Merced is a county in the state of California built on agriculture and as such nature and the great outdoors still plays a big part here. Yosemite is nearby and the county offers a great staging area lying just off Hwy 140. But Merced also has attractions of its own to entice travelers. The most well known is the Castle Air Museum but there are a number of other museums along with theaters, parks and zoos that are also worth seeing. Our list of the top 13 things to do in Merced gives you a rundown of how to spend your time in the county.
1. Merced National Wildlife Refuge
The Wildlife Refuge in Merced covers an impressive area of over 10,000 acres and is home to a varied collection of flora and fauna due to its vastly differing terrain. Visitors to the Refuge will find wetlands home to ducks, geese and various vegetation as well as perennial grasslands, which provide a habitat for elk, deer and rabbits. The Refuge has a lot to offer in all seasons and is worth a visit at any time of the year.
2. The Community Theatre
This theater is not only run by the community but also serves the community. It is both an educational institution and also a great venue to see excellent live theater. The theater attracts more than 40,000 guests each year and is one of the top attractions in Merced. The entertainment at the venue is varied and includes musicals, comedies and even children’s plays.
3. County Courthouse Museum
This comprehensive museum is home to around 8500 square feet of exhibits exploring the history of Merced County and the surrounding area. The museum is situated in the three-storey courthouse building which, having been built in 1875, is one of the oldest buildings in the state of California. The museum is run by knowledgeable volunteers whose passion for Merced makes a trip even more memorable.
4. Merced Fruit Barn
The Fruit Barn is an unusual attraction but an enjoyable one nonetheless. The barn houses a selection of interesting animals including lamas, macaws, peacocks and a ginger tomcat. The main reason for a visit here however is the excellent fresh produce and dried fruits, which are arguably the best in California. If you are peckish during your visit, the deli makes delicious fresh sandwiches that can be enjoyed at a picnic table overlooking the animals.
5. Lake Yosemite
Although actually a man-made reservoir, Lake Yosemite is still an area of beauty. The water, which is mainly used by growers of crops in the area, is also used by boaters and fishermen whilst still in the reservoir. The Sierra Foothills provide a stunning backdrop for the lake making it a perfect blend of natural and man made beauty.
6. Applegate Zoo
Applegate Park Zoo has been around since 1962 and specializes in caring for birds, mammals and reptiles, all of which are native to California. Most of the animals in the zoo come from rescue cent res and the rehabilitation and care of the animals is clearly a top priority. The impressive species housed at the zoo include bears, cougars and coyote. The gift shop is run by the Merced Zoological Society, which raises money to support the running of Applegate.
7. The Merced Multicultural Art Centre
The MMAC is a great location for viewing art, participating in a class or even watching a live music or theater performance in the so-called Black Box. The center is housed in a former department store and has been an attraction since it was completed in 1996. The MMAC has won a number of prizes since its creation including awards for “Arts and Quality of Life” as well as “American Architecture”.
8. Merced Antique Mall
The self-proclaimed shopping adventure is well worth a visit for experienced antique dealers and amateur bargain hunters alike. The Mall hosts an impressive 7500 square feet of antiques being sold by more than 40 dealers. The Mall is certainly a unique way to spend an hour or two and, even if you do not plan on spending, the unique items on display here will still provide you with some entertainment.
9. Castle Air Museum
The Castle Air Museum in Atwater provides a thorough insight into aviation history and past achievements. The impressive collection within the museum includes more than 70 vintage aircrafts and spans from World War Two to the present day whilst an indoor collection displays other memorabilia such as military uniforms, engine parts and other military artifacts.
10. Henderson Park
Arguably the best County Park in Merced, Henderson Park offers a picturesque location for BBQs, horseshoeing and fishing. The stunning terrain includes the Merced River, which is used by kayakers and paddlers in the summer months.
11. Merced Agriculture Museum
Agriculture has always played a big role in Merced and this museum is great place to learn more about the industry. The museum has a wide variety of old farming equipment and household appliances on display as well as a working blacksmith workshop. Also of interest at the museum is a model of the planned New Yosemite Valley Railway.
12. Vista Ranch and Cellars
The Vista Ranch and Cellars offer a sensory treat for locals and travelers alike. Visitors to the Ranch will find a wine tasting room where vintage whites, reds and roses can all be sampled, as well as the impressive ranch grounds which includes vineyards, a picnic quarter and vegetable and fruit gardens. The beauty of the grounds make them a popular choice for weddings and other events.
13. Hilmar Cheese Company
If you like cheese then look no further than the Hilmar Cheese Company. The site is the largest single-site cheese manufacturer in the world, producing a staggering one million pounds of cheese every day. Visitors are able to tour the factory and watch the cheese being packaged as well as receiving ample complimentary cheese to sample.