FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Fresno’s Fresh

Sep 1, 2007
2007 / September 2007

There’s a scene in the film The Music Man in which the townsfolk are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Wells Fargo Wagon and its bounty of goodies. Suddenly a young Ron Howard (age seven or eight) bursts forth from the crowd and sings, “I bet they got my raisins from Fresnoooo!”

These days people are singing higher praises about Fresno. The word is finally out and visitors are discovering what many Los Angeles and Bay Area transplants to “California’s Heartland” have known for the past decade: Fresno is a happening place.

First let’s talk about location. The Fresno area boasts not one but three national parks in its backyard: Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon. All are accessible within a 90-minute drive. Also within reasonable reach are Los Angeles and San Francisco, each a four-hour drive or one-hour flight away. The landscape of this, the top agricultural county in the nation, ranges from farmland to breathtaking lakes, rivers, rolling foothills and mountain ranges, all providing stunning backdrops for such activities as skiing, white-water rafting, rock climbing, camping, horseback riding and fishing.

But it doesn’t stop there, because Fresno can legitimately claim to offer the enviable combination of the greatest of outdoors and a diverse selection of cultural and entertainment options. Visitors and locals enjoy the philharmonic orchestra, ballet, opera and resident theater companies. The city is also a featured stop for traveling productions and concert tours. All this at a fraction of the cost — and an even smaller fraction of the traffic — that you’ll find in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Residents of Fresno are an eclectic and artistic bunch, many of whom have left the bigger cities for a different quality of life.

Fresno is the central San Joaquin Valley’s largest metropolis but it prides itself, rightfully so, on its small-town values. Here people know balance and have brought their business savvy and creative frustrations into an environment where they can take the time to really nurture their passions. The result? The shopping in Fresno is not mere shopping, it is one-of-a-kind shopping. The food? Well, let’s just say Fresno’s agricultural roots are an invaluable resource for the many fine restaurateurs; the region has exploded into one of the greatest dining experiences on the West Coast. Here you’ll find a colorful palette of flavors derived from Basque, Armenian, Hispanic, Indian, Portuguese and Hmong influences. Of course the wine doesn’t hurt. Probably one of California’s best-kept secrets (at least many wine connoisseurs would like to think so) San Joaquin Valley. More than 65 percent of the wine consumed in the United States originates in this region, which is really not surprising considering it is one of the oldest grape-growing areas in America. Fresno’s new slogan (why should Napa have all the marketing?) on all license plates, should read something like, “When life gives you grapes, make wine, not raisins.”

Fresno is a happening place, but it is happening at just the right speed. If you are on your way to one of the neighboring national parks or just curious to see what a big city looked like before it got crazy, spend a day or two in Fresno. Be sure to bring the family pets — it might just suck you in for good.


LODGING

CHATEAU DU SUREAU

http://www.chateausureau.com$$$$

PICCADILLY INN
AIPORT HOTEL

Don’t let the “airport hotel” thing fool you. Yes, it is conveniently located adjacent to the airport, but it is also just 10 minutes from the Tower District. Guestrooms come with high-speed wireless Internet access, coffee, even cookies. In fact, there are no surprise costs associated with this hotel. Parking, shuttle service to the airport, the business center, pool and newspapers are all free of charge. No wonder California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger calls this place home when in town for business. Or the draw could be the on-site Steak and Anchor Restaurant, voted “Best Hotel Dining” by the California Restaurant Association.(Order the ribs and the fried cheesecake.) 5115 E. McKinley, tel 559 251 6000, http://www.piccadillyinn.com $$-$$$

PICCADILLY INN
WEST SHAW HOTEL

Located in Northwest Fresno, in the heart of “Fig Garden,” this bungalowstyle hotel enjoys the benefits only an older neighborhood can provide in terms of mature gardens. It gets hot in Fresno and the shade provided on the grounds, not to mention the swimming pool, are not to be taken lightly. The guestrooms are spacious, tasteful and appointed with every necessary amenity. Suites include fireplaces and conversation areas. The property’s proximity to Fig Garden Shopping Center makes it convenient to some of the city’s best dining (most notably The Elbow Room). On-site Oliver’s Pub, a classic wood-paneled, red-leathered, cozy lounge serves lunch, dinner and (for hotel guests) a deluxe complimentary breakfast buffet. 2305 W. Shaw, tel 559 226 3850, http://www.piccadillyinn.com $$-$$$

DINING

ERNA’S ELDERBERRY HOUSE

Erna Cubin-Klanin likes a challenge. A celebrated chef in her own right, people thought she was crazy when she decided to relocate from Fresno into the foothills outside Yosemite National Park. More than 25 years later, patrons are still making the drive, knowing the experience will be worth the effort. Chef James Overbaugh’s prix fixe menu (with or without wine pairings) changes nightly. Local ingredients give the French fare a California twist, but you still feel like you are in an elegant European restaurant from the 1920s. 48688 Victoria Lane, Oakhurst, tel 559 683 6800, http://www.elderberryhouse.com $$$

FIVE RESTAURANT
Did you see that Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is upset because he’s heard there are no villas to rent in Tuscany? Well he should have checked out this Fresno restaurant for a comparable experience. Fabulous interior aside, it is the menu that steals the show. Chef Valentino Lee is clearly having a good time in the kitchen and it shows in his chili relleno stuffed with feta cheese, filet mignon in a marsala-porcini reduction and prosciutto and green peas in tomato cream sauce. The wine-by-the-glass list has almost 40 selections. 1110 E. Champlain Drive, tel 559 434 5553, http://www.fiverestaurantfresno.com $$-$$$

CHEF’S TABLE

The Mediterranean influence here is not exactly subtle — there’s a bocce ball patio right off one of the main dining areas. Other dead giveaways: a wine cellar housing more than 6,000 bottles, with more than 700 on display, and happy people everywhere you look. The ambiance is wine country and the menu reflects that celebratory lifestyle with selections like roasted squab breast in a Bing cherry sauce and pot a feu. The wine-pairing dinners come on two levels: suggested and premiere. Whichever way you decide to enjoy this restaurant, the bottom line is you will. Fig Garden Shopping Center, tel 559 227 3200, http://www.chefstablefresno.com $$-$$$


At Home With Fresno Mayor Alan Autry

Global Traveler:

What is the most common misconception regarding Fresno?
Alan Autry: Let’s not even talk about misconceptions. Let’s just spread the truth about Fresno! There’s so much good going on here. Although Fresno County ranks No. 1 in agriculture, we certainly are not a traditional sleepy farm community. You can spend a weekend seeing world-class entertainers at the Save Mart Center or the newly renovated Selland Arena; you can golf at your choice of luxurious yet challenging courses; enjoy Art Hop where artists from Carmel and other scenic coastal areas come to Fresno to display and sell their works. We are truly the gateway to three national parks (Sequoia, Yosemite, and Kings Canyon), there is skiing and sailing all within minutes of Fresno. We are committed to being business- friendly with businesses choosing to locate here in Fresno and don’t forget that you can still buy a beautiful affordable home in a safe neighborhood where your kids can have space to play.

GT: Fresno’s economy has undergone a transformation in recent years, shifting away from agricultural. What currently leads the economy?
AA: While Fresno County remains the top agriculture county in the nation, with $4.85 billion in crops and livestock last year, rising more than 4 percent from 2005 and exceeding the $4 billion mark for the fourth consecutive year, other areas contribute to our economy as well. Construction employment remains a key driver of the regional economy, still posting strong gains. Our world-class medical centers not only provide state-of-the-art health care, they also provide thousands of jobs for those in our area. In addition, we have organized leaders from 10 different target industries that work together to improve the local business climate. I continue to believe that every city across the country that has successfully renewed and revitalized itself points to a robust education system as its fundamental key to success. By working toward a stronger educational system, we are working toward building continued strength in our economy.

GT: Why are so many people choosing to relocate to Fresno?
AA: There are three reasons people choose to relocate to Fresno: They can come home, come live and come enjoy. There is an opportunity to fulfill the American dream of home ownership. People find that affordable housing exists in desirable neighborhoods. Folks also discover that Fresno’s neighborhoods are more like communities. When people relocate to Fresno they experience, maybe for the first time, true work/life balance. That is partially due to the numerous activities I previously mentioned. It is also because so many people come to Fresno to start their own businesses. When you are your own boss, you have the chance to manage a healthy balance a little better. Finally, people come to Fresno because they enjoy the environment. People who move here become actively engaged. They join civic organizations, community groups, churches and reconnect with family. I find that people who are transplanted into Fresno bring a new and fresh perspective that others want to hear.

GT: Why are so many people choosing to relocate to Fresno?
AA: There are three reasons people choose to relocate to Fresno: They can come home, come live and come enjoy. There is an opportunity to fulfill the American dream of home ownership. People find that affordable housing exists in desirable neighborhoods. Folks also discover that Fresno’s neighborhoods are more like communities. When people relocate to Fresno they experience, maybe for the first time, true work/life balance. That is partially due to the numerous activities I previously mentioned. It is also because so many people come to Fresno to start their own businesses. When you are your own boss, you have the chance to manage a healthy balance a little better. Finally, people come to Fresno because they enjoy the environment. People who move here become actively engaged. They join civic organizations, community groups, churches and reconnect with family. I find that people who are transplanted into Fresno bring a new and fresh perspective that others want to hear.

GT: Tell us about Fresno’s environmental efforts, many of which people consider ground-breaking.
AA: Fresno is fast becoming the Solar Valley. We recently approved a contract to convert the Fresno Yosemite International airport to solar power; the largest solar-powered system of any airport in the country. California State University Fresno has opened the nation’s first new business incubator devoted to water and energy technologies known as the WET Incubator. With the anticipated population growth, we have to focus on creating renewable sources of energy. Finally, like most cities, Fresno has a general plan, but we also have gone above and beyond by creating a general green plan. The 2025 Green Plan sets in motion a long-term commitment to making the city and the region greener.


DIVERSIONS

There are many wonderful forwardthinking museums, attractions and activities in Fresno. But for an experience that is only as current as it wants to be, visit the Tower Theatre District, or simply the Tower District. This neighborhood is full of nostalgia, maybe not your generation’s, but nostalgia nonetheless. The entire area looks like a movie set depicting an oldtime town, but there is no “false front” about it. It’s the real deal. Many of the restaurants here — some still owned by the original families — are exactly as they were when they opened 50 years ago. This is not to say that they are run down. Far from it, they are preserved in all their chicken-pot-pie splendor complete with big booths, counter service and oversized menus. While the district has become trendy in recent years, attracting many fabulous restaurants and shops, the newcomers have kept the charm and character of the district intact. The crowds here at night are a mix of young and old, enjoying the balmy evening air, listening to jazz, browsing in galleries for pieces by Fresno artist Kliszenski (http://www.kliszenskiglass.com), chatting at wine bars, stopping for 1950s-style Chinese food with no infusions and plenty of carbs, or perhaps hitting Senses Restaurant for tapas. The Tower District gives you a chance to enjoy the good old days – even if they were your parents’ good old days.

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