Until this past December, I had never been to Visalia, even though I’ve lived in the Central Valley for most of my life. We have since been back four times! It is a wonderful town! The main attraction for us has been ImagineU Interactive Children’s Museum but we have also enjoyed some awesome local restaurants and it’s just a cute town to drive around (though I’d recommend using Google maps or GPS to navigate downtown because there are lots of one-way streets and it can be a little tricky.) Here is just one example of how you can spend a day in Visalia!
Pack: toys for the car, picnic lunch if you don’t want to go out.
Park: Lots of free public parking across the street and across the tracks. (ImagineU)
Cost: Lunch at Valhalla – $36 with tax and tip or pack a lunch for free!
ImagineU: $8 per person, $6 seniors & military, free under 1, $3 EBT card holders
Hours: Monday-Saturday (10am-5:30pm), Sunday (12-4pm)
*Tip: The museum is busiest in the morning. We go between 12-2:30 and we nearly have the place to ourselves.
1. Make the drive to Visalia.
If you’re coming from the Fresno area like us, the drive is about an hour. Pack a few toys for the kids to pass the time on the drive. I don’t mind driving this part of the 99 because it’s pretty spacious and isn’t usually too crowded, BUT there isn’t a whole lot for the kids to look at.
2. Enjoy lunch at one of the many great local restaurants in Visalia.
Today we visited Valhalla and had a wonderful experience and delicious brunch. The breakfast and lunch menus and the decor are influenced by the owners’ Danish heritage, but there were a wide variety of dishes that all sounded amazing. They also have a room set up just for families that is full of wonderful toys and a train table for the kids to play with while the grown-ups enjoy their ☕️ (more about the coffee in a bit!)
Being that I love experiencing different cultures whenever possible, I asked our waitress to recommend the most quintessentially Danish dish. She suggested the Danish Sampler (2 eggs, 1 Danish pancake, 2 Aebleskiver, and 1 medisterpolse). Check out the menu for an English description of my meal and to see everything they offer. It was delicious! The kids loved the pancake face and French toast sticks, too… oh and did I mention the fresh squeezed orange juice! 😍
*A word of caution: if you are a coffee-lover like I am… BEWARE! The coffee is excellent! I had read this last night when exploring where we should eat, but forgot this morning before we left when I had my usual, two cups of coffee. As we ate our brunch I had to try the coffee, right? Well another two cups in and I got a massive caffeine headache, but c’est la vie! At least I had lots of energy for our next stop!
3. Explore ImagineU Interactive Children’s Museum.
We first learned of children’s museums on our trip to Seattle last August. We have been obsessed ever since. When I realized Visalia had a children’s museum I decided it was time to make the trip! Our first visit was in December 2017 and we had the best time. We then went again in January and I decided despite the drive it was worth investing in a family membership because it is just that great!
There are a wide variety of exhibits to inspire the kiddos and keep them entertained for hours. Check out the official website for a description of all of the exhibits. Here are some of our favorites!
K & B love looking at the rocks, magnets, and scales. I love that they can explore it all without worrying they’ll break something!
Seriously, how cool is this?!? In this part of the Imagination Station the kids get to paint away on the inside of these windows! The staff cleans it multiple times throughout the day so there is always plenty of room for new art to be added.
I love all of the creative thinking and problem solving that goes on, even in the exhibits that are designed for older kids. (To be clear, there was an elementary school here on a field trip just before we arrived. They built this structure… but K loved investigating what they had done.)
The kids are mesmerized by the model train set every time we come. There is not much to do with it, but they still love watching the train go around and around.Can all of the exhibits be our favorites? Add this one to the list! At the U-Fix-It Garage the kids get to work on a car using tools and parts that all move and make real sounds. It seriously feels real… only with safe and light tools and tires! It’s AMAZING!
Oh how we love the Grove Pick and Pack exhibit! The kids get to pick citrus fruit (orange, green, and yellow balls) and experience the process of sorting and packing it too! (Our favorite part of the exhibit is watching the “fruit” balls get sucked through vacuum tubes from the “packing station” and dropped back into the trees. It’s REALLY cool.) Also, the whole area smells of delicious citrus.
There are also chairs at all of the exhibits for parents to be able to sit back and watch. We like getting in there and playing with the kids sometimes, but it’s also nice to get a break and allow the kids time to explore on their own!
ANOTHER favorite is Wonderful Water. It demonstrates where the valley’s water comes from with a model mountain and river, and the kids also get to fish for magnetic fishies in the pool at the bottom of the mountain. Again, there are opportunities to teach older children, while the littles can still explore and have a great time!
Today we didn’t have much of an opportunity to make music at Christman Harmony Park because of the rain, but on nice days this area is REALLY great! There are a variety of large instruments for the kids to play. It’s also right next the picnic tables and an open grass area where the kids can roam around. We have picnicked here on a nice day, and it was wonderful. You can’t see it above because of the clouds, but on sunny days the Sierra Nevada mountains are clear and beautiful.
If you have small children (under 5), Ready, Set, Grow is a great area to spend some time. There is an Enchanted Forest to explore, with lots of toys that allow for littles to play and wander without the fear of being overpowered by older kids. The area is enclosed and gated, so the littles really stay contained and can have a little freedom to look around.And once they are all tuckered out…
4. Enjoy another drive with exhausted children!