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Cultural Sites in Northern California
Broaden Your Horizons at Northern California Cultural Sites, Art Museums, and Historical Treasures
Explore the cultural fabric of the Golden State and enrich your travels. Expand your perspective on the world at engaging art, history, and science museums. Forge new connections with generations past at Spanish missions and ghost towns. Experiment with science and technology. Embrace artsy neighborhoods and quirky museums with fun-loving collections. Broaden your horizons with a deeper understanding of Northern California.
Inspiring Collections of World-Class Artwork
Art lovers are in luck in Northern California, a hotbed of diverse art collections – especially in San Francisco. See classic paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts at the de Young Museum. Climb to the top of its 144-foot tower for wide-ranging views of Golden Gate Park. Check out Rodin’s iconic sculpture The Thinker at the Legion of Honor, a Beaux Arts building with ancient treasures and European masterpieces.
Love 20th-century art? Explore one of the world’s biggest collections at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Enjoy other worthwhile art exhibits at the Oakland Museum of California, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.
Historical Gems: Gold Rush, Railroads, and Ghost Towns
Sacramento is the cradle of California. Stroll along the river at Old Sacramento and admire 53 historic buildings with Gold Rush-era architecture. See 21 restored locomotives and train cars at the highly-acclaimed California State Railroad Museum. Walk the deserted streets of a genuine ghost town in Bodie, Panamint, and Ballarat. Learn about gold mining at Empire Mine State Historic Park in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Discover the stories of Chinese immigrants at the Taoist Temple and Museum in Hanford. Admire vintage planes at the Hiller Aviation Museum and uncover ancient mysteries at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. Interested in local history? Region-specific museums can be found in numerous locations, including Gilroy, Vacaville, Fremont, Chico, Hanford, Hayward, and Lodi.
Spanish Colonial Missions on El Camino Real
Discover California’s distinct heritage at historic Spanish missions. You’ll find 21 missions between San Diego and San Francisco, with the majority (16) in Northern California. They follow El Camino Real (The Royal Road), a former horse and mule trail that connected the outposts of Spanish California. Established between 1769 and 1833, each Franciscan mission is now open to the public.
Some missions are well-preserved wonders; others are a little worse for the wear. Many hold mass on Sundays. All feature unique architectural character with red-tiled roofs, whitewashed walls, bell towers, and arched colonnades. Some of the finest Spanish missions are in Carmel, San Juan Bautista, and San Francisco.
Quirky Museums: The Strange, The Cool, and The Totally Weird
California’s offbeat personality is on full display at far-out attractions like the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Santa Cruz. Encounter every Pez dispenser ever made at the Pez Memorabilia Museum. Browse the world’s largest collection of Star Wars stuff at Rancho Obi-Wan. Play whimsical antique arcade games at Musée Mecanique in San Francisco. Nearby at the Walt Disney Family Museum it’s a small world, after all.
See five million bugs at Berkeley’s Essig Museum of Entomology. Do you have a sweet tooth? Pop into the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield for a free tour. Vintage enthusiasts will also enjoy The Roseville Telephone Museum, Reiff’s Antique Gas Station Museum (Woodland), and the Don and June Salvatori California Pharmacy Museum (Sacramento).
Interactive Tech Experiments, Science, and Nature
Innovation and technology have shaped the culture of California. Find hands-on fun at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, a family favorite. In San Francisco, experience an earthquake and see a four-story rainforest at the eco-friendly California Academy of Sciences. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden nearby. Discover the junction of science, art, and human perception at the popular Exploratorium on the waterfront. Geek out at the Computer History Museum (Mountain View) and take the kids to CuriOdyssey (San Mateo).
Local Cultural Districts with Unique Artistic Character
Immerse yourself in one-of-a-kind neighborhoods with distinct artistic identities at California’s signature Cultural Districts. Chill out at microbreweries and chocolate shops in Eureka Cultural Arts District. Redding Cultural District features more than 70 public art installations and the stunning Sundial Bridge. Enjoy Filipino festivals in SoMa Pilipinas and Latin murals in Calle 24, both in San Francisco. You’ll also find Cultural Districts in Emeryville, San Rafael, Truckee, and Grass Valley/Nevada City.
Fremont Museum of Local History
Visitors to the Fremont Museum of Local History will learn about the history of Washington Township, which are today's cities of Fremont, Union City and Newark. Stroll through the museum and library to view the historical documents, photographs, books, artifacts and exhibits.
View the Early Elementary Schools, Early Post Offices, Livery Stables and Mission Mercantile exhibits, as well as the Ice Age mammal fossils from the Bell Quarry. Plan your next visit to the San Francisco Bay Area and explore the unique and interesting history of Fremont.
Habitot Children's Museum
Plan the next family vacation for the Bay Area and head for the Habitot Children's Museum. It's located just north of Oakland and features wonderful hands-on exhibits and activities for children. The center's classes and camps throughout the year are a great way to keep kids busy.
The hands-on discovery area features fun and exciting exhibits including, Rocketship and Mission Control, Waterworks, Drop-In Art Studio, Wiggle Well and Little Town Grocery & Cafe. The Hands-On Art Program allows children to get creative with clay, paper mache and recycled art materials.
Located on Salem Street in downtown Chico, the Chico Museum is housed in the former Carnegie Library building. In addition to a permanent exhibit in the McIntyre gallery showcasing a timeline of artifacts, photos, and portraits from the city’s past, there are two galleries that house changing exhibits. The Carnegie and Patrick galleries feature traveling exhibits relevant to Chico’s past and present.
The Chico museum has a staff of local volunteers to guide and help visitors new to the area. Check museum hours prior to your visit to ensure it will be open and ready for your visit. Chico is located in North Central California east of Interstate 5. Plan your next visit to Chico and the Shasta Cascade region, and be sure to explore the Chico Museum.
Hayward Area Historical Society & Museum
Visitors to the Hayward Area Historical Society & Museum will learn about the rich history of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Lorenzo area and Castro Valley. Take your time to stroll through the exhibits, attend an educational program and enjoy the interpretive exhibitions. The historical society strives to understand Hayward's history in order to be prepared for the future.
The museum houses an impressive collection of photographs, archival documents, furniture, paintings, clothing, toys, school memorabilia and tools. The Museum hosts special exhibitions throughout the year and offers guided tours for groups. Browse the selection of books and unique gifts in the Corner Store, before ending your time at the museum.
Hanford Carnegie Museum
California is steeped in history. Visit the Hanford Carnegie Museum in Hanford, the charming city found in California's Central Valley. Andrew Carnegie awarded a grant to the local citizens to establish the library. The library continued to serve the community until 1968, when the library was moved to its present-day location. The Carnegie building was restored and became a museum in 1975.
Stroll through the museum to view the artifacts and exhibits featuring the history of Kings County. The museum offers great programs for children including educational workshops, offered on Saturdays and the Kids Club. The outdoor courtyard, meeting room and kitchen are convenient for small meetings and events.
Hanford Taoist Temple & Museum
Celebrate the Chinese culture of Hanford and the Central Valley of California with a visit to the Hanford Taoist Temple and Museum. This stunning museum showcases memorabilia, exhibits and artifacts, and is housed in an 1880s building where Chinese immigrants once lived.
Stroll through the museum to view the items, while learning about the history of Hanford's China Alley. While in the area, also visit the Hanford Carnegie Museum or the Kings Arts Center, to round out your visit. Make the most of your next visit to Hanford with a cultural exploration.
Roseville Telephone Museum
See some history while you explore CA's Gold Country. The Roseville Telephone Museum houses an impressive collection of telephone memorabilia and antique telephones in its 4,500 square foot gallery. It's a top attraction in Roseville. William Doyle founded the Roseville Telephone Company in 1914 providing telephone service to 160 subscribers.
The same quality service continues today, through the current provider, SureWest. The display of original telephones designed by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 is a must-see. Have fun trying to make a telephone call from the 1914 magneto switchboard, used by Roseville Telephone operators in 1914. Enjoy your time in the Sacramento region.
California State Capitol Museum
On your next visit to Sacramento, be sure to embark on a tour of the California State Capital Museum. Located in California's Gold Country, this museum is housed in the California State Capitol building. As you explore Sacramento, be sure to enjoy the museum’s exhibits and collections of California’s rich history along with the sights and sounds of the modern lawmaking and governing process.
The State Capital Museum houses extensive collections of historic documents, artifacts, antiques and artwork significant to the state of California. The grounds and buildings of the California State Capitol have been in use since 1869, with the most recent renovation having been completed in 1982. Visitors can browse exhibits, engage in tours and enjoy over 40 acres of well-maintained gardens and grounds.
San Joaquin County Historical Museum
Enjoy a tour of local history and culture with a visit to the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Learn about the history of Lodi and the surrounding Central Valley region. Tour the four historic buildings, including Captain Charles Weber's cottage from 1847. Captain Weber was the founder of Stockton and one of the first farmers in the area.
The Gerald D. Kennedy Reference Library contains a collection of historical records, books, maps, photographs and manuscripts from Lodi and Stockton. Stroll through the eight exhibition buildings of photographs, artifacts and collections. The 1919 Holt 75 Caterpillar tractor is a recent addition to the collection.
Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
South of San Francisco International Airport, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia is an ideal destination for families. As you explore the Bay Area, be sure to visit this premier toy museum. Make the short drive in from nearby Milbrae or South San Francisco for a flashback to childhood with our favorite Pez dispensers.
Pez fans delight at the sight of the world's largest Pez dispenser along with samples of nearly every Pez container ever made. Collectors browse the latest Pez memorabilia for purchase. Additional exhibits at the Burlingame Museum include the Classic Toy Museum, and the Banned Toy Museum.
Hiller Aviation Museum
Learn a bit about California history at the Hiller Aviation Museum. Located in San Carlos, north of Redwood City, showcases a wonderful collection of aviation exhibits and aircraft. The museum was founded by Stanley Hiller Jr., a helicopter pioneer, in the early 1980s.
As you stroll through the museum, enjoy learning about the state of California and the San Francisco Bay area aviation history. Schedule plenty of time during your visit to the 53,000 sq ft building. Browse the exhibits and displays in the main hall, including the 1955 Flying Platform, the 1956 XROE Rotorcycle and the 1913 Lincoln Beechey's "Little Looper."
See more than 25,000 historical artifacts when you visit the Gilroy Museum. On your next visit to the Bay Area, head for Gilroy and explore this premier museum. It's been located in the historic 1910 Carnegie Library building since its opening in 1958. Armand White, from one of Gilroy's pioneer families, started the collection of historical memorabilia and items and was the first curator of the museum.
Museum admission is free, so enjoy touring it as often as you'd like. While in Gilroy, partake in a free walking tour of the town's historic district, from a member of the Gilroy Historical Society. Make the most of your next stay in Gilroy with a look back at the early days of Gilroy and Santa Clara County.
Experience one of the premier historic sites in California with a tour of the Vacaville Museum. It's located in Fairfield, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visitors to the museum learn about the historical and cultural preservation of Solano County. Stroll through the exhibits and enjoy an educational program, while learning about the community's heritage.
The museum is a part of the Solano County Museum Consortium (SCMC). Other members include the Benicia Historical Museum, Rio Vista Museum, Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum and the Western Railway Museum. Connect to the past in one or more of these fine museums.
Get up close with our natural world at CuriOdyssey. Ideal for families and children, CuriOdyssey offers interactive science exhibits, experiences with California's native animals and hands-on school and public programs. Visit this popular center near Redwood City for a fun day of learning.
The center is a popular San Francisco Bay Area science education attraction that provides visitors hours of worthwhile fun and experiences. Formerly the Coyote Point Museum, CuriOdyssey has expanded and continues its mission of inspiring the imagination through engagement with the natural wonders of the world.
Sacramento River Discovery Center
An ideal destination for families, the Sacramento River Discovery Center educates students and visitors through its instructional programs, on the importance of preserving the Sacramento River watershed. The center houses a two-acre native plant garden to promote conservation efforts and maintain the native ecosystems.
Many local students have enjoyed becoming an intern through the Natural Resources Internship program. The bird box program has provided homes to displayed birds who are losing their natural nests. The center is located along the Sacramento River, south of Red Bluff. It's a premier attraction in the Shasta Cascade region of CA.