Top 5 Things to do in the Spring in and Around Merced County

Photo By Adam Blauert

Photo By Adam Blauert


According to the system by which seasons are calculated, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20th this year.  Signs of the new season, however, start with the first blossoms on flowering trees in town and in the county’s orchards.

The almond trees are the first major orchard tree to bloom, usually starting by mid-February and peaking towards the end of the month.  Their bloom was early this year and is already over, but the peach bloom is currently in its prime.

1. Blossom tours

Blossom tours are a great way to enjoy the outdoors at the time when winter is fading into spring.  Looking for something relaxing to do in the outdoors?

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Take a drive on the rural roads of our county and enjoy the blossom display.  For the driving directions and a map to the county’s driving (or biking) tour of peach blossoms, use the following links provided by the UC Extension program:



Peach blossoms are a vibrant pink and they photograph nicely, especially in the warm light that often comes as sunlight breaks through clouds.  For an enjoyable drive, pack water, jackets, snacks, cameras, and sunglasses.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Remember that orchards are private property and you should stay along the road unless the property owner invites you onto his/her property.  You can enjoy the blossoms and get great photos without venturing from the side of the road.  You can find a lot of additional information about blossom tours by clicking here. This is something to do the first week of March before the blossoms fall.  Not all orchards bloom at exactly the same time, so some will already be losing their blossoms when you go, but you are guaranteed to find some that still have vibrant displays through the second week of March.

2. Bike Ride

Enjoying a bike ride on a local bike path is another one of the joys of spring.  The temperature is nice, the skies are usually blue, and plants and trees are coming back to life.  It’s a beautiful and comfortable time to be outdoors.  Explore the town on one of the city’s bike paths.  My favorites are the Bear Creek loop between McKee Road and G Street and the path that follows Lake Road between Yosemite Avenue and Lake Yosemite.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

More experienced bikers can enjoy riding rural roads throughout the county, but the bike paths provide a safe environment for riding with family members, especially small children.

For a downloadable map of bike paths in Merced:

City of Merced city bikeway map  (click here)

Merced bike paths on Google Maps (click here)

For more information about bike routes throughout the county, click here .

3. Wildflower driving tours

After the orchard blossoms fall to the ground, wildflower season kicks into gear in our local foothills.  You can enjoy them easily on a short driving trip to Mariposa County.  Although late March through early May is usually the best time for wildflowers, this year they have arrived early.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

I recommend heading up to Mariposa County on Highway 140 and then exploring some of the back roads such as:

  • Old Highway (the original Highway 140 between Catheys Valley and the Mariposa Fairgrounds)
  • Yaqui Gulch Road
  • Ben Hur Road
  • Indian Gulch Road
  • Bear Valley Road
  • Old Toll Road
  • Pendola Garden Road
  • Mt. Gaines Road
  • Hunters Valley Road
  • Briceburg Road

Twelve miles east of downtown Mariposa, the Briceburg road is a left-hand turn from Highway 140.  It is often one of the best places to see California poppies.  The Merced River Canyon between Briceburg and the entrance to Yosemite can also have very nice displays.

All you need is a full tank of gas, a map of Mariposa County, water, jackets, snacks, cameras, and sunglasses.

You can pack a picnic lunch or try one of the many restaurants in Mariposa.  You can see great wildflower displays from the side of the road without trespassing, so please make sure that you obey all posted signs and avoid venturing onto private land.

4. Local hikes

You can enjoy more wildflowers and more views on foot.  Here are five favorite places to hike in the spring:

Hite Cove:  Probably the most popular wildflower hike in our area, this trail starts 20 miles east of Mariposa on the east side of Highway 140.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

After the highway crosses the South Fork of the Merced River, look for a parking area on the west side of the roadway.  The trail starts by climbing a paved roadway and then becomes a narrow dirt path with a steep drop-off down to the river.  Some of the best wildflowers are usually found along the first half mile, so you don’t have to hike far.  If you’re up for a longer hike, however, you can follow it for 3 ½ miles to Hite Cove, a bend in the river where a mining community thrived in the 1860s.  A few rock walls and pieces of rusted iron machinery remain.

Table Mountain (Tuolumne County):  Located near Jamestown, this hike involves a steep climb to the top of the iconic table that follows Highway 108 and the course of an ancient channel of the Stanislaus River.  The trail climbs through oaks to the flat tabletop for excellent views of the surrounding hills and valleys.  Wildflowers shows on top of the table can be excellent, especially in wet years.  The round-trip hike is about 3 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain.

For more information and maps, call the Bureau of Reclamation at (209) 536-9094 or go to  There is no fee to park or use this area.

Pacheco State Park:  Although most of the best wildflower hikes are located in the Sierra foothills, the Coast Range also often has some great displays.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

Pacheco State Park, located on the south side of Highway 152 about 15 1/2 miles west of I-5, has nearly 30 miles of hiking trails where wildflowers may be enjoyed.  For more about Pacheco State Park click here.

For more information go to

or call (209) 826-1197

The day use fee is $10/vehicle.

Path of the Padres:  Also on the west side of the Central Valley, the Path of the Padres is another of the top local wildflower destinations.  This trail starts at Los Banos Creek Reservoir and is only accessible on guided hikes, offered regularly in February, March, and April of each year. 

For reservations, call (209) 826-1197.

The docents who lead these hikes know a lot about the area’s human and natural history and participating in a hike is a great way to learn.  There is a $12/person fee for the guided hike, which lasts most of the day and totals about 5 ½ miles round trip after crossing the reservoir on a pontoon boat.

There is a per person fee for the guided hike, which lasts most of the day and totals about 5 ½ miles round trip after crossing the reservoir on a pontoon boat.  For more info click here.

Knights Ferry:  In the sleepy hamlet of Knights Ferry, pedestrians can still cross the Stanislaus River on a historic covered bridge.  The stone and brick walls of buildings from the 1850s and 1860s line the river and an easy pathway along the river provides beautiful views of the town and the canyon.  The path is only a 3 mile round trip walk, but it packs in a lot of beautiful scenes.

The trail starts on the north side of town at the end of the main road along the river near the stone and brick shell of the old Tulloch Mill.

For more information, call the Knights Ferry Information Center at 209-881-3517.  There is no charge for parking or access to the river, trail, and historic buildings.

There is no charge for parking or access to the river, trail, and historic buildings.

Photo by Adam Blauert
Photo by Adam Blauert

Some of the best foothill hikes are guided outings and classes organized by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.  During the spring months, they offer hikes and classes for all ages and abilities on the preserves and conservation easements that they manage in Mariposa, Madera, and Fresno Counties.

The Mariposa County easements are less than an hour’s drive from Merced.

For more information and a calendar of events:

or call (209) 742-5556.

5. Local camping

Another way to take advantage of the nice weather is to go on a camping trip.  There are lots of places to camp locally and they are most enjoyable in the spring and fall.

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

You can get from home to your campsite in less than an hour if you book a site at one of the following parks:

Lakes McClure and McSwain:  / (855) 800-2267

Lake Don Pedro:

New Melones:  / (877) 444-6777

McConnell State Recreation Area:

Hensley Lake:  / (877) 444-6777

Eastman Lake:  / (877) 444-6777

San Luis Reservoir:

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

All of these are located between the floor of the valley and the 1,500 foot elevation level, so weather is similar to Merced. 

Beware of rattlesnakes (possible at all except McConnell).  Some allow dogs, and fires may be allowed depending on the location and the dryness of the landscape.

Always check current conditions in advance.  McClure, Don Pedro, and New Melones are my personal favorites for lakeside camping (Eastman and Hensley currently have extremely low water levels due to the drought).

Photo By Adam Blauert
Photo By Adam Blauert

McConnell is the best place to camp along the lower part of the Merced River.


Tuolumne County Museum


Located in the Jail

The Tuolumne County Historical society operates one of the best museums in the southern Mother Lode region.  Located in the old Tuolumne County Jail, the museum’s exhibits are spread throughout the thickly-walled brick cells and the former living quarters of the jailer’s family.  Constructed in 1857 and rebuilt in 1866 after a prisoner set it on fire, the jail was used continuously until 1961.

Visitors today not only get a great museum experience, but also get to tour a historic jail.  If you visit on a cold day, note that the glass in the windows of the cells is not original – when prisoners were housed in the building they had to live with the outside conditions – a far cry from incarcerations today!

Old Jail Cell Window
Old Jail Cell Window

Excellent collection of history

The museum’s excellent collection of old photos and artifacts brings the past to life – mining, logging, railroads, ranching, and rural life.  The exhibits are interpreted by clearly-written signs.  Located in Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne County, the museum displays not only Sonora’s history, but also that of other communities from the Tuolumne foothills to the top of the Sierra Nevada. 

A detailed map located near the museum’s entrance identifies all of the current and former settlements in Tuolumne County.

Museum Exhibits
Museum Exhibits

Historic guns

The historic gun collection is one of the best I’ve seen.  Part of the display is a selection of ammunition in just about every caliber and gauge.  If you’ve ever wondered how all the sizes compare, this is the place to find out.

For those interested in the history of the High Sierra, an exhibit focuses on the history of nearby Sonora Pass (today’s Highway 108) and the pioneers who developed it as a trans-Sierra crossing.

The museum is located at 158 West Bradford Avenue, two blocks from the city center.  Directional signs on Highway 49 make it easy to find. 

The hours are 10-4 Monday through Friday and 10-3:30 on Saturdays.  Helpful volunteers are available to answer questions and show visitors around.

Museum Exterior 1
Museum Exterior 1

Enjoyable reading

The TCHS has published a number of excellent books of local history.  On my recent visit I picked up copies of Sonora Pass Pioneers and When Steam Was King, both of which increased my knowledge about the development of Sonora Pass and railroads in the Sierra foothills.  They’ve also given me many hours of enjoyable reading.  Special events including frequent presentations by local historians and an annual Lamplight Dinner fundraiser are also offered.

In addition to the exhibits, an extensive research library is available for family historians and anyone interested in digging more deeply into the county’s history.  The research library is open on Tuesdays from 9AM to noon.  A donation is requested to help cover the cost of maintaining the collection and the facility.

Just over an hour’s drive from most locations in Merced County, the museum is an easy day trip and can be combined with a visit to Sonora’s downtown, the Moccasin Hatchery Jamestown, Columbia State Historic Park, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, or any of the caverns in nearby Calaveras County.

For more information about the museum or the research library,

please to: or call (209) 532-1317.

Gold Rush Towns of the Central Foothills



Gold Rush Towns of the Central Foothills

Gold, silver, and other minerals have been mined throughout California.  Best known of all the mining areas is the “Mother Lode.”  Stretching from El Dorado County south to Mariposa County, the lode is a continuous 120 mile long zone of hard rock gold deposits. 

Today Highway 49 winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s.

Foothill camps

The foothills between Merced County and Yosemite were a part of the Mother Lode known as the “Southern Mines.”  The line separating them from the “Northern Mines” was drawn along the Mokelumne River, a few miles south of the town of Jackson.

Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a river was panned or sluiced until the gold ran out. 

Permanent towns developed in areas where more extensive operations spent decades tunneling deep into the hills. 

Although most of these towns faded after the mines closed, tourism has brought some of them back to life.  Visitors can explore buildings and artifacts from the 1800’s among shops, restaurants, and lodging facilities.

Below is a guide to some of the most interesting historic towns along the western edge ofYosemite from north to south. 

All of these towns are interesting, but Columbia, Sonora, Groveland, and Mariposa are my top recommendations for Gold Rush towns that have the largest and most interesting historic areas. 

Jamestown’s Rail town is also a must-see destination in the “Southern Mines.”  Coulterville and La Grange small, but still very interesting. 

Largely bypassed by tourism, Hornitos has a mix of interesting ruins mingled with historic homes that are still inhabited.

Any historic town can be a great place to stop and as part of a trip into the Sierra Nevada and many offer lodging, including modern motels, historic hotels, and quaint bed and breakfast accommodations.

Be sure and check each town’s webpage lengths for special events – most of these towns offer a wide variety of celebrations and history-themed festivals throughout the year, especially during Independence Day and Christmas. 

No matter where you visit, please be sure to respect private property and “No Trespassing” signs.

Columbia State Historic Park

 Columbia was known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines” during the Gold Rush and it still sparkles. 

Recognizing how well it had survived the years, the state of California began acquiring and renovating the buildings in 1945.



Today the streets are closed to vehicles and Columbia is just about as close as you can get to stepping back in time. 

The state park includes over 50 historic buildings, many of which house exhibits, restaurants, and shops that sell reproductions of products of the 1800’s. 

Admission is free and the park hosts many special events throughout the year.

Many of these events have activities planned for children of all ages.  The park is always open, but most businesses are only open from 10AM to 5PM.  Lodging is available within historic hotels in the park.

For more information go to,


Stagecoach and horseback rides can be enjoyed on weekends



The historic Fallon House Theatre offers live stage entertainment throughout the year


Not to be outdone by the “Gem of the Southern Mines,” Sonora was known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines.”  Originally founded by miners from Sonora, Mexico, it is still a thriving town that maintains a lot of historic character in its extensive downtown area – the kind of place where you can spend a lot of time wandering around and enjoying the interesting architecture and shops.

The downtown area has been bypassed by Highway 108.  Watch for exit signs if you enter the town by that route. 

Residential areas around downtown contain picturesque Victorian homes.

The Tuolumne County Museum and History Center is housed in the old jail and presents excellent exhibits of the life in the pioneer days of Tuolumne County

The Sonora Chamber of Commerce operates a daily trolley that connects Sonora with Columbia and Jamestown (May-Labor Day), allowing visitors to stay in one town and enjoy all three without having to drive.

More information is available at

For information about lodging, restaurants, and activities, go to



Rail town 1897 State Historic Park is Jamestown’s greatest attraction – this park preserves the roundhouse and engines of a short line railroad of the 1800’s.  40-minute rides on historic railcars are offered on weekends and Monday holidays throughout the summer.

Jamestown Railtown -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Jamestown Railtown - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The historic business district has many interesting buildings, although many date from a more recent time than the 1800’s.  For information about lodging, food, and events,

go to


Chinese Camp

Far less touristy than all of the other historic towns listed on this page (except Hornitos and Bear Valley), Chinese Camp has largely been bypassed by the modern world. 

Chinese Camp St Xaviers -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Chinese Camp St Xaviers - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Founded by Chinese miners who were banished from other mining camps, a few structures still remain from the 1800’s, including St. Xavier’s Catholic Church.

Big Oak Flat

Smaller than neighboring Groveland, Big Oak Flat has a couple of historic buildings and a monument commemorating the now-vanished oak that gave the town its name.   If you are on your way to Groveland or Yosemite, you might make a quick stop here.


The main highway is also Groveland’s main street, lined with historic buildings. 

The historic business district is smaller than that of Sonora, Mariposa, or Columbia, but still quite picturesque and worth a visit.  The town’s original name was Garrotte because of its reputation for swift justice in the form of hanging.

The remains of a hanging tree can still be seen in the town.  Groveland’s Iron Door Saloon claims to be the oldest bar in California and offers beverages, food, and live entertainment.  Despite the name, families are welcome.

For more information about the town go to

La Grange

 A sleepy town on Highway 132, several interesting historic buildings and a small museum evoke the wilder days of the 1850’s when La Grange was the county seat of Stanislaus County. 



A tiny jail stands next to the museum and visitors can peer through the bars into the single cell.  An iron bridge from the early 1900’s is open to pedestrians for a quiet stroll over the Tuolumne River.




The Northern Mariposa County History Center and the historic Hotel Jeffrey stand at the junction of Highways 49 and 132.  Coulterville is one of the smaller Gold Rush era towns, but is picturesque and well-worth a visit.

“Whistling Billy,” a tiny antique locomotive that once hauled ore from the Mary Harrison Mine, stands in front of the History Center.  

Bear Valley

Once the headquarters of John C. Fremont’s mining empire, a few buildings from the 1800’s still remain in this sleepy hamlet.  Bear Valley is an interesting place to stop between Mariposa and Coulterville.


On a quiet day Hornitos may look like a true ghost town, though it still boasts a number of inhabitants. 



The Hornitos Patrons Club hosts special events throughout the year and a famous candlelight procession to the cemetery on All Souls Day (November 2) draws hundreds of visitors.

Hornitos Ghirardelli Store -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Hornitos Ghirardelli Store - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

More information is available at

The brick shell of the Ghirardelli Building is the remnant of a store owned by the man whose San Francisco chocolate company became known the world over.

Hite’s Cove

A true ghost town, this former settlement is reached by a 4.5 mile trail (9 miles round-trip).  Located along the South Fork of the Merced River, John Hite operated a profitable mine along this bend in the river starting in the early 1860’s.  At the height of operations, several dozen people lived there.

The mine shut down in the late 1800’s and a forest fire burned the structures in 1924, but rock walls and heavy iron machinery remain. 

A few modern mining claims exist in this are and there is privately-owned land along the first ½ mile of the trial, so be sure to observe posted signs.

This is a great hike in the springtime when wildflowers cover the slopes of the canyon near the start of the trail. 

The trail starts at the site of Savage’s Trading Post on Highway 140 between Midpines and El Portal.


 The largest town between Merced and Yosemite on Highway 140, Mariposa’s main street has many historic buildings and interesting stores. 

Once part of John C. Fremont’s empire, many of the streets are named for members of his family.

Mariposa Main Street   PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Mariposa Main Street  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Windows on the World Books has the best selections of books about local history and recreation that can be found.  The historic courthouse, built in 1854 is the oldest still in use in California. 

photo by brad haven

photo by brad haven

Church in Mariposa built in 1864.

Photo by Brad haven

Photo by Brad haven

For more information on Mariposa, go to


Mariposa History Center Stamp Mill -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Mariposa History Center Stamp Mill - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

The Mariposa Museum and History Center

For information see website -( The museum has a working stamp mill and offers some of the best displays of Gold Rush history anywhere in the Southern Mines and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum portrays the history of mining in California with extensive collections of minerals and gems


Catheys Valley

Although placer gold was mined here in the early days of the Gold Rush, Catheys Valley developed to supply ranches and farms in the lower foothills. 

Although not a major town in any way, an old schoolhouse and blacksmith shop have been restored and moved to the county park on the eastern edge of town.

Catheys Valley Schoolhouse -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Catheys Valley Schoolhouse - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Visitors can peer through the windows of the school and see what a typical rural school of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s looked like. 

It’s a pleasant place to stop for a picnic on a spring or fall day while on the way to Yosemite.


South of the Mother Lode and originally named Fresno Flats, Oakhurst developed to serve farms, ranches, and the logging industry that developed after the Gold Rush. 

A number of interesting historic buildings from the 1800’s have been relocated to the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park on Road 427.

The park is open from dawn to dusk and the buildings may be toured from 10AM to 2PM daily. 

For more information call (559) 683-6570 or go to

The Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce offers information about accommodations and events:

Sonora, Mariposa Groveland, Oakhurst, and Columbia have the best selection of food, lodging, gas, and groceries. Jamestown and Coulterville offer all services with less variety.  Big Oak Flat and La Grange have gas, limited supplies, and meals. 

Catheys Valley and Chinese Camp offer gas and limited supplies.

A small store and a historic bar in Hornitos operate with limited hours.  Bed and breakfast accommodations are offered in or around all of the towns. 

For listings, try the following websites

Columbia Chamber of Commerce:

Mariposa CountyTourism Bureau:

Another helpful Mariposa County site:

Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce:

Sonora Chamber of Commerce:

Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce:

Tuolumne CountyVisitors Bureau:

Local Performing Arts

Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

Local Valley performing arts

Within Merced County and an hour’s drive there are lots of venues to enjoy a wide range of performing arts and classic films. 

(For information on local art venues, click on these links for the Merced Multicultural Arts Center and Turlock’s Carnegie Arts Center).  

Playhouse Merced-  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT


Playhouse Merced

Since 1994, Playhouse Merced has offered a wide range of musical and non-musical productions that include new shows, classics, and pieces written for children and families. 

Averaging over 12 productions a year, it’s a great place to enjoy performances by members of our community and by visiting artists.  Performances are generally staged with the audience seated on three sides of the stage, close to the action. 

The theater is located in downtown Merced, near Bob Hart Square. 

For more information go to

or call (209) 725-8587.

Merced Theatre

After a complete restoration to its 1931 movie palace grandeur, the Merced Theatre reopened in 2012.  It now regularly features live music, comedy, classic films, community productions, and the Merced Symphony ( / 209-383-3277). 

For more information about the theatre go to or call 209-381-0500. 

The Merced Shakespearefest

( /

209-723-3265) performs at both the Merced Theatre and the open air theatre in Applegate Park.

Merced College’s Theatre Department

also offers drama, music, dance, and travelogues throughout the year. 

For more information and for a schedule of current and upcoming performances, go to: or call (209) 386-6644. 

CSU Stanislaus’ Department of Music

presents recitals and concerts throughout the year at the college’s Turlock campus.  The Theatre Department also offers a variety of dramatic performances. 

For music information go to

and for drama go to

You can also call (209) 667-3959 for information about both.

The Turlock Community Theatre

Hosts a wide range of national and local musicians and comedians throughout the year (  /

(209) 668-1169).



Gallo Center

Modesto’s premiere performing arts venue is the Gallo Center, featuring nationally-known musicians, drama, and comedy. 

Two years ago, I enjoyed seeing Hal Holbrook (86 years old at the time!) perform his one-man Mark Twain Tonight! show here.  That’s the kind of talent that the Gallo Center attracts. 

It’s also home to the Modesto SymphonyOrchestra ( / 209- 523-4156) and the Townsend Opera ( / 209-523-6426). 

For more information about the Gallo Center go to

or call (209) 338-2100.

Modesto’s historic art deco State Theatre

Offers both live performances and classic films ( 209-527-4697).


The students and faculty of Modesto Junior College regularly present dramatic, musical, and dance performances ( / 209-575-6776).

West Side Theatre

West of Modesto, Newman’s historic West Side Theatre features a wide range of regional and national music talent ( /


Fallon House Columbia -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Fallon House Columbia - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT


To the east, the Sierra Repertory Theatre offers performances in both the East Sonora Theatre and the historic Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Historic Park (  209-532-3120).

 Fresno area

To the south, Fresno boasts a wide range of performing arts options and venues.  At the Fresno Convention Center, the Saroyan Theatre provides a large setting for traveling dramatic and musical performances, and for the Fresno Ballet Theatre (,

Fresno Grand Opera ( or call 559-442-5649)

and Fresno Philharmonic ( / 559-261-0600).  Also part of the Convention Center, Selland Arena hosts a wide range of events from basketball to Disney on Ice. 

For more information about the Fresno Convention Center, go to

Also in downtown Fresno, the Warnors Theatre hosts live music and historic silent films accompanied by live organ music (as they were often originally shown in the early 1900’s).  For more information go to or call (559) 264-2848.



In Fresno’s Tower District, the historic art deco Tower Theatre also offers dramatic performances, music, and comedy ( / 559-485-9050).

Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater presents classic musicals paired with excellent food  / (559-266-9494).

Fresno’s Save Mart Center is part of Fresno State University.  It features large-scale concerts and sporting events. 

Major national and international talent is often seen here performing for large crowds.  Andrea Bocelli performed at Center’s opening and upcoming shows include Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, and Bruno Mars. 

For more information go to

or call (559) 347-3400.

Fresno State’s Theatre Department presents regular concerts, dramatic productions, and dance performances on the university campus ( / 559-278-2216).

Fresno City College offers a wide range of dramatic performance, music, and dance – including the annual City Jazz Festival ( / 559-442-8221).

Until I started compiling this list of performing arts venues, I really didn’t realize how many options were so close to home.  There’s a lot to enjoy without driving a long distance!

Note to parents

Unlike movies, live theatre doesn’t always come with “mature content” warnings. 

Always check the suitability of a performance before planning a family outing.  We had a few surprises during my growing up years!

Moccasin Trout Hatchery

Photo by adam blauert

Photo by adam blauert

Fish and Game

In order to provide fishing opportunities for 38 million people, the California Department of Fish and Game grows trout and salmon in 21 hatcheries throughout the state and then stocks them in lakes and rivers to supplement the natural populations.  Much of this is done by truck, however in roadless areas airplanes are used. 



Moccasin hatchery

The closest trout hatchery to Merced County is located at Moccasin, along the northern route to Yosemite.  For a map showing all of the DFG hatcheries in California, go to

Trout Swarming  -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT


Hours of operation

From 7:30AM to 3:30PM daily, visitors can observe and feed the rainbow trout at the Moccasin hatchery.  The fish live and grow in long rectangular pools, protected from predators by a tall chain-link fence and overhead wires. 

The largest fish – some of them very large – are located in a pool near the front of the hatchery.  A sign indicates “show fish.”



Bring quarters to feed the fish

Fish food is sold from a dispenser in the parking area.  Bring quarters - $5 provided nearly an hour of fun the last time I visited.  If you bring several children, more quarters may be necessary. 

Tossing the food into the water creates a feeding frenzy.  It is thrilling to watch swarms of beautiful fish jumping out of the water and moving great distances in the blink of an eye. 



It’s great fun for all ages, especially for kids.  The fish are conditioned to expect food from large vertical objects and a feeding frenzy may start when your shadow crosses the water, even if you don’t throw any food in. 

 In the winter months the surrounding mountains block the sun by 2PM.  If you want to enjoy its warmth, arrive by noon. 

Planning your visit

During the summer heat an early visit is recommended.  Trying to catch jumping fish with your camera can be a lot of fun if you are a photographer.  A polarizing filter is helpful to cut through the glare on the water.

 The hatchery is located near the junction of Highways 120 and 49.  If you come from the south via Highway 49, watch for a sign indicating a right hand turn for the hatchery just before you reach the Highway 120 junction.  If you come from the west on 120, turn right on 49 and look for a signed left hand turn.

About 70 minutes from Merced, the hatchery is close to the historic towns of Coulterville, Chinese Camp, Big Oak Flat, and Groveland.  It is also relatively close to Sonora, Jamestown, Columbia State Historic Park, and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. 

The BLM’s Red Hills Area is a great spot for a picnic or a hike in the fall, winter, or spring. 

Red Hills is known for having an excellent wildflower display in March and April.  If you are headed to or from Yosemite on Highway 120, the hatchery makes a convenient stop.



Hetch Hetchy

The buildings surrounding the hatchery pools are where fish are bred and hatched.  The larger buildings and the pond beyond the hatchery complex are part of the Hetch Hetchy power generation system. 

Water is diverted from the Tuolumne River through the large pipes that descend the mountains to the east of the hatchery (penstocks). 

The great force of the descending water is turned into electrical power.  In addition to providing electrical power, the Hetch Hetchy system supplies San Francisco with drinking water. 

The diversion begins at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir inside Yosemite National Park.

Medium Trout Underwater -  PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Medium Trout Underwater - PHOTO BY ADAM BLAUERT

Signs are posted warning hatchery visitors to stay off the concrete edges of the pools.  Don’t feed the fish anything other than the food sold at the hatchery and don’t try to touch the fish.

To plan a school or group visit, contact the hatchery at