Manzanar National Historic Site

Japanese memorial at cemetery of Manzanar WWII Japanese relocation camp.
Japanese Memorial at Manzanar. John Elk / Getty Images

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, an act that authorized the Secretary of War to establish "Military Areas." In those areas, anyone who could threaten the war effort was to be removed. Without due process and with only days to decide what to do about their homes, businesses and possessions, all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were taken to so-called "internment camps." Manzanar in California was one of ten such camps built in the western U.S., and more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were forced to live there until the end of the war in 1945.

Manzanar National Historic Site was formed in 1992 to preserve their story. The Manzanar visitor center opened in 2004. Richly populated with the voices of those who lived there and curated to tell their stories, the Manzanar visitor center offers insight into people's thoughts and emotions in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and how that affected the lives of the internees.

Eight guard towers once stood around the perimeter of the camp, staffed by Military Police with submachine guns. The National Park Service rebuilt one of those towers in 2005, which you can see from the highway.

A self-guided Manzanar auto tour brochure is available in the visitor center. It will take you around the camp and to the cemetery (which is the site of a famous Ansel Adams photograph).

Manzanar National Historic Site Tips

  • Dogs are welcome around the Manzanar grounds, but not in the visitor center. With summer temperatures soaring more than 100°F and no shade, we don't recommend stopping here unless someone in your party stays with your pet while the others go inside.
  • The nearest place to eat is in Lone Pine. Stop there first if you're getting hungry.
  • The 22-minute film Remembering Manzanar is a must-see. It is closed captioned and audio descriptive devices are available.
  • Go into the restrooms even if you don't need to use the facilities. The exhibits there are most poignant.

Manzanar With Kids

Two-thirds of those interned at Manzanar were under 18 years old. Go all the way to the back of the visitor center exhibit to find the section devoted to the children of Manzanar.

Manzanar Review

We rate Manzanar 4 stars out of 5 for its nicely curated exhibits which explore many aspects of life at Manzanar. We found the auto tour somewhat boring because the buildings are long gone, but expect it to become more interesting when the Mess Hall restoration is complete.

Getting to Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site
Hwy 395
Independence, CA, CA
760-878-2194 ext. 2710
Manzanar National Historic Site website

Manzanar is 9 miles north of Lone Pine, 226 miles from Los Angeles, 240 miles from Reno, NV and 338 miles from San Francisco. To get there, take U.S. Hwy 395. From the San Francisco area, the easiest way to get to Manzanar is by driving through Yosemite National Park.