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11 California State Historic Parks to Visit

11 California State Historic Parks to Visit

Whether you seek a history lesson or wish to escape the city, you have a total of 47 state historic parks to choose from—here’s a few.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

December 09, 2021

From Native American painting to Gold Rush history, California’s state historic parks stand the test of time. Bringing the past back to life, these significant places tell tales of the olden days; how Indigenous people lived; how people searched for treasures; how people fought for the state. Whether you seek a history lesson or simply wish to escape the city, you have a total of 47 state historic parks to choose from—here’s a few of them.  

Northern California State Historic Parks

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park features various displays of the trappings of military service and a vintage mountain howitzer cannon.

1. Fort Humboldt State Historic Park

Located on a bluff overlooking Humboldt Bay sits Fort Humboldt State Historic Park. Established in 1853, the fort was occupied by the army for 13 years and was abandoned in 1870. One of the earliest occupants of the fort was young Captain Ulysses S. Grant, who later became the 18th President of the United States. While most of the original buildings are gone now, the hospital and surgeon’s quarters stand still. Hike the park’s trails, have a picnic with the family, and enjoy the gorgeous views of Humboldt Bay as you get acquainted with the story of this state park

2. Columbia State Historic Park

It goes without saying that the Gold Rush plays a huge role in the history of California, and Columbia State Historic Park preserves its essence. The park features the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush-era structures, as well as merchants wearing period attire—everything about this place screams 1800s. Ride a stagecoach, visit the shops, and search for gold at this historic spot. If you love traveling back in time, you just found your dreamland.

3. Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park

Before Wine Country came to be what it is today, Napa was a different kind of place. Edward Turner Bale built the area’s famous mill in 1846 so that the whole community would be able to turn grain into flour. Soon, the mill became a meeting point for members of the community. A walk through the two-and-a-half-mile trail at the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park introduces you to the early development of the area and how it progressed throughout the years. You can even buy flour on your visit to this Napa attraction; the centuries-old mill is still functional. 

4. Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park serves as a tribute to the Miwok tribe, who once inhabited the Sierra Nevada foothills. This park is home to 1,185 mortar holes historically used by the Miwoks to grind acorns, an essential part of their diet. The park's centerpiece, Chaw’se, translates to "grinding rock" and underscores the area's cultural significance. Visitors can explore trails leading to a reconstructed Miwok Village complete with bark houses and a ceremonial roundhouse, alongside a large picnic area and gardens showcasing native plants. Additionally, the Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum offers further insight into the rich history and culture of the Native American tribes of California, making it a must-visit during your exploration of this state historic park.

5. Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

Situated in the state capital, Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park offers a history lesson like no other. As the first non-Indigenous community in the Central Valley, this state historic park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The large white fort has been restored with some of the original rooms still intact, including the kitchen, stables, carpenter’s shop, and doctor’s office. 

Jack London State Historic Park is both a California Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark.

6. Jack London State Historic Park

Part of Sonoma Valley’s charm lies in Jack London State Historic Park. The historic landmark captures the heart and soul of its owner, Jack London—this is where he wrote a lot of his works. Over 26 miles of trails across 1400 acres allow visitors to hike, bike, ride horses, and picnic while enjoying stunning vistas of the lakes and oak woodlands. On the premises, you’ll find London’s cottage, the Wolf House ruins (the 26-room mansion which got burned before the couple moved in), and the couple’s graves.  

Southern California State Historic Parks

7. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is a true hidden gem on the American Riviera. The park is a reflection of the first inhabitants of the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains, the Chumash. Here, you’ll find colorful symbols on the pale sandstone surface that are believed to be related to Chumash cosmology. Archeologists roughly calculate that the paintings were created around the 1600s. The park is hidden along a narrow and steep road, so you have to look hard enough to find it.

California Citrus State Historic Park's exhibits and interpretive features share the story of the citrus industry's role in the history of SoCal.

8. California Citrus State Historic Park

In 1873, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent two orange trees to Eliza Tibbets, a resident of Riverside. Thanks to Southern California’s Mediterranean weather and ideal soil, the trees produced sweet and flavorful oranges. When news about the fruit got out, the area’s agricultural industry boomed, changing SoCal’s history forever. California Citrus State Historic Park has miles of hiking trails that tell the story of how the fruit changed the course of history. Visiting the open-air museum is definitely worth your time. 

9. Los Angeles State Historic Park

The 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park is the perfect spot for you if you want to see downtown views like no other. Located in the Chinatown neighborhood, the California state historic park is the former site of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company's River Station. Stroll along the cornfield and bike the trail—if you’re lucky enough, you might even attend an event that’s hosted right in the middle of the park.  

Five original adobe buildings are part of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, which includes shops, restaurants, and museums.

10. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park offers you a glimpse into the area’s past as it transitioned from Mexican to American rule. Established in 1968, the park features heritage architecture dating from the period 1820 to 1870, as well as restaurants, shops, and museums. There’s a good reason why this used to be the most visited state park in California—visit for yourself and find out why.  

11. Pio Pico State Historic Park

Pio Pico State Historic Park is dedicated to one of California’s most remarkable historic figures, Don Pio de Jesus Pico, who shaped and influenced almost a century of California’s history—he served as the Governor of Alta California. The five-acre park is part of Pico’s 9,000-acre ranch, featuring historic gardens and the restored fifteen-room adobe home the governor lived in. Pio Pico State Historic Park is the perfect spot for relaxing, bird watching, and having a picnic.  

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