Best Places to Learn about Bay Area History

Families can follow the Bay Area’s history from the Native American era to Spanish and Mexican predominance, the Gold Rush and the advent of computers.


Families can follow the Bay Area’s history from the Native American era to Spanish and Mexican predominance, the Gold Rush and the advent of computers. Here are the best places to learn about Bay Area history. 

Many close for major holidays and private events, so check before you go.


Olompali State Historic Park  The park’s name 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 also has been home to landed gentry, Catholic priests, the Grateful Dead rock band and a hippie commune. See an adobe built in 1776 by the Miwoks, a reconstructed Miwok kitchen and 19th century buildings and gardens. 9am-5pm daily. $8 parking fee. 8901 Redwood Highway 101, Novato. 707-769-5652.

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, grounds and family gravesite. 10am-5pm daily. 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez. FREE. 925-228-8860.

 Mission San Jose – This modern reconstruction copies the adobe church built by Franciscan missionaries and Ohlone natives and destroyed in an 1868 earthquake. Tour the original convent, cemetery and garden of this mission, founded in 1797 as the 14th in the 21-mission chain.Museum hours: Wed.-Fri. 10am-3pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-4:30pm. $10 ages 12 and up, $7 ages 6-12, under 6 FREE. 43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont. 510-657-1797.

 Peralta Hacienda Historical Park  This city of Oakland park includes footprints of two original adobe structures built in 1820 and 1840, as well as a reconstructed hacienda wall from the Spanish and Mexican eras. The Peralta House, circa 1870, is open Mondays 2-4pm. The park is open daily, sunrise to sunset. $5, under 11 FREE. 2465 34th Ave., Oakland. 510-532-9142.

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park This park honors the men and women who worked on the home front, building vehicles and weapons during World War II.  Start at the visitor center in the historic Ford Assembly Plant to learn who Rosie was, and then follow the map to see the factories and shipyards that made Richmond one of the nation’s busiest home-front towns. 10am-5pm daily. FREE. 1414 Harbour Way S., #3000, Richmond. 510-232-5050.

USS Hornet Tour this massive 880-foot aircraft carrier, equipped as it was while serving in the Pacific in WWII. Fri.-Mon. 10am-5pm. $20 adults, $10 ages 7-17, under 7 FREE. 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda. 510-521-8448.

San Francisco

Alcatraz  Now a national park, this small island 1.25 miles from San Francisco was a military prison starting in 1861 and later a federal prison from 1934 to 1963. From 1969 to 1971, Native Americans occupied it as a protest. It was also the subject of the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood. Ferries from Pier 33 take you to the island, with departures every half hour daily starting at 9am. $27-45; under 5 FREE. 415-561-4900.

Cable Car Museum  View historic cable cars, photos and mechanical displays. Learn about the cable car’s history from the first one in 1873 to the present. Tues.-Thurs. 10am-4pm, Fri.-Sun. 10am-5pm. Closed Mon. FREE. 1201 Mason St. 415-474-1887.

Chinatown  Known as the largest Chinatown outside Asia and the oldest Chinatown in North America, it 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 jade, dim sum and herbs. Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, with the Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.

Maritime National Historical Park Visit the Hyde Street Pier, home to the circa-1886 Balclutha sailboat and other historic ships, and peruse the museum in the historic Aquatic Park Bath House. Visitor center hours: Mon.-Fri. 1-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm. Hyde Street Pier hours: Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm. Museum hours: Wed.-Sun. 10am-4pm. $15 to tour the ships, under 16 FREE. The visitor center is at 499 Jefferson St. 415-447-5000.

Mission Dolores – Founded in 1776, it is the oldest intact building in San Francisco and the only fully intact mission chapel of the 21 missions. The cemetery is the resting place for 5,000 Ohlone, Miwok and other American Indians, as well as the first Mexican governor Luis Antonio Arguello. Tues.-Sun. 10am-4pm. 3321 16th St. FREE. 415-621-8203.

 Silicon Valley and Coast  

Computer History Museum  Find how computers were invented and learn about the latest technological advances. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm. $19.50 adults, $6.50 kids 8-10, under 8 FREE. 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. 650-810-1010.

 Sanchez Adobe Explore the adobe, built in 1846, and the visitor center to learn about three early eras in San Mateo County – the Ohlone, Spanish and Mexican periods. Tues.-Thurs. 10am-4pm, Sat.-Sun. 12-4pm. Closed Mon. and Fri.FREE. 1000 Linda Mar Blvd., Pacifica. 650-359-1462. Bay

 Chitactac-Adams County Park – Bedrock mortars, native petroglyphs and an interpretive shelter focusing on Ohlone tribal culture, all along a lovely creek. Daily 8am-sunset. FREE. 10001 Watsonville Road, Gilroy. 408-842-2341.

 Mission Santa Clara de Asis – Established in 1777, this Franciscan mission is the centerpiece for the state’s first college, now called Santa Clara University. 7am-7pm daily. The adjacent de Saisset Museum features a state history exhibit with many mission-era artifacts. Tue.-Sun. 11am-4pm. FREE. 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. 408-554-4000.

 Mission Santa Cruz – The only building left of the once-expansive 12th Franciscan mission, this adobe originally housed Ohlone and Yokut mission residents. Exhibits tell the mission’s story through their experience. Thurs.-Mon. 10am-4pm. FREE. 144 School St., Santa Cruz. 831-425-5849.

 National Steinbeck Center  Learn about one of California’s most important writers, the author of Grapes of WrathOf Mice and Men and East of Eden. Born in 1902 in Salinas, John Steinbeck was known for writing about the struggles of the working class. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm. $15 adults, $7 children 6-17, under 6 FREE. 1 Main St., Salinas. 831-775-4721.





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