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August 16, 2018

5 Summer Destinations Full of California History

California is a land brimming with stunning natural landscapes, diverse cultures, and deep histories. As a tribute to summer freedom and exploration, we’ve come up with a short list of destinations across the state that provide an opportunity for adventurers of all ages to engage with their surrounding while learning about the people and events that came before them. Each photo included below comes from our permanent collection and will be featured in Teaching California, a set of new classroom-ready history curriculum resources set to become available next Summer. The images provide a glimpse into the past, framing each destination as it once was and prompting consideration of how time, change, and human experience shape the places around us.

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5 Summer Destinations Full of California History

California is a land brimming with stunning natural landscapes, diverse cultures, and deep histories. As a tribute to summer freedom and exploration, we’ve come up with a short list of destinations across the state that provide an opportunity for adventurers of all ages to engage with their surrounding while learning about the people and events that came before them. Each photo included below comes from our permanent collection and will be featured in Teaching California, a set of new classroom-ready history curriculum resources set to become available next Summer. The images provide a glimpse into the past, framing each destination as it once was and prompting consideration of how time, change, and human experience shape the places around us.

1. Sequoia National Park

[Crystal Cave, Sequoia National Park, undated]; [California Counties photograph collection]; California Historical Society, CHS2016_2135.
The natural wonder of the Sierra Nevada cannot be overstated with geologic masterpieces shaped by millions of years of interaction between glaciers and rocks resulting in canyons, jagged peaks, domes, rivers, vast waterfalls, and the highest mountain peak in the contiguous U.S., Mount Whitney.

The area that is now Sequoia National Park was first inhabited for thousands of years by Native American groups, each with a unique culture and language including: the Western Mono (Monache), the Foothills Yokuts, and the Tubatulablal. In the early 1800s, fur trappers arrived followed by gold seekers and eventually loggers, all hoping to make a claim to the area’s rich natural resources.
One of the most prized of these resources was the Giant Sequoia tree. Giant Sequoias can live to be 3,000 years old while growing to be more than 300 feet tall and 100 feet in circumference, making them one of earth’s largest living organisms. These epic proportions made the trees extremely attractive to fortune seekers who descended upon the Sierra Nevada during the 19thcentury and whole groves of ancient forest were leveled during this period.

Sequoia National Park was formed in 1890 as the nation’s second national park to put an end to deforestation and to protect the massive trees. The park is home to three of the top 5 largest sequoia trees on earth. 

What to do:
  • Tour Crystal Cave. Beneath the shade of massive trees lies more than 250 underground marble caves. Crystal Cave is the only one open to the public and is filled will walls of marble, stalactites, and stalagmites.
  •  Visit the Giant Forest Museum. The museum is the starting point for visits to the Giant Forest sequoia grove and provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about local ecosystems. The Giant Forest includes the famous General Sherman tree, currently the largest living organism on the planet, by volume.
  •  Visit Buck Rock Lookout. Built in 1923, Buck Rock is one of the oldest fire lookout buildings still in use in the area and is the place where rangers once sat to scan for smoke signifying forest fires.

2. San Francisco’s Chinatown

Street scene, Chinatown, San Francisco, circa 1910]; [San Francisco Subjects photograph collection, box 9, folder 16]; California Historical Society.
 
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America as well as the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. In 1848 the first Chinese immigrants arrived on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. The discovery of gold as well as the building of the transcontinental railroad resulted in a large increase in the Chinese population within the city and a large portion settled in a community in the center of the city known as Chinatown.  The entire neighborhood was destroyed in the massive fire that followed the 1906 earthquake and was eventually rebuilt with tourism in mind.

What to do:
  • Walk through Portsmouth Square. The city’s oldest public square was established in the early 1800s in the community of Yerba Buena, which later became San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay’s shoreline was only about a block away. The park is now a bustling Chinatown community fixture where locals gather to catch up with friends, play mahjong, or practice tai chi.
  • Grab a treat from the Golden Gate fortune cookie factory. This tiny fortune cookie factory down a classic Chinatown side alley was opened in 1962. Visitors can watch as fortune cookies are made fresh and can sample the treats fresh off the griddle.
  •  Visit the Chinese Historical Society of America. Explore rotating exhibitions which highlight the experiences of Chinese in America and San Francisco.

3. El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Monument

   
[Children participating in a religious ceremony on Olvera Street, Los Angeles, undated]; [California Historical Society collection, 1860-1960]; University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society, CHS-36243.

Los Angeles was founded by Spanish settlers in 1781 on a site close to what is now El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Mexican independence in 1821 welcomed the establishment of the first streets and adobe structures in that same area, a place that we now associate with the heart of LA’s original Mexican community. As Los Angeles rapidly expanded throughout the late 1800s and beyond, the original settlement fell into disrepair. In the 1920s, Christine Sterling launched a revitalization campaign to restore the historic pueblos and create a modern marketplace and tourist destination which celebrated Mexican history and culture.

What to do:

  • Take in Olvera street. Explore the colorful Mexican marketplace, shop for handcrafted items and folk art, fill up on tacos at outdoor cafés, and listen to strolling mariachi music. Olvera Street, originally named Vine Street after the vineyards that spread across the area, is full of well-preserved historic buildings.
  • Tour Avila Adobe. Built in 1818, the Avila Adobe is the oldest existing residence in LA and was the home of wealthy cattle rancher and Mexican native, Francisco Avila. A tour of the home will give you an idea of how the first settlers in the area lived under Spanish rule and the structure itself is built from local resources including clay from the LA River and tar from the La Brea Tar Pits.
  • See the Siqueiros mural. “América Tropical” was painted on the side of the old Italian Hall in 1932 by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, a contemporary of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. The mural was controversial due to its imperialist subject matter and was whitewashed soon after its creation. The mural was rediscovered in the 1960s and recent efforts have restored it. It can be seen from a viewing platform on Olvera Street.

4. Sonoma County

[Three children in a Sonoma County chicken ranch, undated]; [California Historical Society collection, 1860-1960]; University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society, CHS-45631.
Sonoma is a diverse region known for its wine, cheese, redwood forests, rolling pastoral hills, and dramatic coastline. Pomo, Coast Miwok, and Kashaya peoples were the earliest human inhabitants and the land was later utilized by Europeans looking for fur, timber, and fertile farmland.  After California became a state in 1850, Sonoma was increasingly settled by the local logging, cattle ranching, poultry farming, fruit processing, and winemaking industries.

What to do:
  • Explore Fort Ross. Fort Ross Historic Park was once a Kashaya Native settlement and later became  a Russian settlement and fur trading post before becoming a hub for agriculture and logging. The area is now a state park which showcases the Russian-era fort.
  • Go on a Sonoma County farm tour. Take part in one of the many farm tours offered throughout the area’s verdant hills and farmland. Take your pick from offerings by local farms and ranches including cheese making classes, sustainable farming demonstrations, and goat cuddling. Buy fresh eggs or be the first in line for organic peaches. Many farms are family-run and focused on sustainability.
  •  Explore Mission San Francisco Solano. The mission is the 21st and last mission founded in California in 1823 and the only mission founded after Mexico’s independence from Spain. The mission is part of Sonoma State Historic Park which also includes Sonoma military barracks built by General Vallejo and is where the first bear flag was raised over California declaring it a republic, independent from Mexico.
  • Visit the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. This museum presents California Native history and culture from a native perspective and offers educational and cultural activities.

5. Mojave Desert

[Two Mojave Indian girls standing in front of a small dwelling with a thatched roof, 1900]; [Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, 1860-1960]; University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society, CHS-1241.
We don’t necessarily suggest a trip to the Mojave during the middle of the summer – but this trip can be saved for a bit later into the fall when temperatures have dropped a tad.
The Mojave is an arid desert full of Joshua trees and one of the driest places in North America. Located between the Great Basin Desert in the north and the Sonoran to the south, this desert plays host to the Mojave National Preserve as well as parts of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. The Chemehuevi and Mojave peoples were nomadic residents of the region for thousands of years living off of prickly pear, mesquite, agave, deer and bighorn sheep. Europeans arrived in 1776 and throughout the 1800’s settlers came to the area searching for gold, copper, iron, and silver.
What to do:
  • Visit Mojave National Preserve. This 1.6-million-acre park is full of sand dunes, Joshua trees, wildflowers, volcanic cinder cones, canyons, mountains, limestone caves, petroglyphs, abandoned mines and military outposts. Hike, camp, and explore, making a stop at the Kelso Depot a Spanish Mission Revival style railroad stop opened in 1924.
  • Explore Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park. This interpretive center for the Native American cultures of the Great Basin and surrounding regions holds more than 7,500 Native American artifacts and pieces of art from 12,000 years of human history.

Of course, the destinations listed above are only a glimpse into the myriad of experiences available to explore the colorful stories of California. As summer draws to a close, we encourage you to harness what time you have available and get out to explore the history of the state.

by Katie Peeler, California Historical Society