California History Sights

San Juan Capistrano Mission

Reina Sierra / TripSavvy

Since the Spanish arrived in California in the 1700s, a lot of things have changed. These places will help you discover the history that has made California what it is today.

California History in Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles Conservancy Tours: The local conservancy group offers a variety of well-led tours featuring all kinds of historic spots in LA. Our favorite? The historic movie palaces downtown.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano: A romantic, ruined mission that was once the grandest in all of Spanish California
  • Richard M. Nixon Library: The Presidential Library of 37th President - and his boyhood home
  • Ronald Reagan Library: It's one of our favorites, a sprawling complex that celebrates only the man, but also the Presidency in general - and they have a real (retired) Air Force One airplane, too.

California History in San Francisco

  • Angel Island: Some call it the Ellis Island of the West, the place where most early Asian immigrants first set foot in the United States
  • Mission Dolores: Founded before the American Revolution, with its mission church still standing
  • San Francisco City Guides Walking Tours: An enthusiastic bunch of docents lead tours that dig into the history of the city, one step at a time.
  • Golden Gate Bridge: It's not just pretty, it's also an integral piece of San Francisco history - and a highly-lauded engineering accomplishment, too.

California History in San Diego

  • Gaslamp Quarter: Today it's a lively dining and nightlife district, once lit by the gas-powered lamps that inspired its name.
  • Mission San Diego: The first Spanish Mission in all of California.
  • Old Town San Diego: The historic heart of San Diego, with lots of interesting homes and businesses from the early days - and some good Mexican restaurants, too.

California History in Other Locations

  • Oakland Museum of California: This place covers a wide range of California history topics and is well worth a visit.
  • California Lighthouses: California has a bunch of them, all along the coast - and many are open to visitors.
  • Old Sacramento: A well-preserved historic district in the state capitol.
  • Route 66: California was the western terminus of "The Mother Road" and while few remnants of that era remain, you can find them if you know where to look.
  • Spanish-Era Missions: A guide to all 21 of them.
  • Sutter's Mill (Gold Discovery) : This is the spot that sparked the Gold Rush of 1849, an event that put California on everyone's map.
  • Bodie: An extraordinarily well-preserved ghost town in the Sierras.
  • Columbia: The buildings are still in use, stagecoaches sometimes run down the main street, and you can pan for gold (just for fun).

More Interesting Things to Do in California

Return to the Guide to Things to Do in California to find more unusual and interesting places to go on your California vacation.

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