California’s national historic districts and monuments make the state special!

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse bathed in sunlight on a windy day.

Old Fort Point, tucked under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.The Balclutha, left, and Eppleton Hall at Hyde Street Pier.
Mountain biker charges down a Ft. Ord singletrack trail.
Ft. Ord wildflowers come in many hues on the old army base.
Old windmill offers contrast from Carrizo Plain NM wildflowers.

Explore some of California’s 37 national parks, historic districts and monuments!

California counts 37 total national parks, national monuments, historic sites, trails and seashores; more than most other states (go to and search for California’s list). It’s one more reason to declare California a treasure-trove of wonderful destinations.

Last week I shared our favorite nearby national parks; this week we’ll profile our favorites from the national monuments, historic sites and seashores list. These are all within a few hours drive of San Joaquin County, so, get out your adventure planner!

We’ll cover our favorites starting in the Bay Area, then move south.

Point Reyes National Seashore: Where can you see Elephant seals, Tule elk, watch whales, stroll the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California for Queen Elizabeth in 1579, tour a spectacular Pacific lighthouse and gorge on freshly shucked oysters – just north of San Francisoco and only 2 1/2 hours from Stockton? It’s Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore, offering visitors over 1500 species of plants and animals to discover! Stop first at the Drake’s Bay’s Visitor Center; just down the beach we happened upon a huge northern elephant seal, 12 feet long and pushing 2,000 pounds, snoozing and paying no attention to our presence. Motor over to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse for tours, and find raw Tomales Bay oysters for lunch.

San Francisco National Maritime Park: Anchoring the west side of Fisherman’s Wharf area, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park preserves the sounds, sights and lore of Pacific Coast maritime history. Tour a wonderful fleet of historic ships, the Visitor Center and the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Walk along pretty Aquatic Park, home to two historic rowing/swimming clubs where you’ll see die-hard swimmers in the Bay, year-round!

Further west is Fort Mason and the Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts (remains of the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and its future impacts on California). Beyond Crissy Field, the old WW I airfield, lies Fort Point.

Fort Point National Historic Site: The fort is located under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, a stunning setting all to its own. The fort defended the San Francisco Bay from well before the Gold Rush, the Civil War and through World War II. Designed in same style as Fort Sumter, you can tour officers and enlisted men’s quarters, admire old cannon and discuss 19th century warfare with docents in period uniform. The fort’s graceful masonry and killer views, with the Golden Gate towering overhead, is worth the trip!

Two national monuments in California’s coastal range are ripe for exploring.

Fort Ord National Monument, the old army post that trained thousands of soldiers for recent wars was established as a national monument in 2012. Sandwiched between Monterey and Salinas, it offers an undiscovered 8 by 16 mile swath of rolling greenery, with plenty of hiking, bicycling, as well as birding, wildflower and wildlife viewing in its undulating backcountry.

If you are a cyclist, the monument is of special interest; old army paved roads are cut by plenty of gravel roads and exciting singletrack, making for a varied biking experience. The monument abuts Laguna Seca Raceway, and San Benito County Parks offer nice campgrounds in surrounding hills, making for a long-weekend destination or overnight in Salinas or Monterey. The desolate and scenic Big Sur coast is just south, to extend your visit.

The Carrizo Plain National Monument: Head south on Interstate 5 three hours, turn off at CA Hwy. 41, go south and follow signs. High in the coastal range, the plain preserves the land much as it was 200 years ago. Carrizo Plain experts will note that March to early May is the usual time to see wildflowers in abundance. During our visit few weeks ago, goldfields carpeted the hills with brilliant golden hues, and daisies, poppies and lupine were bursting forth. In May, buckwheat, mariposa lilies and farewell-to-spring flowers usually make a strong appearance.
Geographically, it’s an exciting place, with the Caliente Range running through the monument and the Sierra Madre Mountains lying just to the west. In January, 1857 the San Andreas Fault ruptured the monument area with a huge earthquake, causing 30 feet of lateral offset within the plain, creating a fault-line stretching 220 miles. Take the Wallace Creek Trail and watch for the unusual land forms, remnants of this huge earthquake.

The Carizzo Plain  provides a wealth of hiking and bicycling, horseback riding and stunning birdwatching, wildlife and wildflower viewing. Wildlife for the hardy explorer can include sightings of pronghorn antelope, tule elk, black-tailed deer, bobcats and mountain lions, coyotes and ground squirrels. The monument offers two campgrounds; nearby Los Padres National Forest offers additional options. San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay on the coast are just west, offering hotel, motel and bed and breakfast accommodations, as well as seafood and the mighty Pacific.

Plot that next adventure; another 30-some monuments and sites remain!

For more information: Pt. Reyes National Seashore,, (415) 464-5100; National Maritime Museum and Hyde Street Pier;, 415-447-5000; Fort Point National Historical Site,, (415) 504-2334 ; Ft. Ord National Monument,, (831) 582-2200; Carrizo Plain National Monument,, (805) 475-2131.

Contact Tim at or follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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