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Up The Road: Summer Vacation 4: Cultural And Heritage Tourism

Will Smith

We’ve been talking about doing something different this summer, something meaningful, personal, local. Tracing old highway routes with help from the 1939 WPA Guide to California. Volunteering to build trails and restore habitat. Following a personal passion. We wrap up this conversation by focusing on local heritage tourism—different aspects of our collective identity.

Cultural heritage includes it all—history and other special-interest museums, art galleries, performances of all kinds. If you have particular cultural interests, plan your summer travel accordingly.

But our most obvious shared heritage today is this very unique landscape, our vast and valued public lands: national forests, national parks and monuments, BLM lands, wildlife preserves, state parks, beaches, and reserves—so many state parks, 280 at last count.

Because national and state parks are more “developed” and accessible in human terms, that’s the focus here. Still, that’s way more than you’ll be able to do this summer, put it altogether plan accordingly.

Credit Keith Yahl / Flickr
Lassen National Volcanic Park is still Northern California's best kept secret.

California’s national parks are so astounding. am astounded when I encounter fellow Californians who have never been to Redwood National Park on the north coast—a World Heritage Site, people!—or Lassen Volcanic National Park, still Northern California’s best kept secret. Speaking personally, it is pretty swell that even on a Friday you can roll into Lassen and get a campsite. Without a reservation. But let’s keep that a secret, OK?

Both parks are quite remote, which has certainly helped save them. It takes time to get there. But, still. What else are you doing with that time? And, unlike Channel Islands National Park, America’s Galapagos, you don’t need a boat or a special tour to get to Lassen or the coast redwoods. Even more remote here in the far north: Lava Beds National Monument on the way to Modoc County, impressive volcanic badlands and site of the last major war waged by the U.S. government against Native Americans—an event that riveted a sympathetic American public for many months, because the Indians did so well.

Some national and state parks in California exist solely to commemorate cultural or historic events. Like the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond. And a tour of Alcatraz Island in Golden Gate National Recreation Area will fill you in on the story behind the island’s 1960s’ occupation by Indians of All Tribes. Back at the prison these days, take the new behind-the-scenes penitentiary tour.

Credit Matthew Lee High / Flickr
Next time you're near Bakersfield: Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park preserves and works to restore the only town in California founded, funded, and governed by African Americans.

Along the same lines in the heart of California, southeast of Bakersfield in Keene, the fairly new Cesar Chavez National Historic Monument commemorates the farm worker movement and its leaders. Visit Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park on the other side of Bakersfield to appreciate the only town in California founded, financed, and governed by African Americans.

Where to begin, as for the rest of California’s state parks? They range from remote Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park to Año Nuevo, the beaches where northern elephant seals first came ashore after swimming so long at the edge of extinction. From the Antelope Valley Indian Museum to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. From Bodie State Historic Park—an entire mining town preserved in a state of “arrested decay”—to another mining-era ghost, Malakoff Diggins. From Castle Rocks to Hearst’s Castle. Get out there and get acquainted.

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.