15 Ultimate Best Things to Do in Modesto CA

Looking for the best things to do in Modesto CA? The City of Modesto is the largest city in Southern California, United States. It is located approximately 68 miles south of the state’s capital, Sacramento, in the Central Valley. The city’s name, “Modesto,” means “modest” in Spanish, and based on what can be seen in this city, it is an appropriate name for this charming place. It is also the place that inspired one of the most famous films about high school emotional struggle, “American Graffiti,” which was set in the 1960s.

Graffiti Summer is an annual event done in Modesto to honor the movie; you might choose to participate in it during your visit. The city breathes a natural beauty that can be seen in iconic locations such as Yosemite National Park due to its abundant good fortune. For tourists and thrill-seekers, Modesto has a lot to offer. The city’s museums, galleries, theaters, and concert halls provide a substantial portion of the city’s entertainment. The city is close to notable attractions such as Yosemite National Park and is surrounded by natural splendor.

There are a variety of parks and streams inside the city that provide opportunities to commune with nature, and you can even go rafting on the Stanislaus River. In addition to its natural beauty, Modesto is renowned for its cultural scene, and you will find museums, galleries, theaters, and concert halls throughout this modest and intriguing city. This “modest” yet vibrant city should be on every traveler’s list, thanks to its unique musical performances and theater, exciting attractions, parades, and vibrant murals.

Disclosure: Due to new safety regulations, some of the information regarding the attractions and sites listed below may have changed. For the most up-to-date information, please contact the location.

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Here are the 15 ultimate best things to do in Modesto CA (California):

1. McHenry Museum


The McHenry Museum, a regional history museum, covers the narrative of the legacy and history of Modesto and its neighboring areas. The Museum is located about one block from the McHenry Mansion and is housed in a former library building constructed in 1912. Since its founding in 1972, the McHenry Museum has been collecting and preserving artifacts that illustrate the culture and early history of Stanislaus County and Modesto.

When you arrive at the Museum, you will find interactive exhibits and displays that reflect the historical significance of the Modesto region. The interactive exhibit includes a recreation of a blacksmith shop, a general store, a dentist’s office, and signature objects such as gold mines and firefighting equipment, among others. This museum also contains a collection of cattle brands from Stanislaus County.

Address: 1402 I St, Modesto, CA 95354

2. Modesto Arch


The Modesto Arch, a centennial slogan arch located at the intersection of 9th and 10th Streets, is one of the most entertaining things to do in Modesto CA. In 1912, it was constructed by the Modesto Businessmen’s Association to welcome automobiles. The slogan of the city, “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health,” is lit by over 700 incandescent light bulbs at the Arch. Originally, the arch was supported by two flagpoles on each of its columns; however, due to rot, these flagpoles were removed and replaced with two Mediterranean cypress trees.

3. Mistlin Gallery


The Mistlin Gallery is an art gallery located in downtown Modesto that was created so that local artists could exhibit and sell their works. Another purpose was to build a venue that teaches the community to better appreciate art and engage in the local art scene.

The Mistlin Gallery hosts numerous permanent and rotating exhibitions of artwork, as well as educational activities and workshops that will appeal to art enthusiasts of any age. The gallery is operated by the Central California Art Association, a group of artists and volunteers that seek to promote the arts and give Modesto residents with art education and opportunities.

Address: 1015 J St, Modesto, CA 95354

4. Tuolumne River Trail


The Tuolumne River Trail, a 3.4-mile hiking trail that crosses the Tuolumne River in Modesto, is one of the most scenic trails in the area, which also happens to be one of the best things to do in Modesto CA. The trail, which derives its name from the river, is ideal for hiking and cycling. This track is suitable for hiking, jogging, or cycling, since it circles through lush riverfront trees.

Along this walk, there are locations with breathtaking vistas; We recommend bringing a camera if you like to capture the wonderful views of the surrounding region’s landscape. The trail also travels through the Tuolumne River Regional Park and is in close proximity to the Modesto City County Airport. Note that the trail is best utilized between May and October.

Address: Tioga Dr. and Legion Park Dr. and Tuolumne River Regional Park

5. FUNWORKS! Modesto


The FUNWORKS is bringing you another great center! The Modesto amusement center, situated on an 18-acre land, is an amusement center that provides entertaining activities for families and children. It is a place where the whole family can have fun and it is pretty remarkable. Miniature golf, bowling, a Teddy Bear Factory, an XD Theater, and a Splashworks Pirate Ride are some of the exciting features and activities that the facility offers to children of all ages.

There is also an on-site restaurant where you can order pizza and your favorite American dishes, snacks, and beverages. FUNWORKS! Modesto also offers summer camps for children; any vacation spent there with your children will be one they will never forget.

Address: 4307 Coffee Rd, Modesto, CA 95357

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6. McHenry Mansion


Making it to our list of the best things to do in Modesto CA, McHenry Mansion is a historic house museum that was formerly the residence of Robert McHenry, a prominent Modesto citizen. It was constructed in 1883 utilizing the Victorian Italianate architectural style, and it is an impressive structure that you should visit.  The objective of this house museum is to provide visitors with a look into the early 1900s lifestyle of Robert McHenry and his family.

The mansion deteriorated due to environmental conditions until 1983, when it was restored to its former glory and offered to the public as a house museum. Today, the McHenry Mansion is designated as a historical site. This museum does not offer self-guided tours; instead, you will be led by a tour guide. The tour begins at the visitor center, where a brief film about the Mansion’s history will be shown prior to entering the building.

Address: Corner of 15th & I Streets., Modesto, CA

7. Gallo Center for the Arts


The Gallo Center for the Arts is a performing arts venue that hosts numerous creative performances throughout the year. This performing arts facility features two contemporary theaters, the 400-seat Foster Family Theatre and the 1,200-seat Rogers Theatre.

The center is home to a number of artistic organizations in the city, including the Townsend Opera Players, the Central West Ballet, the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, and the Modesto Community Concerts Association. Check the center’s website to find out when their next performance will be so you can plan your trip to this great city. This is one of the best things to do in Modesto CA that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Address: 1000 I St, Modesto, CA 95354

8. The State Theatre


The State Theatre should be on your list of things to do in Modesto CA. This is a classic theater that shows independent, old, and foreign films and hosts several concerts and events throughout the year. In 1934, the state of California opened and dedicated the Theatre to the people of Modesto in order to provide them with various forms of entertainment, including cultural events, films, and live theater.

The 560 seating auditorium theatre was constructed by the renowned architect Charles Lee, who employed gold-leafed embellishments, painted murals, and towering sconces, among other things, to create this architectural marvel. In order to make the theater technologically advanced, advanced technologies such as digital projection, theatrical lighting, and a public address sound system were added. Even though the theater is always undergoing renovations, it nonetheless maintains a timeless elegance that evokes a bygone era.

Address: 1307 J St, Modesto, CA 95354

9. John Thurman Field


John Thurman Field is a baseball stadium that was constructed in 1995 and has a seating capacity of around 4,000 people. It may be seen as part of a fantastic tour. This magnificent stadium is named after Modesto-born California State Assemblyman John E. Thurman. The stadium is home to the California League’s Modesto Nuts, a minor league baseball team. The stadium hosts a number of games throughout the season.

The Nuts Merchandise Store, which offers merchandise of the Modesto Nuts, is one of the stadium’s facilities that you may wish to explore. The stadium also contains a game area known as the Fun Zone, which features a variety of attractions such as the Inflatable Slide, Prize Wheel, and Speed Pitch. Your children will enjoy themselves in this region, as this place is worth adding to your list of the best things to do in Modesto CA.

Address: 601 Neece Dr, Modesto, CA 95351

10. Great Valley Museum


The Great Valley Museum, often known as GVM, is one of the top museums in Modesto. It was constructed to appreciate and conserve the natural history and environment of the town, as well as to encourage the community to take a keen interest in the field of science. The Museum is located on the first floor of the Science Community Center, next to Modesto Junior College’s West Campus. It displays the natural history of the Central Valley of California in addition to a variety of biological and science-based exhibits, such as the diverse habitats of local fauna.

The museum offers a discovery Room where visitors can explore the field of science through interactive games, animal exhibitions, and exhibits; it is a location you will like visiting. The planetarium at the Great Valley Museum, which is equipped with a world-class star projector and projection system, provides beautiful presentations of the night sky and planetarium films and is another reason why a visit to the museum is so enjoyable.

Address: 2201 Blue Gum Ave, Modesto, CA 95358

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11. Dewz Restaurant


If you are looking for a spot to dine and drink before your trip, The Dewz Restaurant is the perfect choice. It is a family-owned restaurant in Modesto that has been in business for the past two decades. It enjoys a stellar reputation and is visited by both locals and visitors from all around the world. You will adore the restaurant’s decor and how well-organized it and its staff are, as well as the fact that all of its meals are created with locally sourced products and are always served fresh.

We are certain you will enjoy the New Zealand Rack of Lamb with grilled oyster mushrooms and hazelnut ricotta tortellini and the Crispy Skinned Maple Leaf farms duck breast with sautéed rainbow chard and almond. Don’t forget to choose from their large list of exquisite wines from around the world, handcrafted cocktails, imported spirits, and craft brews while you enjoy your meal. You can ask them to select a wine for you depending on your meal, as they are experts at matching food and wine. Here, you can have a romantic dinner and a date at night.

Address: 1505 J St, Modesto, CA 95354

12. Mike’s Grillhouse


The well-known restaurant Mike’s Grillhouse is located on Pelandale Avenue. This restaurant delivers casual food and drinks in a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere; it is a great place for a date, and its staff members are very pleasant. This restaurant prepares all of its meals from scratch using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s menu includes dishes such as fried calamari, hearty burgers, grilled chicken salads, and excellent slices of steak. The restaurant’s menu also includes a variety of scrumptious desserts.

You can also taste some of the available beverages, such as wines, soft drinks, cocktails, and craft brews. You can ask a member of the staff for assistance in selecting a beverage that pairs well with your meal. Mike’s Grillhouse is always open for lunch and dinner and provides catering services for special events and functions.

Address: 3801 Pelandale Ave, Modesto, CA 95356

13. Galletto Ristorante


Galletto Ristorante is an excellent restaurant located in the heart of the city that provides typical seasonal Northern Italian cuisine. It is exquisitely adorned and its surroundings are serene and white. In addition to the different meals served, the restaurant boasts a comprehensive wine selection with a global focus. All of the materials used to prepare the restaurant’s delectable dishes are found locally, including cheeses, homegrown herbs, fresh seafood, prime cuts of meat, ginger, etc. Private dining rooms at the restaurant are available for special gatherings and functions.

Address: 1101 J St, Modesto, CA 95354

14. Downtown Modesto


The downtown section of Modesto, California is one of the top things to do in Modesto CA. As a result of restoration efforts, downtown Modesto has evolved into a central area with both historic and contemporary stores; many of the city’s most popular attractions are located here. The McHenry Mansion, the McHenry Museum, and the State Theatre can all be found in this region of the city. The Gallo Center for the Arts and the pedestrian-only Tenth Street Plaza, which has an 18-screen movie theater, shops, and restaurants, are modern attractions in this area.

There are also boutiques and shops where you can purchase some of the items you need. This region of the city is also notable for the street art that can be found on many of the buildings, as well as the abundance of structures with tasteful murals. You may photograph them if you choose. It is also the epicenter of major city events such as the Modesto Certified Farmers Market and the yearly Summer Graffiti cultural festival. Additional events held here include First Friday Celebrations, annual Mural Festivals, etc.

15. Graffiti Summer


Graffiti Summer is a month-long festival held annually in Modesto during the month of June to commemorate the classic car culture of the Central Valley. During this event, a large number of people go to Modesto in vintage cars, and there are also live performances and other festival-related activities. During this occasion, homage is paid to the hometown director George Lucas, who wrote and produced the Oscar-winning film American Graffiti based on his experiences as a teenager in Modesto during the early 1960s.

During this event, the State Theatre will screen this classic film set in Modesto.  Other important activities that will pique your interest during this long weekend Graffiti Festival include the yearly Graffiti Classic Car Parade, which has tens of thousands of pre-1979 automobiles cruising through downtown Modesto.

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Final Thoughts

The city of Modesto, nestled in California’s Central Valley and located on the Tuolumne River, is a superb tourist destination with a thriving culture. This “modest” yet vibrant city should be on every traveler’s list, thanks to its unique live music and theater, exuberant automobile parades, vibrant murals, as well as other notable attractions. When you visit this vibrant city, you will never experience a dull moment.  You will also want to visit its numerous restaurants, art galleries, outdoor attractions, and other tourist attractions.

It deserves the title “Small but Mighty”, Modesto looks so small and quiet from afar but as you step closer, you get to see it is filled with wonders. Even though the city is small, it is packed with fascinating attractions and activities. Clearly, visitors cannot exhaust all the fun and best things to do in Modesto CA, because it has a lot to offer.  Create a checklist and visit the above-mentioned Modesto attractions!

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