The Wild West in California: Western Films Locations and Old West Sights

Places for the Modern Cowboy and Cowgirl to Visit

100 year old stagecoach on Main Street of Columbia State Historic Park in Northern California
••• 100 year old stagecoach on Main Street of Columbia State Historic Park. nik wheeler / Getty Images

Do you love a good, old-fashioned Western film? Wish you'd live in the Old West? Consider these nostalgic Western film locations and Old West sites in California for your California trip.

Wild West in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the home of the film industry, especially during the era when many of those great old western films and television shows were made. Most of the outdoor scenes were shot elsewhere, but these are a couple of places to go that have their roots in the Old West

Gene Autry Museum of the American West: Singing cowboy Gene Autry built this museum to interpret the heritage of the Old West. Today, it houses an extensive collection of Western art and artifacts which include the Indian Collection of the Southwest Museum, a large holding of Native American materials. The Autry also sponsors plays and other events related to the American West.

Paramount Ranch was used as a movie ranch by Paramount Pictures starting in 1927. Located in the mountains above the Malibu coast, it was the setting for films such as Wells Fargo (1937). In the 1950s, a permanent old west town set was built and used for television shows such as The Cisco Kid, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre and Have Gun Will Travel. In the 1990s, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was filmed there. Today, you can visit the old sets in what is now a part of the National Park system.

You will also see an old west area on the backlot tour at Universal Studios where films such as "The Shakiest Gun in the West" were shot along with television shows such as "Rawhide," "Wagon Train," and "The Viriginian."

San Francisco's Wild West Claims to Fame

It may have seemed like the entire world was rushing into San Francisco in the 1840s and 50s as gold-seekers jumped off there to seek their fortunes near Sutter's Mill. Little from that era remains to look at, but you can find small glimpses along Jackson Street between Columbus Avenue and Drumm Street, especially if you walk those few blocks instead of just driving through.

You probably don't think of the legendary gambler and lawman who took part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral when you think of San Francisco, but that's exactly where Wyatt Earp is buried. He died in 1929 in Los Angeles, and his funeral happened at the Congregational Church on Wilshire Boulevard, but his wife had him secretly buried at a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California just south of San Francisco. She was interred next to him. Here's where to find Wyatt Earp's Burial Place in Colma.

Wild West in San Diego

Wyatt Earp also spent some time in San Diego, where he owned a saloon and racehorses. He no doubt spent a lot of time in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, which still retains much of its late 19th-century look.

Other Old Locations in California

If I could visit only one Wild West spot in California, it would have to be Bodie Ghost Town. It's among the best-preserved ghost towns anywhere, with lots of buildings still standing, an old gold mine and processing mill and plenty of history everywhere. See more about Bodie Ghost Town here.

Rodeos are a reminder of the days when men rode horses and drove cattle for a living. One of the top rodeos in the country is the California Rodeo in Salinas.

 

Many of those old western films were made in the Alabama Hills near the town of Lone Pine in eastern California. Their annual Lone Pine Film Festival features those old films, tours and lots of nostalgia. Any time of year, you can visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum and pick up a copy of their self-guided tour that will take you to some of the hundreds of filming sites in the area.

Columbia Gold Rush Town in the Sierra foothills is a well-preserved mining town and state park where you can ride in a stagecoach and pan for gold. It's also where scenes from the Gregory Peck film "High Noon" were shot.

Railtown 1897 is home to a different kind of western film star: its collection of historic steam engines have been featured in more than 200 films - and you can take a ride on one of them while you're there.

More Interesting Things to Do in California

To find more unusual and interesting places to go on your California vacation return to the guide things to do in California.