Best Places to Learn about Bay Area History

Families can follow the Bay Area’s history from thousands of years ago with the Miwok, Ohlone tribes to the Spanish and Mexican era, the Gold Rush and the advent of computers.
There is much to learn at these historic sites.
Olompali State Historic Park The name of the park comes from the Miwok language and translates as “southern village.” The Coast Miwok inhabited the area from 6,000 BC until the 1850s. The area has also been home to landed gentry, Catholic priests, the Grateful Dead rock band and a hippie commune. See 19th- Century buildings and gardens and a reconstruction of a Miwok kitchen. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $8 parking fee. 8901 Redwood Highway 101, Novato. 415-892-3383.
East Bay
John Muir National Historic Site The country’s most famous naturalist and conservationist, John Muir, helped protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mount Rainer as national parks. Visit Muir’s home, tour the grounds and take a tour through the family gravesite. 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., except for holidays. FREE. 925-228-8860.
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park This city of Oakland park includes footprints of two original adobe structures built in 1820 and 1840, as well as reconstruction and outline of a hacienda wall from the Spanish and Mexican eras. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 2:30-5:30 p.m. $5, under 11 FREE. 510-532-9142. 
San Francisco
Alcatraz Now a national park, this small island 1.25 miles from San Francisco was a military prison in 1828 and later a federal prison from 1934-1963. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was occupied by American Indians as a protest. It was also the subject of the popular 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood. Ferries located at Piers 33 take you to the island, with departures leaving every half hour beginning at 9 a.m. $20-30; under 4 FREE.
Cable Car Museum View historic cable cars, photographs and mechanical displays. Learn about the history of the cable car from the first one in 1873 to the present. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. April-Oct. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. November-March.  FREE. 1201 Mason St. 415-474-1887.
Chinatown Known as the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest Chinatown in North America, its history dates to the 49er Gold Rush period. City Guides ( offers FREE tours of the area, providing colorful historic stories and stops at temples, shops of joss, dim sum and herbs. Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.
Mission Dolores –  Mission Dolores, founded in 1776, is the oldest intact building in San Francisco and the only intact mission chapel of the 21 founded by Junipero Serra. The mission cemetery is the final resting place for 5,000 Ohlone, Miwok and other American Indians, as well as the first Mexican governor Luis Antonio Arguello. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Day. Check website for hours. 3321 16th St.  Suggested donation $7 adults, $5 seniors and students; FREE parking available. 415-621-8203.
South Bay
Computer History Museum Find out how computers were invented and learn about the latest advances in technology. Wednesday-Sunday. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $17.50 adults, $6 kids 8-10, under 8 FREE. 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. 650-810-1010. .
National Steinbeck Center Learn about one of California’s most important writers, the author of the novels Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. Born in 1902 in Salinas, John Steinbeck was known for writings about the struggles of the working class. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and until 9 p.m. the first Friday of the month. $12.95 adults, $6.95 children 6-17, under 6 FREE. 1 Main St., Salinas. 831-775-4721.
Lisa Renner is the San Francisco/Peninsula/Marin calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.


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