5 Amazing Historic Sites You Should Explore

Fort Ross State Historic Park

In the mid-1800s, Mexico ruled Northern California, owning hundreds of thousands of acres of ranchos in what is now Sonoma County. Russians and Alaskans also played a major role in the region’s development, settling the coastal area near Jenner. History buffs will enjoy visiting sites established by these fascinating groups, piecing together Wine Country’s colorful past.

Together, we can protect and preserve the beauty and natural resources of Sonoma County for generations to come. Check out our page on Sustainable Travel, and look over the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

Fort Ross State Historic Park

Fort Ross State Historic Park in Sonoma County
Fort Ross State Historic Park

A former Russian colony, this gorgeously weathered compound is the product of a great adventure. Around 1812, a Russian sailing ship anchored on a stretch of coastline called Mettini by the Kashia band of Pomo Indians, who then called it home. This foreign ship disgorged some two dozen Russian and 80 Alaskan immigrants, who promptly set about building first a camp, then houses and a stockade for their bluff-top community.

These immigrants also built California’s first ships and windmills, introduced glass-paneled windows, created the first brickyard, catalogued the local flora and fauna, completed detailed maps, and were, as noted by Fort Ross Interpretative Association officials, among California’s earliest entrepreneurs. Through the work of this band of pioneers, Sonoma County established its Russian River region.

Some of Fort Ross’ 19th-century structures still remain on this 3,200-acre cliff-top site, as does a cannon and a water tower. The visitor center here features ongoing interpretive presentations about early Sonoma County’s Russian architecture, intercultural relations, trade, and agriculture.

Mission San Francisco Solano

The white stucco building against the bright, blue sky
Mission San Francisco Solano

Founded on July 4, 1823, the graceful white stucco and terracotta-tile parish and church here were originally part of a 27-room compound that housed the Mission padre and his young Native American converts. These days, the Mission operates as a museum and art gallery, displaying fascinating antique items like an iron used for making Communion wafers, an 1840 weekly Devotional prayer booklet, and an anvil dating to 1766 that was used for pounding out metal trim.

Sonoma Barracks

interior of Sonoma Barracks in Sonoma County
Sonoma Barracks

Mexico’s Lieutenant Colonel Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was Comandante-General of the Northern Alta California’s frontier forces and founder of the town of Sonoma, when in June 1846, a group of 33 Americans, under the banner of California’s Bear Flag, staged a revolt against Vallejo—taking the Sonoma Barracks for the United States.

By 1852, revolution had led to America’s full possession of California, and these barracks were serving as a home base for United States soldiers and sailors. This historic building now serves as a museum depicting the life of these military members, and also displaying an extensive collection of post-Mission-era items, including a well-preserved cannon and the original Bear Flag.

General Vallejo’s Home, Sonoma

A sign for General Vallejo's home
General Vallejo’s Home

Originally called Lachryma Montis (Latin for “mountain tear)”, this two-story, wood-frame Victorian house was built in 1852 as Vallejo’s estate in the Northern Frontier. Set about a half-mile west of Sonoma Plaza and acquired by the State of California in 1933, it’s been authentically preserved with many of its original furnishings, such as plush red velvet chairs, elaborate chandeliers, and hand-carved wooden headboards. An adjacent chalet outbuilding holds more historical fixtures and tools of the time.

The Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma

In 1975, the Blue Wing was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a member of the Sonoma Plaza National Historic Landmark District. Its original adobe building was built in 1836 as a small inn and pub for visitors, but was eventually expanded into a full-service hotel and general store. Known by early locals as the Sonoma House, it hosted luminaries like Ulysses S. Grant, Kit Carson, Fighting Joe Hooker, William T. Sherman, and even members of the Bear Flag party. 

For more ideas read our Road Trip to the Top Historic Sites of Sonoma County. And for a place to stay, check out our listings of Sonoma County Hotels & Lodging.

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