Merced is a city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by spectacular natural landscapes, lakes, reservoirs and wildlife wetlands. Named after the Merced River, the city offers a variety of recreational activities, including the historic Castle Air Museum, the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, and the Applegate Park Zoo.


1.Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Merced National Wildlife Refuge
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The Merced National Wildlife Refuge is an area of land that was established in 1951 to protect more than 10, 000 acres of natural landscapes ranging from native grasslands and wetlands to riparian areas and vernal pools. Founded to attract wintering waterfowl from the surrounding farmlands where they were causing foraging damage, the Merced National Wildlife Refuge now provides crucial breeding grounds for large wintering populations of arctic nesting geese, thousands of visiting waterfowl, water birds and shorebirds, and small animals. In addition to providing natural habitats for the local and visiting fauna, the Merced National Wildlife Refuge also boasts 300 acres of cultivated corn, winter wheat crops and over 500 acres of irrigated pasture for wildlife.

7430 W Sandy Mush Rd, Merced, CA 95341

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2.Merced County Courthouse Museum

Merced County Courthouse Museum
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The Merced County Courthouse Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the settlers of the Great Central Valley and depicting the history of Merced County. The museum is situated at the intersection of W. 21st and N Streets in the historic three-story Merced County Courthouse, which was built in 1875 and served as the city’s courthouse from 1875 until 1975. Designed by State Capital Architect, Albert A. Bennett in the Italianate style, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the oldest historic buildings in California. The Merced County Courthouse Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday.

W 21st & N Street, Merced, CA 95340

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3.Lake Yosemite

Lake Yosemite
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Located in the rolling Sierra Foothills just outside of Merced, Lake Yosemite is an artificial freshwater lake that was built for irrigation purposes in 1888 and currently supplies irrigation water to farms in the surrounding Merced County. Owned and operated by Merced Irrigation District, the lake offers a variety of water-based activities including boating, jet-skiing, water-skiing, sailing, and swimming in designated areas. The lake is home to a full-service marina with boat launches, and the shoreline features shady picnic areas with tables, barbecue pits, and restrooms, and a children’s playground.

Merced County, California

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4.Playhouse Merced

Playhouse Merced
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The Playhouse Merced is a community theater that provides entertainment in the form of live theater, dance and music recitals performances, and artistic performances throughout the year. Founded in 1994 as the Merced Center for the Performing Arts, Playhouse Merced is the region’s top theatre organization that engages, enriches, and entertains the communities of Merced and the Central Valley with more than a dozen shows and special events annually, including dramas, musicals, comedies, classics, and children's theatre. In addition to outstanding theater, Playhouse Merced also features a youth Conservatory that offers educational programs and instruction in dance, music, and theatre.

452 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-725-8587

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5.Vista Ranch and Cellars

Vista Ranch and Cellars
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Vista Ranch and Cellars is a family-owned ranch that features farm plots, a beautiful vineyard, and modern tasting room, an outdoor picnic area, and event center. Resting on 20 acres of George Fancher’s Bear Creek Ranch, the ranch boasts several year-round and seasonal farm plots that provide a selection of fresh produce such as broccoli, strawberries, bi-color sweet corn, swiss chard, pumpkins, and pomegranates that are sold at the on-site farm market and various events. There are also two bocce courts outside the tasting room for some outdoor fun in the summer. Vista Ranch and Cellars has 3.5 acres of Cabernet and Primativo vineyards that produce small-batch wines every year and which can be sampled in the tasting room, which is set in a historic 1910 farmhouse surrounded by fruit trees and farm plots.

7326 CA-140, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-722-8200

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6.Applegate Park Zoo

Applegate Park Zoo
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The Applegate Park Zoo is a zoological park and animal center that provides a haven for a variety of wildlife, many of which were previously in wildlife rescue centers. Established in 1962, the park features several different habitats in which the animals comfortably reside, offering visitors a glimpse into how they live in their natural habitats. The park features several picnic areas where visitors can enjoy alfresco lunches and a children’s playground to keep the little ones entertained. There is also a gift shop operated by the Merced Zoological Society (MZS) who also hosts special events and functions from which the funds go towards the upkeep of the Zoo.

1045 W 25th St, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-725-3337

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7.Merced Fruit Barn

Merced Fruit Barn
© Merced Fruit Barn

The Merced Fruit Barn is a homely farmstall that sells a variety of fresh produce, fruit, vegetables, honey, and other farm products. Conveniently located on East Highway 140 heading towards Yosemite, the barn also sells an array of sweet treats such as dried fruit and nuts, candied fruit and nuts, specialty gourmet items, homemade jams, preserves, and marmalade, and gift baskets and trays for special occasions. The Merced Fruit Barn features a lovely grassy lawn with picnic tables where visitors can relax and sample their goodies.

4526 E, CA-140, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-385-2222

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8.The Merced Multicultural Arts Center

The Merced Multicultural Arts Center
© The Merced Multicultural Arts Center

The Merced Multicultural Arts Center is a 28,000-square-foot multipurpose arts center, gallery space and performance venue that is dedicated to inspiring and nurturing the Arts in Merced County. Located at 645 W. Main Street in downtown Merced, the center is managed by the Merced County Arts Council and features an array of temporary exhibitions and displays by local and visiting artists. The center also offers art classes and educational programs for both adults and children, financial support for working artists, and spaces that can be rented for special events and functions.

645 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-388-1090

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9.Rockin' Jump

Rockin' Jump
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Rockin' Jump is a family-friendly trampoline park that is home to a variety of fun games and recreational activities such as open jump arenas, trampoline dodgeball, a slam dunk arena, a climbing wall, and more. Established to offer an alternative form of exercise and keeping fit for all ages, Rockin' Jump provides high-energy fun for the whole family. In addition to attractions such as a Stunt Bag Arena where kids can feel the freedom of flying, flipping and jumping; X-Beam where opponents have to knock their partners off a beam with a padded lance; or the Open Jump Arena where friends jump together and perform acrobatics, the center also caters for special occasions and celebrations with group and birthday packages.

1230 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-500-1355

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10.Jantz Café & Bakery

Jantz Café & Bakery
© Jantz Café & Bakery

Jantz Café & Bakery is a friendly neighborhood café and bakery that provides freshly baked bread pastries and sweet treats every day, as well as serves a menu of light fare for breakfast and lunch from Monday through Saturday. One of three locations around the region, Jantz Café & Bakery is famous for their homemade strawberry pie made with fresh strawberries and served with a dollop of cream, and the Triple Chunk Brownies, which leave even the hardiest sweet tooth satisfied. The breakfast menu features regular favorites such as omelets, biscuits and gravy, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, and oatmeal, while the lunch menu boasts fresh salads and homemade soups, sandwiches, and sides.

3361 G St, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-726-5157

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11.Toni's Courtyard Cafe

Toni's Courtyard Cafe
© Toni's Courtyard Café

Toni's Courtyard Café is a Tuscan-inspired café that serves Italian-American cuisine in an idyllic courtyard setting. The restaurant features a seasonal menu of Mediterranean fare for breakfast and lunch, including regular dishes such as omelets and egg dishes, oatmeal and toasted pumpkin bread for breakfast and fresh salads, soups, sandwiches and more for lunch. The beating heart of the café is the picturesque outdoor patio with a fountain, tables, and chairs, which is packed in both summer and winter. Indoors, the café walls are adorned with colorful paintings and artworks by local artists, giving the café a convivial and vibrant atmosphere.

516 W 18th Street, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-384-2580

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12.The Branding Iron Restaurant

The Branding Iron Restaurant
© The Branding Iron Restaurant

The Branding Iron Restaurant is a classic American chophouse that serves a menu of prime cut steaks and other meats, fresh seafood, and other gourmet dishes in a stylish and sophisticated environment. Named in celebration of California's ranching history and boasting décor that gives the nod to the industry with approximately 200 cattle brands displayed throughout the dining area, the Branding Iron Restaurant has been serving outstanding food to the Merced community for more than 70 years. Owned by Kara and Greg Parle, the renowned restaurant has been a go-to for unrivaled dining experiences, and special occasions since it opened and its 50-year-old neon sign of a cowboy branding a calf outside the restaurant has been designated a historical landmark by the city of Merced.

640 16th Street, Merced, CA 95340, Phone: 209-722-1822

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12 Best Things to Do in Merced, California