Fresno is an agricultural and minor banking and financial center for the San Joaquin Valley, the southern half of California’s famed agricultural Central Valley. Agriculture and some light manufacturing round out the private employment picture. The California State University at Fresno, or “Fresno State,” adds some college-town life including sports and arts activities, but it doesn’t have much influence on the look or atmosphere of the town. The city core, once neglected, has been renovated and some projects are still underway. A few nice older neighborhoods spread north, but much of the rest of the area could be described as “functional” and not very interesting, and some are downright gritty.
Like many Valley towns, large populations of uneducated and immigrant farm workers bring down average income levels; and the relatively low cost of housing versus the rest of California bring in economically disadvantaged individuals; these forces together have created some zones of poverty and areas of rather unattractive expansion. This said, the city is working hard to improve its image, education and facilities.
The Sierra Nevada and twin national parks Sequoia and Kings Canyon provide abundant outdoor recreation activities nearby. Crime rates—particularly violent crime—are a concern. Cost of living is fairly reasonable for a California city but it is hardly a bargain considering what you get, and housing prices have risen substantially. Air quality is poor and often obscures the mountains in what would otherwise be a more attractive setting.
The San Joaquin Valley is generally flat and agricultural. About 15 miles east of Fresno, the terrain slopes upward with the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, rapidly rising to more than 14,000 feet. The lower Coastal Range rises 45 miles to the west. The Mediterranean climate of the Central Valley is hot and dry in summer, with normally pleasant evenings, and mild in winter. Temperatures may reach the low 100’s in summer but 90’s are more common and rain is almost nonexistent. Winters are moist and heavy fogs may persist. Almost all rainfall occurs in winter.