You can jog over to Yosemite from many of the small towns in this part of the valley, but this is a convenient staging area, right on Hwy 140. The machine of progress has not been kind to Merced, as it suffers more than its share of strip malls. Still, you'll find tree-lined streets, historic Victorian homes and a magnificent 1875 courthouse at the city's core. The downtown business district is a work in progress, with 1930s movie theaters, antique stores and a few casual eateries undergoing constant renovation.
Merced is right in the midst of a population makeover, thanks to the newest University of California campus, opened in 2005. UC Merced’s first freshman class numbered just 1000 students, but the school continues to grow with a diverse student body and has begun to dramatically shape the city.