15 Best Things to Do in Modesto (CA)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Modesto means ‘Modest’ in Spanish, and in many ways this has remained a fitting name for this humble and unassuming city.

Many visitors to the region will not realize, for example, that they are witnessing a little bit of American pop culture, as Modesto is actually the hometown of the filmmaker George Lucas, and inspired one of the most famous films of high school angst set in the 1960s, ‘American Graffiti’.

The legend of this film still lives on in the city and there is even a dedicated event held in honor of the movie, named Graffiti Summer, but this is by no means the only reason to visit Modesto.

The city is surrounded by natural beauty, and is close to iconic locations such as Yosemite National Park.

There are a range of other parks and waterways in the city itself that offer you the chance to commune with nature, and you can even go rafting here on the Stanislaus River.

As well as natural beauty, Modesto is also known for its arts scene, and you will find museums, galleries, theaters, and concert venues all over this understated yet surprising city.

Lets explore the best things to do in Modesto:

1. Modesto Certified Farmer’s Market

Modesto Certified Farmer’s MarketSource: modbee
Modesto Certified Farmer’s Market

The Modesto Certified Farmer’s Market has an illustrious 30 year history in the area and many visitors may not know that Modesto is known for being one of the pioneers of the Farm-To-Table philosophy in the United States.

With that in mind, the market here has some of the most delicious and freshest produce from the Central Valley area, and as well as fruits and vegetables you can also find cheeses and homemade goods like jam, jelly, and artisan honey.

2. Gallo Center for the Arts

Gallo Center for the ArtsSource: flickr
Gallo Center for the Arts

The Gallo Center for the Arts is also the home of the Mary Stuart Rogers Theater that has a capacity of over a thousand spectators.

The Foster Family Theater is also found here and is more intimate with a 44 seat auditorium for family shows.

The Gallo Center for the Arts is the main cultural hub in Modesto and people flock here for the hundreds of performances that are showcased throughout the year.

3. McHenry Mansion

McHenry MansionSource: wikipedia
McHenry Mansion

Known for being the jewel in the crown of Modesto, the McHenry Mansion is the only remaining Victorian home in the city, and was painstakingly restored some years ago in order to preserve its history.

You can now tour the mansion with the help of friendly docents who are experts on the property and will fill you in on all the history of the building.

You will also find period memorabilia and antiques inside that will give you an insightful glimpse into life in Modesto in the Victorian era.

4. Graffiti Summer

Graffiti SummerSource: flickr
Graffiti Summer

Most visitors to Modesto won’t realize that this is actually the birthplace of the illustrious film director George Lucas, and that this unassuming town also provided the inspiration for the cult film ‘American Graffiti’ that was shot in 1973 and based in 1962. In honor of the film, if you happen to be in Modesto in June, you will find street fairs, parades of classic cars, open air concerts, and many more odes to the ‘American Graffiti’ culture being played out all over the city.

There are even 60s themed nights, carhops, and diners that open their doors to celebrate this classic story.

5. John Thurman Field

John Thurman Field

If you want to catch a game of baseball in Modesto then you need to head to John Thurman Field which is the home stadium of the local baseball team the Modesto Nuts.

Here you will find a large arena that has a capacity of 4,000 spectators for sporting events, but that can be transformed into a 7,500 seat stadium for musical concerts.

Make sure to check what’s on when you are in town, as there are an eclectic range of events held here throughout the year.

6. Virginia Corridor Trailway

Virginia Corridor TrailwaySource: traillink
Virginia Corridor Trailway

For those who want to get out and about and take in the beauty of this part of California, the Virginia Corridor Trailway is the place to do it.

The trail strecthes for 4.2 miles and passes historical landmarks such as the old Tidewater Southern Railway Line and there are a range of amenities along the way.

As you stroll, you will find shaded areas as well as picnic spots and barbecues pits.

More surprisingly, you will also find lush gardens dotted along the way and filled with local flora such as pretty indigenous flowers.

7. Modesto Arch

Modesto ArchSource: flickr
Modesto Arch

If there is one iconic landmark in the city of Modesto then the Modesto Arch is probably it, and it is worth coming here at night to see this architectural feat in all its glory.

The arch dates back all the way to 1921 when it was first erected and has welcomed visitors to Modesto ever since.

Should you make your way here, the arch is hard to miss, as it is lit up every night by an impressive 696 light bulbs.

8. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National ParkSource: flickr
Yosemite National Park

If you are going to come to this part of the United States, then you can’t miss the powerhouse that is Yosemite National park.

Located just outside of Modesto, the park needs almost no introduction, being one of the most famous of all the national parks not only in America but in the world.

The park stretches for 1,200 square miles, and you will find an array of gorgeous geological features here, from deep gorges, to picturesque waterfalls, to flower meadows, and vast scrub plains.

You will also find a huge selection of local flora and fauna, and the wildlife is the reason that many visitors choose to come here, and you can expect to find deer, bears, bobcats, and more.

9. Dry Creek Regional Park

Dry Creek Regional ParkSource: yelp
Dry Creek Regional Park

Dry Creek Regional Park is one of the best loved parks in the city and is known for its stunning vistas and local flora and fauna.

Other attractions in the park include a museum which is dedicated to explaining and showcasing the history of agriculture in the Modesto area, and there is a delightful garden here that is perfect for a stroll in the afternoon, and shows off some of the best of the California plant and wildlife.

10. McHenry Museum

McHenry MuseumSource: flickr
McHenry Museum

The McHenry Museum was donated to the city by Oramil McHenry when he died and the building dates from 1912. The museum actually started life as a library, before it was decided that a museum and arts center dedicated to telling the story of Modesto was also needed.

Nowadays the museum is one of the most popular attractions in the city, and you will find galleries that include pictures, photographs, and period memorabilia related to the rise of Modesto.

11. Sunshine Rafting

Sunshine RaftingSource: yelp
Sunshine Rafting

For those who want to get out on the water, the Stanislaus River, a tributary of the San Joaquin River is one of the top spots to do it.

Sunshine Rafting has long been known as one of the best rafting companies in the region, and they are dedicated to showcasing the best of the river while doing so in a safe and comfortable way for visitors.

Trips down the river can be arranged for any skill levels, so whether you are a novice rafter or an experienced hand, you can still enjoy a day on the water.

12. The State Theater

The State TheaterSource: flickr
The State Theater

The State Theater in Modesto is something of a cultural and historical gem, as the building dates back to the 1920s, and the theater has been entertaining residents here ever since.

The theater has been lovingly restored in recent years and is now open to the public once again, and the venue now specializes in the showing of foreign, low budget, and independent films, so if you are looking for some culture then this is the place to come.

The theater also doubles as an arts center, and you will find a range of other showcases here such as dance recitals and musical performances.

13. Downtown Modesto

Downtown ModestoSource: flickr
Downtown Modesto

Downtown Modesto is known for being the heart and soul of the city and it is here that you will find a huge range of exciting attractions.

If you are looking for dining opportunities then the downtown area is full of restaurants, and this is also the place to come for some nightlife, with a range of cafes and bars located here, many of which play live music in the evenings.

Downtown Modesto is also known for its Art Walk where you can go on a self guided tour that takes in art installations, murals, and other quirky exhibits as well as giving you an overview of this part of town.

14. George Lucas Plaza

George Lucas PlazaSource: flickr
George Lucas Plaza

George Lucas is certainly Modesto’s most famous son, and with that in mind it is no surprise that the city has chosen to erect a memorial in his honor.

The ‘American Graffiti’ film director is honored at George Lucas Plaza where you will find not only a plaza named after him but also a bronze statue of his likeness that is strategically situated at a place named Five Points, where five key intersections of the city come together.

15. Graceada Park

Graceada ParkSource: modbee
Graceada Park

Graceada Park has the charming legacy of having been named after two local residents who championed the building of the park, called Grace and Ada.

The park is known for its full range of attractions such as sporting amenities in the form of basketball courts, soccer fields, and volleyball courts, and there are also fountains and water features that children can play in during the summer months.

The area around the park is equally famous for its concentration of historical homes dating from the 1920s, and this is the perfect place to come for a walk and learn a little about the heritage of Modesto.

15 Best Things to Do in Modesto (CA):

  • Modesto Certified Farmer’s Market
  • Gallo Center for the Arts
  • McHenry Mansion
  • Graffiti Summer
  • John Thurman Field
  • Virginia Corridor Trailway
  • Modesto Arch
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Dry Creek Regional Park
  • McHenry Museum
  • Sunshine Rafting
  • The State Theater
  • Downtown Modesto
  • George Lucas Plaza
  • Graceada Park