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MODESTO – When I was in high school Modesto had all of the allure of the big city.

They had the mall. They had McHenry Avenue. And most of all, they had girls – girls that would come to town from Oakdale and Ceres and Riverbank and Turlock and every other small Stanislaus County community similar in size and stature as Manteca.

But now, as a Modesto resident, I find that the city has a lot more than the narrowly-focused and shallow attributes that I focused on as a hormone-charged adolescent.

Do you see that school right there? That’s where George Lucas went. Do you see that strip right there? Cars cruising along that route served as the background for American Graffiti.

Here are a few places that I would definitely put into my quiver when giving a tour to out-of-town guests who have never been to the city that was once regarded to as the “classiest and most metropolitan of its size.”

uDowntown dining – It all started with a single restaurant. And now, if you’re looking for quality, big-city dining without having to drive to the Bay Area you only need to go to Downtown Modesto. You have staples like Tresetti’s World Café – the restaurant that started it all – and Galletto Ristorante. You have Harvest Moon and some of the most amazing burgers and sandwiches that you’ve ever had. And you have off-beat places like Concetta – a tapas-style restaurant with a menu that changes daily based on the freshest fruit and vegetables that owner Paul Tremayne can get his hands on.

uDowntown drinking – There was a time, 10 years ago, that Downtown Modesto would draw people from the Bay Area to come and enjoy the night life scene. Some of those iconic bars have since closed but those that remain still draw a steady stream of customers that appreciate the local flavor. Places like The Speakeasy are always packed. The Firkin and Fox Pub offers a slice of traditional England right in your own backyard. And The Fat Cat remains a unique small-house music venue that still draws performers you wouldn’t expect to filter through Modesto.

uConcert in the Park – This isn’t a concept that’s isolated to Modesto. But the crowds that show up at Graceda Park to watch music being performed in the Mancini Bowl is uniquely local – something that people wait all year to go out and enjoy. Whether you’re just popping in to say hi to friends or you’re hosting a massive party, Concert in the Park is one of the unique attributes that this Central Valley enclave remains proud of.