Set in Central California roughly two hours from Yosemite National Park to the east and Monterey to the west, the small city of Merced serves as a staging point for regional attractions, many of them natural. Billed the "Gateway to Yosemite," Merced acts as a convenient springboard for a variety of outdoor adventures, whether you've sandy secluded beaches or high Sierra peaks in mind. Home to a University of California campus, Merced also boasts a clutch of bars and eateries to keep travelers and its student population fed and watered should the occasion arise, between rafting trips, backpacking forays and scenic drives.
Fishing and water sports enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there are major lakes close at hand, including houseboating hot spots like Lake New Melones and Lake McClure; Merced River is popular with whitewater rafters, whether a leisurely float or some rough rapids are the order of the day. The area surrounding Merced is predominantaly agricultural, with the occasional vineyard to offset orchards, open fields and farmers markets. If you're of a mind to catch cultural sights, the local highligt is the Castle Air Museum in nearby Atwater, which showcases vintage military aircraft. And, of course, there is Yosemite National Park, which harbors a grand collection of waterfalls, meadows, and forests that include groves of giant sequoias, the world's largest living things.
Merced is located along old US Highway 99 130 miles east of San Francisco and about 60 miles northwest of Fresno. Merced is less than two hours by car from Yosemite National Park to the east and Monterey Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and miles of beaches to the west.