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History Comes to Life in California

As the third largest state, California is full of historical treasures that tell the story of the Golden State, from its Native communities to the Gold Rush era and beyond. From north to south, California offers activities, tours and events celebrating the state’s unique and dynamic past.

Native California

Karuk Tribe in Siskiyou

Learn more about one of the largest Native tribes in California at the Karuk Tribe People’s Center Museum & Gift Shop in Siskiyou. At the museum, travelers can learn about the history, culture and language of the Karuk people. In addition, visitors can learn how to weave traditional Karuk baskets in an interactive class that is offered every Sunday. 

Walk Through Native History in Gilroy

Secreted away in the western foothills of Gilroy is Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park. Visitors can follow a self-guided walking trail to walk in the footsteps of the Ohlone tribe who have called the park home for more than 3,000 years. The trail leads travelers to petroglyphs left by the Ohlone and offers interactive exhibits on life in the Ohlone village. 

Tahoe Trailblazers and Stewards

North Lake Tahoe offers visitors glimpses into the Washoe Tribe, the original discoverers – and stewards – of the area. The Gatekeeper’s Museum features the most extensive Native American basket collection on display, and in high season, Palisades Tahoe presents free Washoe Cultural Tours. On the Martis Valley Trail, hikers will find details of the Washoe Tribe’s history and life in the region. 

Mystical Morro Rock

Towering 576 feet, Morro Rock is an iconic landmark perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Morro Bay, but to the Salinan Tribe, the rock is much more than that. It plays a central role in at least four of the tribe’s legends, and for centuries, on the summer and winter solstices, the tribe performs religious ceremonies on Morro Rock. Travelers can drive to the base of the rock, which formed 23 million years ago from the plug of an extinct volcano. 

Canyon Country and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

For centuries, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians called the Palm Springs area home. Today, travelers can explore native culture in the area’s Indian Canyons. Hike the trails in Murray Canyon, Andreas Canyon and Palm Canyon and see rock art, housing foundations and irrigation ditches that serve as a reminder of the area’s Native past. 


Lighting the Way

For 152 years, the Point Arena Lighthouse has guided the way in Mendocino County. The famous lighthouse offers visitors lighthouse tours, several museums to learn more about the lighthouse and the area as well as  the best whale-watching spot on the North Coast. 

The War Memorial Opera House

In 2023, The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco will celebrate its 100th anniversary. This architectural crown jewel of the Beaux-Arts style housed the San Francisco Opera and Ballet when it first opened. This season the opera will perform Verdi’s La Traviata Encounter and El último sueño de Frida y Diego. 

Break a Leg

Santa Barbara’s historic Lobero Theatre celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2023 with a special Ovation Program featuring acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Los Lobos and more. The Lobero Theater is the oldest continually operating theater in California. Its Spanish Colonial Style became the model for the downtown redesign after the 1925 earthquake destroyed most of the city. 

Historic Milestones

Los Angeles is celebrating throughout 2023 with major milestones across the city. First, the iconic Hollywood sign turns 100, with birthday events throughout the year, including the opening of the Academy Museum’s “Hollywoodland” exhibit. Visitors can snap a great shot of the landmark on a hike on Mt. Hollywood, Brush Canyon or Cahuenga Peak Trails. Travelers can also stay at the historic Millennium Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles that is also celebrating its centennial. The hotel was previously a prohibition nightclub, film set and Academy Awards venue. Finally, catch an event at The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which also turns 100 in 2023. 

Mission Possible

Oceanside’s Mission San Luis Rey, the largest of California’s 21 missions, celebrates its 225th anniversary in 2023. The mission is a National Historic Landmark attracting upwards of 70,000 visitors annually. In 2023 it’s celebrating its legacy with events, lectures and festivals throughout the year, designed to showcase the relationship between the Franciscan Friars and the Luiseno, the native people of the land. 

Walking Tours

Concord History

Explore the historic town of Concord in the East Bay on a digital, guided walking tour of downtown. The self-guided tour starts in Todos Santos Plaza and takes visitors by many homes and buildings dating to the late 1800s. The walk ends at Galindo Home and Gardens, open for tours and around the corner from the new Concord History Museum

Path of History

Explore over 55 historic sites in Monterey on California State Park’s Path of History. The self-guided tour winds visitors past historic adobe buildings built during the state’s Spanish and Mexican eras. 

Surfs Up

Learn about the 100 years of surf history in Huntington Beach with Huntington Beach’s Historic Downtown Walking Tour. The 90-minute guided tour takes visitors to the International Surfing Museum, Huntington Beach Pier and the Golden Bear music club. 

Gold Rush

Perspective on Prospecting 

Tuolumne County’s Columbia State Historic Park is a living, working gold rush town that invites visitors to step back in time. Columbia has the largest collection of Gold Rush-era brick buildings in the state and offers immersive experiences like gold panning and stagecoach rides. In today’s currency, the area saw over one billion dollars mined in its heyday. 

Wealth of Museums

The town of Oroville lures history buffs with five museums focused on local history. The Pioneer History Museum houses an oversized replica of a 49ers cabin, while the C.F. Lott Home showcases a Victorian revival-style home built in 1856 by “Judge” Lott, a gold rush prospector who helped form California’s government. 

Gold Fever

Big Bear Valley is now best known for outdoor adventures, but it was considered a gold rush hub at one time. Go back in time when you drive the Gold Fever Trail. Taking visitors through Holcomb Valley, the center of Big Bear’s gold rush, the trail highlights the ruins and remains of Belleville, a once lively miner’s town that was the epitome of the Wild Wild West. 

Mine Time

Just east of San Diego, the historic mining town of Julian was a thriving city during the southern gold rush of 1869. Today the local chamber of commerce offers a self-guided tour that shows off the community’s Victorian architecture, country charm, centuries-old stores and other well-preserved landmarks that are a reminder of Julian’s time as a boom town until the mines closed in the 1920s.

Historic Downtowns

Old Sacramento Waterfront

The Old Sacramento Waterfront is a 28-acre National Historic Landmark District on the Sacramento River. Visitors can explore dozens of restored or recreated buildings from the state’s early years or take an underground tour to learn about Sacramento’s pre-Gold Rush history. The California State Railroad Museum, the largest railroad museum in the country, is housed here too.

Spanish Roots

In the 1770s, Spaniards called San Luis Obispo home, and today travelers can see how they shaped the city on guided tours offered six days a week. The tour highlights San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, California’s fifth mission that sits in the heart of town and still operates as an active Catholic church, San Luis Creek, and Mission Plaza, where festivals, fairs and celebrations occur year-round.

California’s Birthplace 
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is the site where California was born when Mexico gained independence from Spain and took over the area. Today the 12-acre park highlights Mexico’s influence on the area presenting historical sites, museums, preserved and restored buildings, shops and restaurants.