Historic Day Trips in the North Bay

State historic parks, a fort and an adobe have their own unique story to tell as visitors gain insight into the past.

Credit: parks.ca.gov
Credit: parks.ca.gov

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).

Fort Ross State Historic Park

19005 Coast Hwy. 1


(707) 847-3286

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.

Insider Tip: Dress in layers and wear shoes that can stand up to moisture. Bring your own food, since none is sold at the park.

Must Do: 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 grounds.

The Fine 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).

Rancho Petaluma Adobe

3325 Adobe Rd.


(707) 762-4871

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.

Insider 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.

Must Do: 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.

The Fine 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.

Jack London State Historic Park

2400 London Ranch Rd.

Glen Ellen

(707) 938-5216

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.

Insider 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.

Must Do: 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.

The Fine 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..

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park

3801 St. Helena Hwy. North (Highway 29/128 )


(707) 942-4575

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.

Insider Tip: Hike from the mill on a mile-long trail to nearby Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, which features picnic facilities and more trails.

Must Do: Purchase a few of the organic, stone-ground Bale Grist Mill products made on site such as polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and whole-wheat flours.

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.


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