This National Park Gateway Town in California Has an Underground Cave System, Stargazing, and an Incredible Inclusion Program

Visalia, California, has gone above and beyond to make sure every traveler who visits can enjoy what the town has to offer.

April was Autism Acceptance Month in the U.S., and if the name sounds slightly different, that's because it is. In 2022, The Autism Society of America announced the small but important name change (from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance).

"Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism," Christopher Banks, president and CEO of The Autism Society of America, told USA Today. "Acceptance is when you include [a person with autism] in your activities. Help [them] to develop in that community and get that sense of connection to other people."

One place that's going above and beyond to ensure those with autism feel included in the magic of travel is the adorable town of Visalia, California, and the surrounding area.

Visalia, California
Courtesy of Visit Visalia

In September 2021, Visit Visalia became the first California tourism entity designated a "Certified Autism Center" by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).

The town's inclusive efforts include the "Hidden Disabilities Sunflower," a program designed to help travelers with various needs obtain additional support while traveling. Upon request, travelers can be given a complimentary "Hidden Disabilities Sunflower" lanyard and bracelet. When worn, the sunflower serves as a visual cue to trained hospitality staff throughout greater Visalia that a traveler may need additional support during their visit.

Visalia, California
Courtesy of Visit Visalia

The town, which serves as a gateway to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, is also home to attractions like ImagineU Interactive Children's Museum, where curious minds of all ages and abilities can enjoy state-of-the-art exhibits. Nearby, in the town of Tulare, visitors can check out AgVentures! Learning Center at the Ag Museum, a center that helps introduce visitors to the importance of farming, complete with interactive exhibits, displays, and activities.

In Visalia, guests can also visit Adventure Park, a seven-acre space filled with fun activities like bumper boats, mini-golf, go-karts, and laser tag. Andjust a few minutes away in Ivanhoe, they can visit Farmer Bob's World, a working citrus ranch.

Visalia, California
Courtesy of Visit Visalia

Of course, the area is home to plenty of magical outdoor spaces, too, like Boyden Cavern, an underground cave system with stalagmites, hanging stalactites, flowstone, and more, and the Dry Creek Preserve, which was once a gravel quarry and has now become a breathtaking nature area.

While in town, guests can also get to know the beautiful Sequoia trees a bit better by either visiting the Sequoia Legacy Tree, an educational exhibit just off Main Street that shares the story of Visalia's connection to the creation of the National Park Service. For an extra special event, try taking a nighttime tour with Sequoia Guides, which will take you to the area's best stargazing spots.

Learn more about what you can do in town and Visalia's unique inclusion programs here.

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