[Graphic] Discover our Shared Heritage Early History of the California coast A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
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[photo] San Diego Mission Church--the 1st of 21 Spanish misions founded along the California Coast
Photo courtesy of Donald Laird, www.calandmarks.com

Colombus' voyages to the "New World" were just the beginning of the intermingling of peoples and cultures that formed our nation; this rich and varied history is reflected in the prehistoric and historic sites, buildings, structures, objects and districts found throughout the land. The National Register of Historic Places can guide you through our history with Discover Our Shared Heritage--a series of travel itineraries that explore our country's past through visiting places listed in the National Register of Historic Places which reflect major aspects of American history, such as exploration and settlement and cultural diversity.

The first explorers and settlers of Coastal California were American Indians. The most expansive European colonizations efforts were made by the Spanish. On September 28, 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew entered San Diego Bay--the first Europeans to visit California. The land they named "Alta California" was occupied by diverse groups of native people who had inhabited the land for thousands of years. Spanish colonization of "Alta California" began when the Presidio at San Diego, the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Coast, was established in 1769. With the expedition was Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan Father who would have a tremendous influence in the colonization of California through the establishment of missions. At San Diego, Serra founded the first of 21 Spanish missions that extend along the California coast. In October of the same year, a detachment of the expedition saw San Francisco Bay.

[photo] Presidio of San Francisco in the foreground
National Park Service photo

The missions were an important aspect of Spanish colonization. At the missions, Native Americans were converted to Christianity and taught various skills. The Spanish divided California into four military districts, each under the jurisdiction of a military establishment or presidio, which protected several missions and vast areas of land. The presidios also served to reinforce Spanish control over the native people. Presidios were established at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco.

In 1821 Mexico gained independence from Spain and "Alta California" became a Mexican province rather than a Spanish colony. A new era began in California as ranch life flourished and American trappers began to enter the territory. The Mexican government secularized the missions in 1834 and they were eventually abandoned. In June 1846 a party of settlers occupied Sonoma Plaza and proclaimed a Republic of California and raised the bear flag in rebellion. Known as the Bear Flag Revolt, this insurrection represented one of the first aggressive actions that divided California from Mexico. In 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill and dramatically altered the course of California's history as miners rushed into the area. On September 9, 1850, California became a state. The Gold Rush brought thousands of immigrants, both foreign and domestic, to California. This and later mass migrations, combined with the state's natural riches, assured Calfornia's success as it developed its diversified agriculture and industry, fisheries, forestry, and mining industries, aircraft plants and shipyards, tourism and recreation, the film industry, and the technological sector epitomized by Silicon Valley (highlighted in another National Register itinerary: Santa Clara County: California's Historic Silicon Valley).

[photo] Old Pasadena Historic District
Photo courtesy of Old Pasadena Management District

This National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary links National Parks with places listed in the National Register that illustrate early periods of Coastal California's history. The 45 historic places highlighted in this itinerary can teach us about the contributions of the various people who settled in what became the United States of America. The itinerary includes a map showing the location of these historic places along with a brief description of their importance in our nation's past. Use this guide for locating interesting historic places in conjunction with your travel to Coastal California. Visitors may be intersted in Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, located along the California Coast.

For more information on historic places in Coastal California contact:

California Office of Historic Preservation
California Division of Tourism


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