Written by Bill Zavestoski
Sometimes history is right in our midst, but unless we were lucky enough to visit on an elementary school field trip, we might not have any idea that something significant has happened in our own backyard.
Hop in the car with the family and spend a day getting to know these historic sites within easy driving distance of North Bay. The best part? You can get to all these destinations on one tank of gas (or less).
19005 Coast Hwy. 1
Why Go? Americans feared a Russian invasion in the 1960s, but it had
already occurred during the first half of the 19th century. Fort Ross was the southernmost settlement in the Russian
colonization of North America. From 1812 to 1841, the tsarist
government in Russia chartered the Russian-American Company to
explore, trade and establish settlements in the North Pacific.
Tip: Dress in layers
and wear shoes that can stand up to moisture. Bring your own
food, since none is sold at the park.
See the first Russian Orthodox chapel south of Alaska (one of five
reconstructed buildings) and the Rotchev house, home of the last
manager of Ross and the only surviving original structure on the
Print: The fort compound and visitor center are open from 10 a.m. to
4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and from Dec. 26 - Jan. 1. Admission is $8 per vehicle ($7 for seniors).
3325 Adobe Rd.
Why Go? This is the hub of what was the largest private rancho (100 square
miles) in California between 1834 and 1846. It was run by General
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, one of the most powerful men in California
while it was under Mexican rule. Experience life on the rancho by
strolling among the exhibits and authentic furniture in the large
adobe building that housed a business empire.
Tip: Paid admission also is good for same-day entrance to Sonoma
State Historic Park, which includes Mission San Francisco
Solano and the General Vallejo Home.
Pick up a self-guided brochure and make sure the
kids get to see the animals on the rancho, including sheep, horses
and a donkey.
Print: Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays
from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for youth 6
to 16, with kids 5 and under free.
2400 London Ranch Rd.
Why Go: See where author and adventurer Jack London wrote many classics like The Call of the Wild or White Fang and check out the 1,400-acre park that features London's Beauty Ranch, Cottage, House of Happy Walls Museum and Wolf House ruins.
Tip: Come dressed to take advantage of
the 20+ miles of trails that feature mixed forest, redwood groves,
oak woodlands and grassy meadows. Not a hiker? A tram helps visitors
get from one attraction to the next.
The House of Happy Walls serves as a visitor center and museum. See
where Jack's wife Charmian lived until her death in 1955, some 39
years after her husband died of kidney failure at age 40.
Print: It's $10 per vehicle to enter the park, which is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the
cottage ($4 additional fee for adults, $2 for students and seniors)
open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m..
3801 St. Helena Hwy. North (Highway 29/128 )
Why Go? See the 36-foot water wheel and
watch the original set of French Buhr millstones at this fully
restored grist mill grind grain into flours and meals, much the same
way as when Edward Turner Bale opened it in 1846.
Tip: Hike from the mill on a mile-long trail to nearby Bothe-Napa
Valley State Park, which features picnic facilities and
Purchase a few of the organic, stone-ground Bale Grist Mill products
made on site such as polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and
The Fine Print: The park is open for mill tours only on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults tickets are $5 and children 6 to 17 pay $2. Kids 5 and under are free.