located just off historic Highway 99, less than 200 miles
from Los Angeles or San Francisco, is perhaps best known to travelers as the gateway
to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, just 38 miles to the east. Now a comfortable
and convenient stop from which to tour the Parks, Visalia is the oldest town between
Los Angeles and San Francisco. The county seat of Tulare County since 1853, it
was already a transportation and trading hub during Gold Rush days.
Prospectors passed through on their way to gold fields and many returned
to settle. In 1858, Visalia
became a timetable stop on the Overland Stage between St. Louis and San Francisco.
In the 1870s, as open ranges evolved into fenced farms and ranches, Visalia boomed
as a supply center for dairies and growers. The city’s roots in the range are
well expressed in the famous horse and rider statue, “End of the Trail.” Created
for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, this 18-foot
symbol of the American West was acquired by Visalia in 1920 and moved to Mooney
Grove Park where it stands today.
Daniel Zumwalt, (a pioneer ancestor
of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt), started the first commercial dairy in 1889 on his ranch
between Visalia and Tulare, and Tulare County
today is still America’s dairy capital, with more than 300 dairies and 350,000
milking cows, and another 450,000 in reserve.
While agriculture remains
the leading activity in Visalia, the city known as the “Jewel of the Valley”
offers more than seed and sod. Visalia
is home to more than 100 restaurants, 30 antique shops and malls, the College
of the Sequoias and its cultural programs, and the Tulare County Symphony, which
makes it home in the restored Fox Theatre.