Downtown Visalia Certified Farmer’s Market
105 S. Church St.
Day Three in Visalia with Kids
What to Do: Breakfast at Component Coffee Lab, Imagine U Children’s Museum, Lunch at Quesadilla Gorilla & Sequoia Legacy Tree
8 a.m: Component Coffee Lab is tucked in a kind of alley located between two buildings—look for the coffee sign pointing to the right and walk through the gate (if you pass the Philly’s Cheesesteak, you’ve gone too far). You’ll find a bustling, industrial modern coffee shop that has belly-filling eggs and avocado on an everything bagels plus kid-friendly pastries like croissants and donuts. We highly recommend the lemon cheesecake donut although the crowd-favorite seems to be the strawberry donut—a brioche donut glazed with locally sourced strawberries topped with freeze dried strawberries.
Hours: Open daily, 7 a.m.-4:45 p.m.
Component Coffee Lab
513 E Center Ave.
9 a.m: Speaking of absolute gems, Imagine U Children’s Museum is a community-based exploratorium that has a build a car exhibit, an indoor treehouse with a slide, a clever citrus orchard where kids can “pick” the fruit, separate it and send it through for processing and an art and science lab perfect for conducting experiments. And that’s just inside! Outside is a whole other play space—from a fishing spot with a man-made waterfall and a cow you can milk to a sandy area complete with racks, diggers, brooms and shovels, plan to spend hours here while the kids run from activity to activity (and back again).
Hours: Mon. & Fri., 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Imagine U Children’s Museum
210 North Tipton St.
Noon: Once your kids have finally had their fill of imaginative fun, make your way back to downtown Visalia for a couple of last stops, including lunch at Quesadilla Gorilla. This curbside hotspot is a must before you leave town (seriously, we asked when they are coming to LA, it’s that good). But before you get there, you may have noticed that Visalia has some gorgeous street art and murals around town. You can find a map to the mural tour online but the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is located around the corner from Quesadilla Gorilla. Some other stop-worthy murals? The Visit Visalia mural, Giant Sequoia and the Moro Rock mural—all clustered near each other on South Court St.
Walls aren’t the only place that are getting the art treatment either—fire hydrants have been dressed up by local artists all over town as part of Visalia’s Art on Fire campaign. Keep those eyes peeled for decorative fire hydrants or you can also download the Art on Fire map.
Now back to Quesadilla Gorilla—if you have kids, you’ve probably had a lot of quesadillas in your life but nothing like this special spot. Of course, given the choice, the kids picked the Nutella Quesadilla but for the grown-ups, their unique combinations like “Where’s the Beef” and “Evan Boling” is where you’ll start to fall in love. But not until you introduce their sauces—you get a choice of two—we suggest the roasted red salsa and the spicy salsa verde—which takes your quesadilla to a whole other ‘dilla dimension, you too will be asking when they are opening an outpost in LA.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
302 W Main St.
Last Stop before Leaving for LA:
On your way out of town, make sure to stop by and pay your regards to The Sequoia Legacy Tree, located on the corner of Locust St. and Acequia Ave. Planted in 1936, this tree stands as a symbol of the close relationship between Visalia and the National Parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Worth noting, the pathway around the tree is the same dimension General Sherman–giving visitors another humbling scope of how big these gentle giants really are.
Sequoia Legacy Tree
Corner of Locust St. and Acequia Ave.
Where to Stay in Visalia
The Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center is a centrally-located hotel with spacious rooms, a Starbucks-esque coffee shop in the lobby that also sells snacks, desserts and pastries. Also worth noting, they have a pool and a hot tub that’s great for kids.
Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center
300 S Court St.
For a more smaller, more boutique-feel hotel, reserve a room at The Darling. What was once the former county courthouse annex, has been reimagined and restored into 32 rooms and suites oozing with 1920s charm.
210 N. Court St
For more places to stay around Visalia, check out the full list of nearby hotels here.
Even More Things to Do in Visalia with Kids:
AgMuseum: This center introduces children to the importance of farming complete with interactive exhibits, displays and activities.
Boyden Cavern: Go underground and explore this marble canyon that features stalagmites, hanging stalactites, flowstone and more.
Dry Creek Preserve: This nature preserve was once a gravel quarry and is the first example of an ecologically-based aggregate mine reclamation in the county. Here you can learn about the work Sequoia Riverlands Trust is doing to protect the lands. And in the spring? It’s home to a breathtaking wildflower bloom.
Lake Kaweah: You’ll notice this gorgeous lake on the way up to Sequoia National Park and is the perfect spot for water recreation. You can rent a boat, swim or fish and spend the day on the water.
Road’s End in Kings Canyon: Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Road’s End and see the Kings River and the majestic canyon’s granite walls.
Visalia Blossom Trail: During the spring, the valley erupts into bloom. Catch everything from fruit to nut trees put on a color show, starting in late Feb.
Sequoia Guides: Not only does Sequoia Guides provide customizable day excursions, you can also discover the night sky with a guide. The star-gazing tours will take you to the best spots for amazing views of the star-filled sky. They also offer day hikes, snow-shoeing and more. Good to Know: Every private tour plants a tree.
Inclusive Travel & Visalia
Visalia is making strides when it comes to inclusive travel—Visit Visalia is the first marketing destination in California recognized and designated as a “Certified Autism Center” by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Not only that, but Visalia and neighboring Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon have made these destinations more accessible for those with special needs—watch the videos to see how. And, not stopping there, Visit Visalia is on its way to become a “Certified Autism Destination” (CAD). This is awarded to destinations where key community areas, from hotels and museums to other tourism organizations, are trained and certified to better serve autistic individuals and those with other sensory disorders.
Visit Visalia also offers the “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower” lanyards and bracelets complimentary to travelers, upon request. When worn, the sunflower serves as a visual cue to trained hospitality staff throughout Visalia that a traveler may need additional support during their visit. The easy-to-identify lanyards and bracelets are available at the Visit Visalia office on a complimentary basis. Simply stop by their office upon arrival or, if you would like, have them mailed to your home via the Hidden Sunflower website ahead of your trip.
112 E Main St.
All photos are by Andie Huber unless otherwise stated.
This trip was paid for by Visit Visalia, but all the opinions belong to the writer.
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