Click for interactive Google Map San Francisco has a relatively young history, just like the state of California. It was inhabited by the Ohlone Indians prior to European discovery of California in the 1500’s, and the Golden Gate (San Francisco Bay) in 1769. The Spaniards were the first European occupants, and called the city Yerba Buena. It was the discovery of gold in California in 1848 that brought rapid growth to the city. In 1906, most of the buildings in the city were lost to an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5 on the Richter scale, and a subsequent fire. In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was opened, at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world with a span length of 4,200 feet, 1,280 meters.
San Francisco has always been very ethnically and culturally diverse, which is the source of much of its charm. There are world class restaurants serving food of every nationality in neighborhoods with rich cultural heritages, such as Chinatown and North Beach, also called Little Italy. Because the western United States is large and was settled relatively recently, San Francisco adjoins many unique and beautiful natural lands that have not been developed. It sits between the majestic Pacific Ocean to the west, beautiful San Francisco Bay to the east, with the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe only three hours further east, the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country to the north, and Silicon Valley and the coastal communities of Monterey and Carmel to the south.
NAPA & SONOMA WINE COUNTRY
Click for interactive Google mapGrapes and wine have been an integral part of Sonoma County’s history. As early as 1821, Russian colonists planted grapes at Fort Ross on the Pacific Coast. In 1855, Count Agoston Haraszthy, considered “the Father of the California Wine Industry” purchased a vineyard in Sonoma and renamed it Buena Vista. He brought 100,000 cuttings of prize grape varietals from France, Italy, and Spain and began producing fine wines. Today Sonoma is home to over 190 excellent wineries.
Sonoma Valley was inhabited by Native American tribes long before the Spanish influence began. The tribes included the Miwok, Pomos, and Wintuns who found the fertile valley a perfect place to live with fish in the creeks, wildlife in the hills and rushes for intricate basket weaving.
The Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma was founded on July 4, 1823 under the direction of Padre Altimira. It is the last and most northern of the famous 21 Franciscan missions along the California coast. In 1836, General Mariano Vallejo laid out a grid for an 8 acre Plaza adjacent to the Mission turning the area from a mission town to a Mexican style pueblo. Today the Plaza is lined with charming shops, popular restaurants, cheese vendors, and wine bars – all surrounding the wonderful old adobe buildings Vallejo built.
The Native American Wapoo Tribe lived peacefully in this stunning valley until it was settled by the Spanish influence. Under Mexican, Californian, and ultimately United States rule, many changes occurred in the Valley. George Yount was one of the first Europeans to settle the Napa Valley, and the first to plant grapes, declaring, “In such a place, I would like to clear the land and make my home; in such a place I would like to live and die.” It wasn’t until 1858 that wine was produced commercially, when Charles Krug began to grow grapes and make wine.
The rest, as they say, is history. Napa is home to more than 220 wineries making it truly a mecca for wine lovers. From the cult cabernets being grown in the mountainous regions of Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain to the famous appellations of Stag’s Leap and Rutherford, the Napa Valley has it all. Its appeal has drawn movie stars, business moguls and passionate winemakers to purchase land and make wine. Along the 30 mile valley are the towns of Oakville, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga–each with outstanding restaurants and rural charm.
MUIR WOODS AND MOUNT TAMALPAIS
“This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world,” declared conservationist John Muir when describing the majestic coast redwoods of Muir Woods.
Click for interactive Google map Muir Woods is the only old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area and one of the last on the planet. It is estimated that nearly 2 million acres of forest just like Muir Woods once covered a narrow strip along the coasts of California and Oregon. Today, 97% of this has been impaired or altered and most coastal redwoods now grow on protected second and third growth forests or managed timber plantations. Thanks to William Kent’s preservation efforts, Muir Woods was spared this fate and remains as a very accessible yet prime example of an old-growth forest.
Mount Tamalpais State Park, which surrounds Muir Woods, is a beautiful park with sweeping hillsides cloaked with chaparral covered ridges, grassland, and oak woodlands. Deep canyons filled with solemn redwood groves intersect these ridges and slopes to create a diverse environment for a wide array of plant and animal species. This area was inhabited by the Coast Miwok Indians prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 1700’s.
Named by a Spanish explorer for the little willows (saucelitos) growing along its shores, Sausalito was settled in the early 1800s by sailors, whalers, and shipbuilders.
Click for interactive Google map Today, you can stroll along the water and watch the sea lions cavort, rest in the plaza and listen to the splashing fountain, soak up the ambiance in the many open air cafes, browse through the unique boutiques, and check out the marinas. There are many well groomed hiking and biking trails, as well as easy access to Muir Woods and Mt Tamalpais.
Sausalito hosts a thriving artist community, so it’s not surprising that the town sports several world-class art galleries and is the home of the #1 outdoor fine-art fair in the nation. The Sausalito Art Festival takes place every Labor Day weekend.
POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE AND TOMALES BAY
Click for interactive Google mapThe cultural history of Point Reyes reaches back some 5,000 years to the Coast Miwok Indians who were the first human inhabitants of the Peninsula. Over 120 known village sites exist within the park. According to many experts, Sir Francis Drake landed here in 1579, the first European explorer to do so. In response to the many shipwrecks in the treacherous coastal waters, key lighthouse and lifesaving stations were established by the United States Government in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early 1800s, Mexican land grantees established ranchos. They were followed by a wave of American agricultural operations, which continue to this day in the Seashore’s pastoral zone.
Today the landscape is still very rural and agricultural. The cows dotting the hillsides produce milk that makes some of the best artisan cheeses in the United States. Renowned for its organic farming, West Marin, where Point Reyes is located, has been a model for the world – in 2006 Prince Charles of England made a stop to study the farming. Tomales Bay itself is the best oyster producer in California with restaurants vying for the sweet shellfish.
Point Reyes National Seashore hosts many trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding with sweeping views of both Tomales Bay and the magnificent Pacific Ocean. The coves and beaches are full of vibrant tidal life and seals can be viewed from the cliffs.
The towns of Olema, Inverness, Point Reyes, and Marshall maintain a rustic Western charm, it is easy to visualize the wild west of the “Gold Rush of 1849” when you see the wooden buildings.
JACK LONDON STATE HISTORIC PARK
Click for interactive Google map The park contains the cottage residence where Jack London wrote books, short stories, articles and letters while he oversaw various agricultural enterprises. After London’s death, his wife, Charmian, continued to live in the cottage until her death in 1955. It was her wish that the ranch be preserved in memory of Jack London and his work. There is a museum in “The House of Happy Walls,” which Mrs. London built in a redwood grove.
Today’s traveler can explore the historical sites and hike miles into the 1,400 acre gorgeous park. As you hike, it is easy to see why Jack London said:
“I ride over my beautiful ranch. Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive.”