You may have already read it in our about us page, but if you haven’t, here we go: we (the authors of this blog) were born in Modesto, California. Modesto is the biggest city in Stanislaus County, with an estimated population of 215,030 as of 2018 according to the Census. We are undoubtedly known for being the city that is portrayed in the 1973 film, American Graffiti. The film was directed by Modesto native George Lucas (yes, the same guy who created Star Wars). On the education side of things, our biggest college in town is Modesto Junior College, in which we are both proud alumni.
Whether you have or have not been in town, we have crafted a list of things to do in Modesto, CA (not ranked in any particular order)
According to their website, the McHenry Mansion was built in 1883 by Robert & Matilda McHenry. I wouldn’t quote me on this, but I believe it is the oldest property in Downtown Modesto and hence why it’s one of our historical landmarks. It’s one of the most popular destinations in Downtown Modesto. I’ve been to it once myself (a great amount of years back). They offer tours & have a visitor center that’s open most of the week. Also admission is FREE!
So you might be asking yourself, were the McHenry’s the founders of Modesto since their name is in the Mansion, the Museum, and one of the most famous roads in Modesto? And you’d be wrong, but the McHenry family did do a lot for Modesto. According to their website, the building where the museum currently resides at was actually built thanks to the generosity of Oramil McHenry (son of Robert, who built the mansion). In his will, he stated that $20,000 would be provided to the city for the purpose of building Modesto’s public library. This would be built shortly after and in 1971, the library stopped operating because a new library was built (and it’s just a block away from the museum too). As a result, the building was then turned into a museum. If you’re interested in learning more about the foundation of the city and how the museum was started, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. Admission to the museum is also FREE!
The Modesto Arch
If you’ve visited Modesto’s downtown (and came from Highway 99), there’s a good chance you have passed through our arch that serves as a “Welcome to Modesto” kind of a thing. Built in 1912, The arch is without a doubt, one of our biggest city symbols and it also has our city motto, “Water, Wealth, Contentment Health”.
George Lucas Statue
George Lucas is no stranger to the world, and especially to Modesto natives. According to Roadtrippers, there was actually controversy as to funding a statue in honor of anyone in the city, but lo and behold, we were able to get this wonderful homage to one of the many talents that emerged from Modesto. The statue was placed in what is referred to in town as “5 Points”; an intersection composed of McHenry Avenue, J Street, Downey Avenue, 17th Street and Needham Street. The statue pays homage to Lucas by reminiscing the film American Graffiti, with the statue being of a teenage boy and a girl, sitting on a ‘57 Chevy.
I’ve been to it a couple of times and it is without a doubt an amazing bowling spot in Modesto. Unless you go during tournament days, it tends to be a lot less crowded than our most famous bowling alley, McHenry Bowl. Yosemite Lanes features great deals on games and shoe rentals on their website. This place is perfect for a night out or any special occasion!
Gallo Center for the Arts
Few cities (with our population) can say that they have a state-of-the-art arts center that has and continues to bring famous artists year over year. Whether you live in Modesto or are just traveling here on vacation, I’d recommend checking their list of events, to see what is coming to our city. I’ve personally been to a Spanish comedy show, as well as some concerts and can tell you that no matter where you sit, you’ll have a great view. The center has two theaters, one with a capacity of about 1,200 seats (the main Mary Stuart Rogers Theater) and another one with about 400 seats (Foster Family Theater).
Julio and Aileen Gallo Garden
Located right across from the McHenry Mansion is a great spot for those formal pictures, the Julio and Aileen Gallo Garden. Even if it isn’t for a formal event, this is a great spot to take pictures with a significant other or just relax and enjoy the weather as they have a couple of benches. Also across the street is the Modesto Library, making this a great spot if you want to read a book outdoors.
Vintage Faire Mall
The Vintage Faire Mall is a must for any resident of the city, or anyone who is passing through Mo-Town. Built in 1977, the mall features some iconic brands such as PINK, BoxLunch, Tillys, and more. Some of the Vintage Faire’s latest additions include Aldo, Garage and more. Thankfully, Modesto isn’t stopping there. Although the town lost Sears, it looks like the future plans for that vacant side of the mall are promising (as well as giving us the ability to include more on this list). We will be anticipating the addition of a Dave & Buster’s to the Modesto mall, in which we’d have the luxury of being able to play games with family, have great food and drinks, and overall make the most out of our ever growing city.
Great Valley Museum
This museum has been around for a while but has recently moved into a new state-of-the-art location at Modesto Junior College’s West Campus. They tend to have a lot of science-related events (they are located in the Science Community Center) and have affordable admission prices: $5 for general admission to the museum, $4 for Seniors and $3 for Kids. Aside from the museum, there is also a Planetarium, with affordable admission prices as well. If you plan on visiting both, they offer bundles discounts on admission prices.
Virginia Corridor Trailway
If you’re looking to go out for a walk (or run) on a trail, then this is one trail you should definitely go to. The trail was created not too long ago (probably like ten years ago? I wouldn’t quote me on that though but it wasn’t a long time ago) and is a popular spot. It’s about 4.2 miles long and starts near our downtown area and goes all the way to Bangs Ave. Along the way you pass by Roseburg Square, which is a great shopping center. I’d recommend passing through Roseburg Square for lunch, dinner or a dessert during your trail as well!
The State Theatre
Very few cities can still say that they have a movie theatre from the 1930’s that is still open and operating (our State Theatre is about to celebrate its 85th anniversary!). They tend to play films from different time periods, documentaries, movies that have recently been shown at other theaters, and many other gems. The moment you enter the theatre room, it’s like you’re taken back to the theater’s first years. They take such good care of the theatre, keeping it looking as it did the day of its grand-opening. I’d recommend watching a film there sometime so you too can experience a movie in their amazing theater.
And that, our friends, are just some of the things to do in Modesto, CA. We will continue to update this post with more in the near future, but if there is anything else that you believe should be added to the list or if you’ve visited any of these locations and would like to share your experiences, leave a comment below!