|Population: 69,000 people|
Merced, a seat of the homonymous county, incorporated as a city in 1889, is located almost in the very heart of California, in San Joaquin valley, some fifty miles to the west from North Fork, considered the official geographical center of the state. The fertile soil around the city is watered by the river and, as everywhere in San Joaquin valley, gives heavy crop of various agricultural products: grapes, alfalfa, wheat, corn, rice, beans, tomatoes, and other.
As the residents believe, the city offers a rich and varied living environment, a unique blend of old and new. Downtown shopping, well-maintained residential neighborhoods, and yet many structures of historical significance preserve memory of far-gone XIX and beginning of XX centuries. Among them are fountain, originally erected in 1888, an old county library (1897), many residential structures, some as old as 100 years or more. Gardens, parks, culture centers and recreation areas, museums – all of them can be found in Merced. One of the most prominent sights is Castle Air Museum, located 10 km to the North from the city on the grounds of the former Castle Air Force Base, which was the home for heavy strategic bombers and air defense plane fighters until 1995. The museum house one of the country's finest collections of WWII aircraft along with planes from the Korean conflict.
Still Yosemite National Park remains the key attraction of Merced for many people, 70 miles to the East from the city. The motto of Merced is "the Gate to Yosemite”. The tourists arrive to Yosemite through the historical Transpo Center (Southern Pacific Company Passenger Station, built in 1926), and stay at the no less historical Hotel Tioga and El Capitan Motel on their way to Yosemite.