California is an incredible state, full of bustling cities and varied landscapes. In addition, it’s the fifth-largest economy in the world. However, it can be hard to believe that the state has only been in the United States since the mid-1800s when it was merely a collection of settlements populated by migrants searching for the elusive gold. Much has changed since that fateful discovery at Sutter’s Mill. Over the next several decades, California became a globally significant power in its own right, dominating the technology, agriculture, and entertainment industries.
Here are nine under-the-radar places of historical significance that represent the history of this truly remarkable state.
A gold and silver mining town in the 19th century that once had over 10,000 people, Bodie is now abandoned and sits in the high desert north of Mammoth Lakes. Today, you can walk the dusty, silent streets of this fascinating historic site, with shops, hotels, and simple homes carefully preserved to look as they did when Bodie ceased to be. Look for period images on newspapers stuffed into the walls as makeshift insulation. Old trucks, gas pumps, a weathered wood church, and that lonely cemetery paint a picture of life and death in this remote corner of California’s high desert.
During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were forcibly moved from their homes throughout the West and brought to internment camps like Manzanar. This remote site in the wind-swept Owens Valley aims to shed light on that sobering time through recreated buildings, photographs, films, oral histories, and interactive displays.
- Hearst Castle
Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst built Hearst Castle. The architecturally eclectic property, now known as Heart Castle, had a private airfield, two giant swimming pools, a movie theater, tennis courts, over 100 acres of gardens, two greenhouses, and the world’s largest private zoo. The property was once open only by invitation to A-list celebrities and politicians.
- Jack London State Park
The location of author Jack London’s cottage, where he crafted his widely beloved novels, is situated on the Beauty Ranch. In this bohemian wonderland, London stretched his imagination and passion beyond literature, restoring lands as he experimented with his early sustainable farming methods. Many ancient and second-growth redwoods are found throughout the park, including a lovely grove near the House of Happy Walls Museum, which serves as a visitor center.
- Marshall Gold Discovery Historic Park
Driving the sleepy stretch of winding Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville, it’s hard to believe the region was the booming heart of one of the most significant events in California history. The 1849 Gold Rush was on. Here, in a stretch of the snowmelt-fed American River that slides past the don’t-blink town of Coloma, a sawmill employee named James Marshall first discovered glints of the precious metal in the river’s silt.
- HP Garage
The birthplace of HP was a single-car garage located behind a residential home at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto, California. David Packard and his wife Lucille rented three rooms in the house. When the company was founded, Bill Hewlett lived in a small dirt-floor shed at the rear of the residence. The garage itself was the original development lab and workshop for the company. The garage never had anything to do with HP’s involvement in the computer industry. But, it was one of only two buildings used by the company before the construction of the building where HP’s computer business was born.
- Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is the beautiful but bizarre mansion built by Sarah Pardee Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. Construction began in 1884 and didn’t stop for 38 years until her death in 1922. The Victorian-style structure has many odd and mysterious features. Doors that open to walls, stairways that lead to the ceiling, and many more oddities can be found in the massive 160-room mansion.
- Fort Point
Fort Point was built between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers as part of a defense system of forts planned to protect San Francisco Bay from foreign invasion. Although the Fort never came under attack, its mere presence created a deterrent that would have weighed heavily in the minds of those who sought to undermine the Union’s grip on the Pacific Coast.
- USS Midway
The USS Midway was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century. Midway was the first in a three-ship class of large carriers with an armored flight deck and a powerful air group of 120 planes. The Midway played a critical role in the Cold War. It also helped evacuate thousands of refugees from Vietnam during the war. Just two years after that, Midway sent a patrol plane aloft to demonstrate that a carrier could deliver atomic bombs.