Ceres is a quiet little town located in the heart of agricultural Stanislaw county, and it is fittingly named after the Roman goddess of the harvest.
Well-situated for day trips to the surrounding wilderness, as well as to the many world-class nature parks in the area, it’s a good spot to recharge after a lengthy hike.
Alternatively, discover the heritage of Ceres town itself or head north to Modesto for some hidden cultural gems.
Here are 14 things to do in and around Ceres, California.
1. Catch a movie at Ceres Drive-in
There aren’t many classic drive-in movie theaters left in the US, but this is one of them.
Playing popular classics and modern flicks, this drive-in cinema has been left pretty much unchanged since the 1950s. Recently reopened to visitors, this parking lot has shown films since 1947.
Make sure you visit the top-quality snack bar which is stocked with cheap treats and drinks so that you don’t need to bring your own.
Check your car radio is up to scratch before coming, then kick back and relax at the movies old-school style.
2.Explore Ceres River Bluff Regional Park
Ceres’ local River Park is a unique blend of nature preserve and sports center. Featuring no less than 38 different sports fields and stretching across 76 acres, its repertoire is far larger than your average city park. You’ll find fields for soccer, basketball, and volleyball here, as well as snack stands and equipment rooms.
The lower terrace section has recently received a wealth of funding, to the tune of half a million dollars, in an attempt to restore the area to its original state of nature. Following the nearby Tuolumne River, the region already attracts many species of birds and fish, and it is set to be a wildlife haven in the near future.
The local pond is a popular fishing spot and place for quiet reflection. Rent a boat here for some tranquil relaxation time.
3. Get a beer at Blaker Brewing
Consistently ranked among the best bars in town and known for its excellent beers, come here to experience a great variety of local brews, with drafts ranging from classic IPAs, to eccentric coffee porters. The beer here is quite experimental, so you’ll want to get a flight to sample them all one by one.
A bastion of the community, the ingredients here are locally sourced and so is the live music.
Come here on Tuesdays to gorge on tacos with your beer.
4. Take a day trip to the Moaning Caverns
When you feel like getting out of the suburbs, be sure to take a day trip to the local Moaning Caverns, one of the Gold Country’s greatest attractions.
Wander through this underground wonderland to find otherworldly rock formations and towering stalagmites. The caves here double up as an adventure playground for more daring visitors. Scale your way across the cavern or clamber through its cracks and crevices before ziplining through the surrounding foothills.
These caves are record breakers for several reasons. The main chamber is the biggest single cave in the US, large enough to fit the statue of liberty inside. It will leave you awestruck! It is also a very important site for American History, featuring some of the earliest human remains found anywhere in US. Come here for equal parts education and adventure.
5. Climb Stonehenge Rock Climbing Wall
This inexpensive gym in nearby Modesto is known for its fantastic bouldering facilities. Come here to try out a range of rock walls, aimed at both complete beginners and professional climbers. You’re bound to bump into people who are training here to scale the peaks in nearby Yosemite, and it’s great for kids and adults alike.
A class at the center will not only make you fitter, but also make you more agile and improve your balance. Some of the taller walls are pretty intimidating but never fear, informative staff will boost your confidence and you’ll be well tethered when you inevitably fall from a great height.
6. Find the famous Whitmore Mansion
Built by the first pioneers who came to Whitmore in 1867, this house is named after Daniel Whitmore, the pioneer who built it. It was restored in the 20th century by the local historical society and you can take a tour here to discover some of the history of Ceres.
This grand local mansion is without a doubt the most scenic building in town. Most of the time you’ll see people posing for wedding photos outside. Take a photo of your own and soak up the local history.
7. Discover some classic Americana at the Hot Rod Diner
Awash with chrome and 1950s-style decor, this top-rated burger and grill joint, is a well-preserved retro diner and a much loved local favorite. If you like old school Americana, this place is for you.
Known for their superb breakfasts, served up with generous portions of crispy bacon and excellent mimosas, it’s the best place in town to set yourself up for the day. Alternatively, crash here in the afternoon in their lounge section, to watch some baseball with a burger.
Don’t expect anything fancy, but do expect authentically American and extremely tasty.
8. Take a day trip to the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge
Head 30 minutes west of Ceres to immerse yourself in nature at the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge. Over 95% of the natural riparian environment of the San Joaquin Valley has been destroyed by farming and building. This little preserve will give you an idea of what it used to be like here. Many rare animals live in and around the woodland area, which is crucial to their survival.
Pick up a map and follow the trails, which weave in and out of ancient woodland and crystalline wetland. Watch out for the Riparian Brush Rabbit, one of California’s most endangered species, and one of the park’s key highlights.
9. Watch a show a the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto
Head north into Modesto for a thriving culture scene, based around the Gallo Center for the Arts. Lofty and elegant, this beautiful modern build has top-notch facilities, including a popular wine and beer bar.
Opened in 2007, this relatively young center has done wonders for the performing arts scene in the region, and the Modesto Symphony Orchestra in particular has gained a strong reputation for its classical shows.
Local ballet, theater, and opera groups all put on shows here but it’s also a great place to see international rock bands and popular comedy acts. If you’re in the region check the listings to see what’s on.
10. Find a bargain at the Ceres Flea Market
If you want to go shopping in Ceres, this local market is the place to find bargains and local produce from the region’s great farms.
A huge variety of vendors set up here, selling everything from old vinyls and antiques, to Tupperware and homemade jewelry.
Probably the best thing to do here is eat while you browse. Many trendy and surprisingly upmarket food stalls sell lunches and beers to the crowds of bargain hunters who come every weekend from across the region.
11. Visit the McHenry Museum in Modesto
One of neighboring Modesto’s great museums, the McHenry Museum is a spectacular piece of architecture and once housed the town’s library.
Nowadays the top floors of the building are filled with historical exhibits and the basement is reserved for the local Art League and their creations. The living history displays are particularly charming and include a mock blacksmith shop, an old-fashioned convenience store, and an old schoolhouse.
Above all do not miss the exhibits on the Yokut Indians who used to live in the area prior to the catastrophic Californian Genocide.
12. Traverse the Tuolumne River Regional Park
Wedged between Ceres and Modesto, this expansive 500-acre wildlife park has many bike trails and baseball pitches, in addition to miles of protected forest.
The park is divided into many sections, so take your pick. If you are here in the spring, head to Legion Park, which contains a wildflower meadow that explodes into color during the warmer months. Many visitors choose to rent a Kayak to drift through the park on the open river.
In the summer the community comes out in force to set up their BBQs; you may wish to join them.
13. Find the Ceres Museum
This tiny gallery is relatively unknown and isn’t the easiest to find. Run by a small group of history enthusiasts, it features exhibits that highlight the lives of various pioneers who came through Ceres in the 19th century.
Like many small towns in the area, Ceres was an important watering hole during the goldrush. It is also famous as the site of a great train robbery, committed by the outlaws Chris Evans and John Sontag. You can find out more by talking to the friendly volunteers who work at the museum, which is free to visit.
14. Visit the Great Valley Museum
Just a ten-minute drive from Ceres, in Modesto, you can learn more about the natural forces that shaped the environment at the Great Valley Museum.
This museum is located on the first floor of the Community Science Center and is dedicated to scientific outreach. This fantastic museum is hands-on, and which means you get to handle some of their exhibits while you learn. The museum also has a history display, which will help you understand how indigenous peoples in the area once lived in harmony with nature.
When you have had your fill of hurricanes and earthquakes, head over to the nearby planetarium, which displays the night sky in all its glory.