In the vast history of California, there are more than a few people who have had an outlandish idea, dedicated their lives to it, then created something beautiful that will be seen for decades. I would put Leonard and Salvation Mountain in this camp, along with Nitt Witt Ridge and now the Forestiere Underground Gardens. While the underground gardens are nowhere near at strange as the other two on this list, they are still a fascinating example of one man’s art becoming a place people visit long after his death. If you are driving through Fresno, I highly recommend taking a tour of this unique spot, here is all the information.
- Cost: $19
- Hours: Closed Mon & Tues, Wed-Sun: 10 AM – 4 PM
- Location: 5021 W Shaw Ave, Fresno, CA 93722
- Parking: Just on the side of the road, no dedicated lot
- Information from my visit in 2015
Born in 1878 in Sicily, Baldasare Forestiere is the creator of these gardens. In 1901 he moved to Boston from Italy to purchase land and grow citrus. Since Boston is not a considerable citrus town, he dug railway tunnels for years then moved to New York. After saving enough money to buy land, he then traveled to Fresno, where his brother lived. He bought 80 acres in 1905 then started digging to start his citrus grove. He hit hardpan at 3 to 4 feet deep, which meant that his land was pretty much unplantable. Not to be discouraged, he started digging underground and then just decided to move down there and work to create a resort for the people of Fresno so that they could escape the heat. He dug the area out until 1946 when he got pneumonia and unfortunately passed away, with the resort still unopened. It became a historical landmark in 1979 when it became strictly for tours, and now they have 5 acres of tunnels, 3.5 of which you can explore.
After being ushered into the underground shop and waiting area, we were moved to the main ballroom of the underground gardens, where we were told the history of the area and on the man himself.
Shortly after that, the tour started, and we were winding through the mazes that make up this fantastic place. It’s hard for me to describe in words, so I will just show you photos from my favorite spots and encourage you to check it out yourself.
One of the first spots you see when you enter the tunnels is the chapel. He was a devout catholic, so he created a chapel complete with bell. It is said that the bell was rung when guests arrived and he would come find them.
Complete with a stove, dining area, and pantry, this underground kitchen did not leave anything to be desired.
Even the dining room had a table that was designed to have a fruit tree growing right through the center.
Since the way temperatures work underground is different based on location to the sun, air moving through them, etc., he actually had two bedrooms, one for winter and one for summer.
Aquarium and 3rd level
There is only one room that is three levels below the ground, and it is the sitting room he made with an aquarium ceiling. He used to sit here and stare up at the ceiling to see his fish swimming around. It would be a pretty impressive room for sure.
The Seven Fruit Tree
Before coming to this spot, I was not aware that you could graft trees together to have one citrus tree produce multiple kinds of fruits. I was even more unaware that you could have a tree produce seven different types of fruit like this tree in the gardens. It no longer provides that many types since the branches broke, but at one point in time, this one tree gave seven different kinds of fruits.
The biggest room that I saw in the area, this courtyard, had many different types of trees as well as various benches you could sit and relax on. It was a beautiful and shady spot with a pleasant temperature, even on a hot day.
Lastly, the large car tunnel was designed so that guests could drive right down into the tunnels. It was made to have multiple spots where exhaust fumes would exit so that no one had to breathe them in when in the gardens.
There are, of course, a lot more things that you will see when you tour the gardens, but the above are some of my favorites. This is a fun place to explore and especially to escape the harsh summer heat of Fresno, if you are there during that season. I enjoyed myself here and am glad I finally got to check it off my list. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.