PopulationMetro: 989,255
Open and progressive meets classic southern and the result is arts, smarts and superb livability.

As a destination, Fresno is an offbeat, off-the-beaten path oddity that begs a closer look no matter when you might visit.

Year-round, the fifth-largest city in California is a base camp for climbers on their way to Yosemite, Sequoia or Kings Canyon National parks, and its proximity to the Sierra Nevadas makes skiers feel at home. In spring, it’s a starting point for the eminently bikeable Blossom Trail, 60 miles of riotously flowering fruit and nut trees—the picturesque quality of which may help explain the destination’s #13 ranking for Promotion in our rankings.

Says the website: “When the photo gods are smiling, the snow-clad Sierra Nevada glows white in the background as golden yellow mustard blooms beneath the fruit tree canopy.” During summer, with the AC on, you can drive the same trail and pick up the seasonal fruits and veg that follow the flowering.

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If the scorching San Joaquin Valley heat proves too much, you can retreat underground to the extraordinary Forestiere Underground Gardens, a 100-year-old catacomb-like labyrinth of arches, vaults, underground rooms and courtyards where the temperature is 10 to 30 degrees cooler than the baked surface, and fruit-producing trees, shrubs and vines flourish. A self-taught Sicilian named Baldassare Forestiere brought it to life, a demonstration of the ingenuity of a diverse population that ranks #18 for Foreign Born in our report.

In the cool of the evening anytime of year, head to downtown’s Tower District, with its eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes and bars, record stores and art galleries, theaters and vintage-clothing shops. In March, the district is home to the Rogue Festival, a Fringe fest that sold almost 10,000 tickets to 294 shows during its 10-day run in 2016. Fresno is #40 for Programming—along with the Rogue, there’s a film festival, a Mardi Gras parade, and a beloved Christmas Tree Lane.