Greetings, visitor. Here’s a list of things to do in Merced, California from someone who actually lives here.

So, you’ve found yourself in Merced because you’re here for school, you’re on one of those tours stopping here for a pit stop, or you’re here temporarily for work. For whatever reason, let me be the first to say, welcome. Here’s a list of 10 things (and more) things to do in our fair city that you probably won’t find listed anywhere else.

1Visit U.C. Merced.

5200 N. Lake Road
Merced CA, 95343

As of this writing, UC Merced has been open for 14 years so it’s no longer the new university you might have in mind. There are thousands of students, dozens of buildings and research going on around the clock.

As a visitor, you’ll probably enjoy UC Merced for its wide open areas, cool shade if it’s exceptionally hot, plenty of places to lounge and relax, and honestly, the guest wi-fi is literally the best.

Did you know UC Merced had Michelle Obama speak at their first full commencement ceremony? Want to stand where she stood? Head across this field linked here and face the street, you’ll be pretty much where she is in the photo below.

If you DO visit during a semester session, you can schedule an official tour. Follow this link for instructions. 

Here are a few random areas I think are super interesting and perhaps you’ll find interesting as well.

  • Beginnings Sculpture- At four stories tall, in the middle of Campus, this is easily the most Instagram-worthy spot.
  • UC Merced Library- If you’re visiting during library hours, before 6 P.M. you can take the elevator at the bottom of the first floor and ride all the way to the fourth floor. The best views are from the third floor in what’s the Reading Room a.k.a. the Magazine Room.
  • UC Merced Science and Engineering Building 2 – This is one of the UC’s newest buildings but there’s a nice outdoor seating area between the two parts of the building where you can relax, enjoy some shade, and take in the views.
  • UC Merced Little Lake- You know that lake in the middle of Campus? You might think it looks like it should belong on a golf course because, at one time, the campus WAS a golf course. Planners decided to keep the lake.
  • Thermal Energy Storage tank- Near the back of the University, there’s a giant cylinder literally FULL of cold water. The UC does not have traditional air conditioners. During the night, when there’s less load on the energy grid, the UC “charges” its TES tank full of cold water. During the day this cold water is circulated throughout the university and cold air is blown across the cool water via pipes, cooling the buildings. Yours truly worked as a student aid there at one time. A little unknown fact is that this is the second tank. The first tank collapsed on itself when it was being built.
  • UC Merced 1 Megawatt solar farm- Did you know that 20 percent of the campus’ annual electricity needs are supplied by the sun? Click here to see where the UC’s solar farm actually is. Technically, it is closed off the public but I’m sure if you call Facilities during the school year and especially during the summer when it’s not busy, they maybe might oblige you a small tour.

2Dine out at these Downtown eateries only the locals know about.


So, you find yourself in Merced. Don’t get your coffee at Starbucks, grab lunch at Taco Bell, or snag a quick dinner at McDonald’s. Garbage choices! Do like the locals do and pick one of these local places yours truly has eaten at, at least once, and can vouch for.

Coffee Bandits
309 W. Main St
Merced, CA 95340

ASIP Coffee
425 W. Main St.
Merced, CA 95340

J&R Tacos.
437 W. Main St.
Merced, CA 95340

Victorias 24 Hour Drive Thru
1060 W. 16th St. Merced

Little Oven Pizza
433. W. Main St.
Merced, CA 95340

Hanger BBQ
26 Macready Dr.
Merced, CA 95340

  • Grab a coffee at Coffee Bandits or ASIP. Coffee Bandits has live band performances later in the day and is a great place to hang out. ASIP is where you want to go for a personalized LATTE. Ironically, ASIP used to be a Starbucks.
  • Grab a Burrito at J&R Tacos, Victorias, or if you’re on a budget, Tacos Hidalgo Taco Truck. J&R’s is loved by the downtown community and uses local, fresh ingredients. Victorias is open 24 Hours and is where the drunks go late at night (the good kind of drunks) and Tacos Hidalgo has one of THEE best burritos in the WORLD and they’re super affordable.
  • Snag a slice of Pizza at Little Oven Pizza and if you want to sit down for your Pizza, head across the street to 510 Bistro. 510’s Pizzas are literally some of the yummiest I’ve ever tasted.
  • Head a little out of town to Hanger BBQ– Want to eat tri-tip and drink beer next to an operational Airport? Please, do yourself a favor and head on over to Hanger BBQ. Parking is plenty, there are huge lounge chairs for you to sit on and relax and Happy Hour is 2-5 PM.

3Watch a Playhouse Merced play

Playhouse Merced
425 W. Main St.
Merced, CA 95340

Playhouse Merced is the town’s local live theater with many of our local residents cast into some of the best shows I’ve ever seen from a local art repository. Because the theater is so small literally any seat is a good seat. Please visit their website for a list of shows, times, and prices.

4Plan ahead and you might get a chance to visit our World Famous Weed Nuns.

Did you know that Merced is home to the world-famous Weed Nuns because they are. Their official name is “Sisters of the Valley” and while their farm isn’t actually within a 10-mile radius of Downtown Merced (it’s actually far out of town) you just MIGHT catch them picking up their mail at their P.O. Box near Taco Bell.

If you DO want to visit their farm they are officially NOT open to the public and if you find out their address you probably don’t want to show up unannounced as, rumor has it, they have an armed guard under their employ.

The good news is that they often do accept visitors. They do not post publically about this, though. You’ll have to subscribe to their Mailing List found at the bottom of their homepage. If yours truly does find out about dates, I’ll update this page.

One way to reach one of the weed nuns, Sister Kate, in a place she might actually see, is to post a comment on her blog. Not many people comment, she posts often, and she’s bound to see your comment.

Habemus Weed Nuns. Soli Deo Gloria.

5Tour a century-old Catholic Church

Our Lady of Merced
1400 E 27th St.
Merced CA 95348

Do you want to see what a 100-year-old Catholic church looks like? You’re in luck as Our Lady of Mercy, first opened in 1918, is still standing and, is in fact, still in use today. The owners, St. Patrick’s Parish, allow the local Anglicans to use this church for their Sunday services but there is also Catholic mass on Saturday’s at 9 A.M.

Pay special attention to the Stained Glass Windows as they are as old and beautiful as the church itself, truly hidden gems of art in our town.

Those horse hitches out front are when Merced residents literally hitched their horses outside before going to mass.

The best times to visit are obviously when it’s open. As mentioned, OLM is open on Saturday at 9 A.M. and Sunday around 10 A.M. for Anglican services.

If you want to visit when Mass isn’t happening and you’re visiting during St. Patrick’s Office Hours you can visit the offices next door and someone might open the church for you.

6Experience authentic 1/3 Mile Dirt Track Racing, a staple of American Oval Racing.

Merced Speedway
900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Merced CA, 95341

If you’re a local, you already know about our local Merced Raceway but if you’re visiting or a college student for the next four years, you HAVE to do yourself a favor, bring your friends, and head over to Mered Raceway for a 1/3 mile Dirt Track race.

Races run practically year round from March to October.

Here’s Merced Raceway’s 2019 Calendar. I’d suggest attending any event that has sprints in them as, in my opinion, those are the more exciting race series to watch.

Keep in mind that their July 6, 2019 race event is free to everyone since it’s Independence Day weekend. Plus, their’s fireworks!

Tickets usually run around $10-$12 for general grandstand admission.

7Go “Hiking” at these popular walking paths around town.

Bear Creek Road Parking
Corner of E. South Bear Creek Dr & Mckee Road
Merced, CA 95340

Dog Park
Yosemite Ave and R. St.
Merced, CA 95348

Campus Parkway
Corner of E. Gerard Ave. & Campus Parkway

I’ve put hiking in quotes because frankly, these are just some popular walking routes if you want to stretch your legs, go for a run or walk your dog. There are other walking paths around Merced but I think you’ll enjoy these ones the most.

-The Beer Creek Walking path runs through town and I’ve listed where the locals usually park above. It’s a self-explanatory path and either side is as exciting as the other.

-The Dog Park path connects to the Beer Creek Path but starts on the other side of town. There’s also a restroom and designated parking spots at this area.

– Campus Parkway- This one’s a bit out of town, on the other side of Highway 99 but has less foot traffic because of its location. The address above is where you should park. You can turn left and make your way to Dwight Amey park or turn right and head onto the Campus Parkway. Take it for what it is, a nice sidewalk stroll with that beautiful sky above.

– UC Merced- The UC is always a safe place to walk around. The Vernal Pools located at the corner of Ranchers Road and Ansel Adams Road are officially closed to the public, the start of the path linked here. I’ve heard from one of their former Cross Country Runners that if you just want to walk/run on the Vernal pool trail, there’s nothing stopping someone from making their way there. Make sure you have your cellphone with you if you DO go as you are S.O.L if you need help. Zoom out of the map linked above to see what I mean. You’ll literally be in the middle of nowhere.

8See one of 20 remaining Lockheed SR-71 Blackbirds, a spy plane capable of 2,193 MPH. Also, check out a retired Air Force One Jet.

Castle Air Force Base
5050 Santa Fe. Dr.
Atwater, CA 95301

If I have to explain how badass a plane that’s capable of Mach 3 and beyond is, you need to do yourself a favor and google “SR-71 Blackbird” and learn yourself how awesome this reconnaissance aircraft is. Lockheed made 32 Blackbirds and 12 were lost in action. This one in Atwater, Calif. is one of 20 and it is, unlike other Blackbirds, literally right off of Santa Fe Dr.

According to Wikimapia, “The aircraft on display at Castle, flew the most operational missions of any SR-71 and was the first to fly over Vietnam. It also flew photo reconnaissance support of Operation El Dorado Canyon, the April 1986 raid on Libya.”

The Air Museum won’t even charge you to walk right up to it but the nice thing would be to leave a donation if the museum is open. Oh, and the Castle Air Museum is also home to a Douglas VC-9C that served as Air Force One for President Reagan and Clinton. No big deal. /s

9Pet some Barnyard Animals at this roadside zoo and then head on over to a $600,000 Century Old Obelisk with the remains of a once wealthy farmer.

Merced Fruit Barn
4526 E. State Hwy 140
Merced, CA 95340

I’ve combined these two attractions because they’re so close to each other, 1.5 miles apart. If you go to one you’re going to want to go to the other. First, the Merced Fruit Barn. For a place that has Fruit in its name, honestly, you won’t find much fresh fruit. What you WILL find, in the back, is an adorable little petting zoo you can visit for free! They’ve got Macaws, a jersey cow and a cat named Butterscotch. Need I say more?

And one of the most unusual tourist spots in Merced is this century-old obelisk erected in 1911. According to ‘ye olde inflation calculator, the $25,000 it cost to build is around $600,000 in 2019. This farmer was loaded. Around here, it’s officially called the Fancher Obelisk and our local rag did a piece on George H. Fancher whose remains are located under that giant obelisk.

10Enjoy an afternoon walking downtown.

Main St.
Merced, CA 95340

If you’ve stumbled across this page as a tourist, there’s a good chance your bus is going to stop near the In-N-Out since it’s right off the highway. You’re in luck because downtown Merced is within walking distance from In-N-Out. Seriously, whip out your phone, head on over to Google Maps, and look! If you’ve got an hour to waste before your bus leaves, after you scarf down a double-double and animal style fries, stroll on down to Downtown Merced and have a good ol’ fashioned walkabout.

I could honestly go on and on but you’re sure to come across some gems, there’s the antique mall if you’re into that kind of thing. Stroll down to McAuley Lincoln at 744 W. Main St and you’re looking at what was once an Edsel dealership in the 1950s, classic Americana. Ask if you can stroll into the service bays and, if I remember correctly, there’s still a working Edsel clock hanging up there. Fancy a book while your bus weaves its way up to Yosemite? Second Time Around Books at 524 W. Main St. will surely have something that interests you, and probably for less than a dollar.

11Honorable mentions…

Know something else that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below.


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