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17 Fun & Best Things to Do in Merced, California

If you’ve been to Merced, California, I’m sure you can attest to the beauty of this city. Here are the most incredible things to do in Merced, California, that anyone should check out.

Merced, California, has been around since its establishment in 1889. This gorgeous city, located in the San Joaquin Valley, has continued to shine since its founding and attracts visitors from far and wide.

With so many great sites, charming indoor and outdoor activities, and friendly people, Merced is undoubtedly a place you want to spend some time. For instance, the Merced River, from which the city gets its name, passes nearby, and it’s a great source of outdoor activities.

In addition, if you’ve wanted to visit Yosemite National Park and are up for a day trip (or more), Merced is an excellent place to start. Here are the top fun and best things to do in Merced, California:

TLDR

  • Most significant landmark – Merced National Wildlife Refuge
  • Best park – Applegate Park Zoo
  • Best free activity – Merced National Wildlife Refuge
  • Best activity for kids – Playhouse Merced
  • Best activity for adults – Fish at Lake Yosemite
  • Best food – Toni’s Courtyard Café
  • Best nightlife – The Partisan
  • Best all-around accommodationEl Capitan Hotel

Fun & Best Things to Do in Merced, California

1. Experience Nature at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Address: 7430 W Sandy Mush Rd, Merced, CA 95341

Are you coming up with a list of what to do in Merced, California? Number one on your list should be a tour of Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Imagine 10,000 acres of pure and beautiful nature with so much amazing flora and fauna.

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge has been a source of countless visitors since its incorporation in 1959. The expansive space covers grasslands to wetlands teaming with all manner of beauty. And there are even spots with riparian land and vernal pools.

Bring the family along for this adventure and enjoy creating amazing memories. The landscape does create the perfect background for exceptional pictures.

One thing to note, though, is that while there is wildlife at this refuge, the land also serves as grazing land for local farmers. Therefore, encountering domestic animals grazing here is a common occurrence.

See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

2. Fish at Lake Yosemite

Lake Yosemite
Image by Dr. Vulpes – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Address: 5714 Lake Rd, Merced, CA 95340

A visit to Lake Yosemite is another addition to the list of things to do in Merced, California. This is the place to be with family and friends when you want to enjoy some cool fishing time. All you have to do is drive outside Merced and head to the Sierra Foothills, just 5 miles east of the city.

It’s worth noting that Lake Yosemite is an artificial lake, and it’s been part of this area since 1888, when it was set up for irrigation purposes. Most nearby farms still rely on this majestic lake to supply water to their farms.

But that doesn’t make it inaccessible to locals and visitors who want to relax. Lake Yosemite is open to all and permits a whole host of activities. Folks can relax at the shore, kayak, boat, water ski, or sail, especially when the weather is nice.

Also, you can check out the playground in this area. It’s perfect for kids to have lots of fun.

3. Browse the Antiques at Merced Antique Mall

Merced Antique Mall
Image by Tripadvisor

Address: 320 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340

One great thing about visiting new places is exploring the stores and shops. When in Merced, check out the popular Merced Antique Mall. Folks who have an affinity for collecting special antiquities will love this hidden gem.

You’re met by friendly owners and staff when you arrive at the mall. And while you browse, feel free to ask any questions. Apart from antiquities, some souvenirs can help remind you of the special trip to Merced. The Merced Antique Mall stocks all you need from home décor, art, and jewelry.

4. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Address: 6107 Big Oak Flat Rd, Groveland, CA 95321

Another top tourist attraction when visiting Merced is Yosemite National Park. About an hour and a half to two hours drive from Merced and perfect for a day trip, this stunning landscape became protected in 1864 and has been a favorite tourist site for millions of visitors ever since.

With its soaring granite cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, lush forests, winding rivers, and incredible camping sites, this park is truly one of nature’s finest beauties. Whether you love hiking or just want to admire the spectacular views from a distance, it’s well worth a visit when you’re in Merced.

If you’re looking for an epic outdoor adventure during your time in California, Yosemite National Park is the place for you. All you need to remember is that this is a year-round destination. Therefore, depending on what type of activities you’re most interested in, plan accordingly. Some of the best attractions in Yosemite Park include Hetch Hetchy, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Orange County, CA

5. Visit the Merced County Courthouse Museum

Merced County Courthouse Museum

Address: 627 W 21st St, Merced, CA 95340

Lovers of history or visitors curious about the area will enjoy visiting the Merced County Courthouse Museum. This pillar of Merced is where you can learn the true stories and history of Merced County and the early settlers of the Great Central Valley.

Be sure to note when the museum is open and plan your visit accordingly. This museum operates from Wednesdays to Sundays and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Merced County Courthouse building has been part of the City of Merced since 1875. It was built in an Italian architectural style by Albert A. Bennett. This museum is staffed by volunteers who devote their time to preserving and passing on the local history to all who are interested.

6. Enjoy a Show at the Playhouse Merced

Playhouse Merced, California
Image by Tripadvisor

Address: 452 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340

There are different Merced tourist attractions perfect for the entire family, and another amazing one to check out is the Playhouse Merced. This playhouse is a hit with both Merced locals and visitors alike.

Live performances rule the day at the Playhouse Merced. Guests get to sit back and enjoy comedies, dances, and creative plays. The entire family will enjoy visiting the Playhouse Merced, where entertainment comes alive.

Many annual events in Merced are set up in the playhouse. This includes dramatic shows that adults and kids will love. Performers dedicate their time and energy to create wholesome entertainment enjoyable for all.

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7. Vista Ranch Farming Area

Vista Ranch and Cellars, Merced, California
Image by Tripadvisor

Address: 7326 E State Highway 140, Merced, CA 95340

Outdoor experiences must feature in a list of things to do in Merced, California. And one exceptional place to visit is Vista Ranch. Here, you can explore a magnificent vineyard with an expansive area to set up picnics.

Usually, this is a functioning ranch with acres of land farmed yearly. Much of the local produce that you enjoy in Merced comes from the fertile land. You can always find the farm’s produce in the local farmers’ markets that feature fresh farm produce.

Vista Ranch also welcomes visitors who want to learn about winemaking. They even have a small vineyard that serves guests delicious wine. Visitors can buy a bottle of wine and fresh farm produce to take home after the visit.

8. Be Inspired at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center

Address: 645 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340

Are you seeking a place to enjoy art and get lots of inspiration during your visit to Merced? Be sure to pass by the Merced Multicultural Arts Center. This is an art lover’s paradise where they also showcase the cultural heritage of the local area.

Merced County’s history and culture are well presented in this art center. And so far, this amazing place has lit a love for art in Merced. The expansive art center covers 28,000 square feet and includes a gallery and concert venue. Enjoy gorgeous artwork created by local artists that teach visitors plenty about Merced.

9. Visit the Applegate Park Zoo

Grizzly bear, Applegate Park Zoo, Merced, California

Address: 1045 W 25th St, Merced, CA 95340

Identifying fun things to do in Merced with kids is always important. And one such great activity for you and the kids is to visit the Applegate Park Zoo. It’s been a part of Merced since 1962 and includes some amazing animal habitats that the kids will enjoy.

Resident animals live in these habitats, and visitors can watch them from a safe distance. The zoo is under the Merced Zoological Society and takes in animals rescued in the surrounding areas. This animal refuge ensures the animals are well-cared for at all times.

Carry a picnic basket and share a meal with the family at one of the picnic sites at the zoo. There’s a playground where kids get to have lots of fun, plus you can pass by the gift shop and purchase some amazing souvenirs.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Glendale, California

10. The Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park

Address: 1230 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340

There are lots of great stuff to do in Merced with kids. For instance, a day spent at the Rockin’ Jump won’t easily be forgotten. This fantastic trampoline park is open to visitors who want a fun experience in Merced, California. It features a Jump Arena, Dodgeball Arena, and Slam Dunk Zone. Kids will also have a fantastic time in the Stunt Bag Arena.

Here, they get to fly like the superheroes they enjoy watching on TV. It’s a perfect place to try out different moves mid-air since there’s ample protection below. Also, check out the X-Beam, which is an elimination game. Opponents try to knock each other off the beam to win points.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Auburn, California

11. Downtown Merced

Main Street Merced, Downtown
Image by Amadscientist – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Downtown Merced is full of history and charm. For starters, the old-style buildings are a beauty to behold on their own. Also, besides being the city’s financial and banking center, downtown is also the center for culture and arts. It boasts several galleries plus two incredible live-performing theaters. This makes it a great place to explore for those who want a taste of Merced and its history.

While here, be sure to check out the main downtown streets like 15th Street, 16th Street, Main Street, and 18th Street. They each reveal their own cool treasures as you explore them one at a time. The best way to have fun here is by taking a walk with family or friends along these quaint streets. They house shops selling antiques and other interesting items for visitors who like collecting things from every new place they visit.

There are also some excellent cafes where you can enjoy lunch or coffee, along with some sweet treats. In other words, this place has almost everything to make your visit memorable. For a great, centrally-located and comfortable hotel downtown, we recommend the El Capitan Hotel.

12. Nightlife at The Partisan

DJ in a night club

Address: 432 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340

After a fun day exploring the different areas of Merced with the kids, it’s time to relax. Adults can now check out and enjoy some Merced nightlife. One spot that’s always happening for locals and visitors in Merced is The Partisan.

Imagine having a night out in a place that has been around since the 18th century. The Partisan is a great place to enjoy the Merced nightlife and some wonderful live music. And there is a bar serving your favorite cocktails.

Some nights are open for karaoke, while others ensure you’ll be on the dance floor. Folks who want to know fun things to do in Merced will delight in the lively scene in this historic bar. The mood is dark, but this only makes the party atmosphere better.

13. Let Your Furry Friend Loose at the Merced Dog Park

Address: R St & W Yosemite Ave, Merced, CA 95348

Do you intend to bring along your paw friend when touring Merced? Merced Dog Park is the best place to take them for a walk. Man’s best friend can have a blast running around and meeting new friends in this amazing spot.

The Merced Dog Park is open to pets, and it’s a fun place to bring your dog. This entire space covers 8 acres that provide ample space for dogs to run around and enjoy. The park has a bike path, walking path, bocce ball court, water fountain, picnic tables, and restrooms.

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14. Shop at the Merced Flea & Farmers Market

Address: 900 G St, Merced, CA 95341

While you can always stay in hotels, there’s the option of renting an Airbnb. This means you need groceries to cook meals during your stay in Merced. Enjoy a good bargain when you visit the Merced Flea & Farmers Market, that’s full of fresh produce.

Merced County built the Merced Flea & Farmers Market in the 1980s. And since then, it’s benefited the local farms immensely. People in Merced and surrounding areas purchase fresh farm produce and promote local farming.

The money from the stalls goes to maintaining different things and activities in Merced County. There’s always plenty to buy, making this one of the most popular farmers’ markets in the area. The market opens only on Saturdays and attracts around 4,000 visitors on a single day.

15. The Castle Air Museum

Castle Air Museum Atwater

Address: 5050 Santa Fe Dr, Atwater, CA 95301

If you love learning about WW2 and all the different aircraft from that time in history, nearby Atwater gives you that chance. The Castle Air Museum is just 8 miles from Merced, and it’s an incredible place to visit.

Since 1981, visitors have enjoyed catching a glimpse of aircraft from different eras. The most predominant feature in this exhibition is the WW2-era aircraft. When it opened, the museum featured the B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft.

The museum is one of the places to go when looking for things to do with kids in Merced. Imagine their eyes lighting up as they glimpse these amazing pieces of machinery. There are 49 aircraft in this museum, and it features some of the most unique ones in all of aviation. If you’re traveling with family and looking for a bigger place to stay, this 4 bedroom urban oasis is less than 2 miles from the Castle Air Museum.

16. Enjoy an Outdoor Experience at Henderson Park

Henderson Park

Address: 2641 Merced Falls Rd, Snelling, CA 95369

Outdoor experiences are fantastic as they not only help you breathe fresh air and relax but also give you an unparalleled connection with nature. One amazing place to enjoy such a feeling is Henderson Park. Here, you get the space to enjoy a day with your family and friends.

The park is located in Snelling, California, just 30 minutes from Merced city, but the drive will certainly be worth it. The park has numerous trees that provide ample shade and being next to the magnificent Merced River makes it even more enchanting.

Walk, sit, and relax under the shade while the kids run around having fun. Best of all, there’s a place for everyone to enjoy a dip during the hot summer months. Pack your swimsuit and a picnic when you plan to visit Henderson Park in Snelling.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Sonoma, California

17. Enjoy Great Food at Toni’s Courtyard Café

Pasta salad, Mediterranean Food

Address: 5516 W 18th St, Merced, CA 95340

Eating out is a fun way to experience a new area. As such, check out Toni’s Courtyard Café for some excellent California cuisine.

Enjoying a delicious meal at this popular restaurant in Merced will make your day even brighter. The specialty is Italian dishes, but they also serve American cuisine.

You can sit on the outdoor patio on a good day and relax. And if you choose to eat inside, you’ll be blown away by the beautiful art that’s part of the interior décor.

FAQ

What are the best things to do in Merced, California?

You can explore downtown Merced with its charming streets and shops, visit the historic Merced County Courthouse building, and enjoy live entertainment at the Playhouse Merced. You can also take a day trip and explore Yosemite National Park, which includes popular activities such as hiking and camping.

What are the best activities to do in Merced, California, with kids?

Some great activities to enjoy with kids in Merced include visiting the Applegate Park Zoo, the Castle Air Museum, or spending time at Yosemite National Park. The Merced National Wildlife Refuge also offers a great outdoor experience for kids.

What are the best indoor activities in Merced, California?

You can enjoy some artwork and history at the Merced County Courthouse or the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, catch a show at the Playhouse Merced, take in some great shopping and dining downtown, or take the kids to the Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park.

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