State History
Learn about the history of California and find fun and interesting things to do and see all across California. We've also found the best books, guides, websites, and other resources to make your study of California fun and educational.
Things to See & Do in California
Alcatraz Island
Out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the island of Alcatraz is a world unto itself. Isolation, one of the constants of island life for any inhabitant - soldier, guard, prisoner, bird or plant - is a recurrent theme in the unfolding history of Alcatraz. Alcatraz Island is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations, offering a close-up look at a historic and infamous federal prison long off-limits to the public. Visitors to the island can not only explore the remnants of the prison, but learn about the Native American occupation of 1969 - 1971, early military fortifications and the West Coast's first (and oldest operating) lighthouse. The island features many natural features as well - gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.
Presidio of San Francisco
For thousands of years, Native Americans called the Ohlone managed and harvested the natural bounty of what is now the Presidio. In 1776, Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived, forever disrupting Ohlone culture and beginning 218 years of military use of the area just south of the Golden Gate. The Presidio served as a military post under the flags of Spain (1776-1822), Mexico (1822-48), and the United States (1848-1994). Today, visitors enjoy the history and beauty of the Presidio. Within its boundaries are more than 500 historic buildings, a collection of coastal defense fortifications, a national cemetery, an historic airfield, a saltwater marsh, forests, beaches, native plant habitats, coastal bluffs, miles of hiking and biking, and some of the most spectacular vistas in the world.
Old Spanish National Historic Trail
Santa Fe emerged as the hub of the overland continental trade network linking Mexico and United States markets—a network that included not only the Old Spanish Trail, but also the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. After the United States took control of the Southwest in 1848 other routes to California emerged, and use of the Old Spanish Trail sharply declined. Because of its rich history and national significance, the Old Spanish Trail has been designated as a national historic trail.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Located at the west end of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, this park includes the fleet of national historic landmark vessels at Hyde Street Pier, a visitor center, a maritime museum, and a maritime library. Visitors can board turn-of-the-century ships, tour the museum and learn traditional arts -- like boatbuilding and woodworking. The Park offers educational, music and craft programs for all ages, and provides unique opportunities for docents, interns and volunteers to learn more about the nation's maritime heritage.
Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express National Historic Trail was used by young men on fast paced horses to carry the nation's mail across the country, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, in the unprecedented time of only ten days. Organized by private entrepreneurs, the horse-and-rider relay system became the nation's most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph. Though only in operation for 18 months, between April 1860 and October 1861, the trail proved the feasibility of a central overland transportation route, and played a vital role in aligning California with the Union in the years just before the Civil War. Most of the original trail has been obliterated either by time or human activities. Along many segments, the trail's actual route and exact length are matters of conjecture. However, approximately 120 historic sites may eventually be available to the public, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps at which Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II. Located at the foot of the imposing Sierra Nevada in eastern California's Owens Valley, Manzanar has been identified as the best preserved of these camps. Manzanar is located 9 miles north of Lone Pine and 6 miles south of Independence, California.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is one of the largest urban national parks in the world. GGNRA’s 75,398 acres of land and water extend north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Tomales Bay in Marin County and south to San Mateo County, encompassing 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. The park contains numerous historical and cultural resources, including Alcatraz, Marin Headlands, Nike Missile Site, Fort Mason, as well as Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Presidio of San Francisco. These sites contain a variety of archeological sites, military forts and other historic structures which present a rich chronicle of two hundred years of history, including Native American culture, the Spanish Empire frontier, the Mexican Republic, evolution of American coastal fortifications, maritime history, 18th century and early 20th century agriculture, military history, California Gold Rush, Buffalo Soldiers, and the growth of urban San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is also rich in natural resources—it is comprised of 19 separate ecosystems in 7 distinct watersheds and is home to 1,273 plant and animal species. With 80 sensitive, rare, threatened, or endangered species —including the Northern Spotted Owl, California Red-legged Frog, and Coho Salmon— the park has the fourth largest number (33) of federally protected or endangered species of all units in the National Park System.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
The Whiskeytown Unit, with its mountainous back country and large, man-made reservoir, offers many summer activities such as hiking and boating, as well as historical remains of the California Gold Rush of 1849. Whiskeytown Lake, provides 36 miles of shoreline and 3200 surface acres of water, and is excellent for most water-related activities, including swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, boating and fishing. The lake was created by diverting water through tunnels and penstocks, from the Trinity River Basin to the Sacramento River Basin. The most prominent landmark within the Recreation Area is Shasta Bally (elevation 6,209 feet). The summit may be reached on foot and by 4-wheel drive vehicle, but is closed in the winter.
Cabrillo National Monument
On September 28, 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed at San Diego Bay. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the west coast of the United States. His accomplishments were memorialized on October 14, 1913 with the establishment of Cabrillo National Monument. The park offers a superb view of San Diego’s harbor and skyline. At the highest point of the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has been a San Diego icon since 1854. A statue and museum in the Visitor Center commemorate Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's exploration of the coast of California. In a former army building an exhibit tells the story of the coast artillery on Point Loma. In the winter, migrating gray whales can be seen off the coast. Native coastal sage scrub habitat along the Bayside Trail offers a quiet place to reflect and relax. On the west side of the park is a small but beautiful stretch of rocky-intertidal coastline.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Port Chicago Naval Magazine was dedicated as a National Memorial to honor the courage and commitment of the Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners, and working civilians killed and injured in the largest homeland disaster during World War II. On July 17, 1944, 320 men, over 200 of which were African-Americans, were instantly killed when a loaded munition ship blew up during loading operations. The Memorial recognizes the critical role they and the survivors of the explosion played in winning the war in the Pacific. Port Chicago National Memorial was dedicated in 1994 by the survivors of that tragic event and their families, Naval personnel, and National Park Service. The explosion and its aftermath was a catalyst, one of many, that helped persuade the U.S. Navy and the military establishment to begin the long journey on the road to racial justice and equality following WWII. The Memorial is located 45 minutes outside of San Francisco.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1853 and 1861 to prevent entrance of a hostile fleet into San Francisco Bay. The fort was designed to mount 126 massive cannon. Rushed to completion at the beginning of the Civil War, Fort Point was first garrisoned in February of 1861 by Company I, 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment. The fort was occupied throughout the Civil War, but the advent of faster, more powerful rifled cannon made brick forts such as Fort Point obsolete. In 1886 the troops were withdrawn, and the last cannon were removed about 1900. The fort was then used for storage and training purposes for many years. Between 1933 and 1937 the fort was used as a base of operations for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. During World War II, Fort Point was occupied by about 100 soldiers who manned searchlights and rapid-fire cannon mounted atop the fort as part of the protection of a submarine net strung across the entrance to the Bay. Fort Point is the only third system brick fort on the west coast of the United States. It became a National Historic Site on October 16th, 1970.
Teaching Tips & Ideas
Knowledge Quest
Knowledge Quest offers historical outline maps and timelines designed for the interactive study of world history and geography.
How I Teach a Large Family in a Relaxed, Classical Way: History
A look at teaching history across several grades using the classical method of education and a rotation of history every four years.
Looking for Another State?
Featured Resources

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. We get commissions for purchases made through links on this site.

The Absorbent Mind
In response to the crisis in American education, more than five thousand public and private schools across the nation have adopted the timeless Montessori Method of teaching, of which this book is the cornerstone. Written by the women whose name is synonymous worldwide with child development theory, The Absorbent Mind takes its title from the phrase that the inspired Italian doctor coined to characterize the child's most crucial developmental stage: the first six years.A new foreword by John Cha...
Don't Waste Your Time Homeschooling: 72 Things I Wish I'd Known
Traci Matt, a veteran homeschool mom helps you make the most of your homeschooling efforts. She takes a look back at 20 years of successes and challenges, offering tested strategies to assist you on your home education journey. This book will help you learn ways to keep a peaceful home, stay out of the isolation trap, practice self-care, learn how to live with teens, and respond to the questions of others.
Pass Your California DMV Test Guaranteed! 50 Real Test Questions! California DMV Handbook
This book contains the 50 most common questions and answers to the California DMV Written Test. Written by a former DMV classroom instructor and test creator, this straight forward book tells you the most likely questions and answers that will appear on you exam. Typically, at least 70-80% of the questions you encounter will come from these high frequency questions. Pass your test today!
The Unprocessed Child: Living Without School
This book shows how school is not necessary for a child to gain learning, socialization, or motivation. It offers a look at radical unschooling, a way of educating children without coercion, curriculum, or control. This look at a child who grows from childhood to adulthood with the experience of self-direction is a celebration of the success of unschooling. Covers topics such as parenting, self-discipline and self-motivation, socialization, and more. 
Perrine's Sound & Sense: An Introduction to Poetry
Perrine's Sound and Sense is a fantastic book for studying poetry with your children. It is a great resource for high school students. It includes clear and thorough explanations of devices, forms, how to analyze poetry, and more, as well as a huge variety of poems, both classic and contemporary.