The history of California is divided into five distinct periods. In the beginning, Native Americans inhabited what is now known as California for 13,000 to 15,000 years before European explorers discovered the land during the 16th and 17th centuries and named it California. Later, the Spanish colonial period (1769-1821) divided the state into two parts — Baja and Alta, which were provinces of New Spain — and introduced the building of 21 Catholic missions. Once Mexico gained independence from Spanish rule in 1821, they controlled the area until 1846 when, finally, the annexation of California to the U.S. began. Consequently, these different periods of history and the resulting events since then have shaped California culturally, politically and socially. To learn more, browse the 40 handpicked resources below that will aid anyone interested in The Golden State’s rich and varied history.
General California Historical Resources
Within this general resources section, you’ll discover information about historic places, pictures and facts about this iconic state.
National Register of Historic Places – Maintained on the National Park Services website, this database contains over 2,800 resources pertaining to California’s history.
California State Library: Pictorial Resources – While much of this extensive pictorial collection is not yet online, you can still view an impressive portion of it.
Census Online – California – Discover historical census information for California dating back to 1850.
California Historical Society – Find out more about the CHS collection which represents the different aspects of heritage — cultural, political, environmental and social — of the entire state.
California – Learn interesting facts about California via text and video on this site from History.com.
Los Angeles Historical Resources
Known as “City of the Angels” and as “Tinseltown” when thinking about Hollywood, Los Angeles was originally founded in 1781. Browse the links to below to find important historical resources.
History of Los Angeles – Located on the City of Los Angeles website, this article details the founding and incorporation of L.A., its form of government and more.
Old Maps Online – Find various historical maps of Los Angeles, California that are fully viewable online.
Los Angeles Conservancy – Browse more than 600 historic locations within Los Angeles County on this website.
Korean Bell of Friendship – This 17-ton bell that’s 7-1/2 feet in diameter was donated to the people of L.A. in 1976 by the Republic of Korea as a sign of friendship.
The Hollywood Sign – This iconic landmark is known throughout the world as a representation of the glamorous entertainment industry in L.A
The Hollywood Bowl – Opened in 1922, this well-known landmark has hosted decades of concerts from well-known artists. In addition, it houses both the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra year-round and the L.A. Philharmonic in the summer.
TCL Chinese Theatre – For more than three-quarters of a century, this iconic Hollywood landmark has existed. You’ll find it on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Bradbury Building – With its stunning ironwork, woodwork and a Victorian skylight, the Bradbury Building is a must see. It’s the oldest commercial building in L.A. and is a designated historical landmark.
San Francisco Historical Resources
Known as “The City” by its native residents, San Francisco is home to many intriguing and unique historical resources.
Fort Point – Built during 1853-1861 to fortify against naval attacks, Fort Point is a national historic site constructed in multi-tiered military style located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Cable Car Museum – Cable cars and San Francisco have been synonymous since 1869 when the cable car came into being. Learn all about this iconic, and still existing, form of transportation in the Cable Car Museum.
Cliff House – A true survivor, the Cliff House, built in 1863, has suffered earthquakes, fires and has risen from the ashes again and again.
Angel Island – Find out the real story of Angel Island by following this link. This point of interest is often referred to as the Ellis Island of the west.
Golden Gate Bridge – Across the globe, this bridge, opened in 1937, is one of the most recognized symbols associated with San Francisco.
Alcatraz Island – Here you will find information about the notorious prison — Alcatraz — which is now abandoned, the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast and more.
Fisherman’s Wharf – While this landmark has evolved over time, its beginnings were in the 1800s when immigrant fisherman came to the city to prosper from the gold rush era.
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco – Browse a variety of major online exhibits relevant to San Francisco’s history — which includes the Gold Rush and the 1906 Earthquake.
San Diego Historical Resources
The following resources will help you learn more about the fascinating historical resources the city of San Diego has to offer.
The Whaley House Museum – This museum, built in 1841, has a rich historical context and is said to be the most haunted house in the United States.
The Blackhawk Livery Stable – Find out about San Diego’s original blacksmith shop that was operated during the 1860s.
San Diego Museums – Find links and information for nine different San Diego museums on the Save Our Heritage Organization website.
Casa de Carrillo – Built with adobe in 1821, Casa de Carrillo is known as the oldest existing building in California.
San Diego Historic Sites – Travel by trolley to see 17 historic sites in San Diego. This site details exact trolley stops and gives a description for each site.
California Historical Landmark Resources
Whether you’re planning a road trip or you simply want to learn more about California’s historical landmarks, you’re in the right place.
California Historical Landmarks by County – Find names, descriptions and addresses for historical landmarks in the counties of California.
California Historical Landmarks – Enjoy checking out this blog from Beatrice and Denis Delja who, after a trip to see California’s missions, decided to visit all 1,100 of the state’s historical landmarks. They detail their journey on the blog.
Visit Some of California’s Historical Landmarks – Read this article from the Los Angeles Times to learn more about some of the historical landmarks located across The Golden State.
Landmarks in California – Yet another list of California landmarks with links. This link includes some that aren’t on the other lists.
California Mission Resources
The 21 California Missions were established when Spain was in control of California during portions of the 18th and 19th centuries. They comprise some of the oldest parts of U.S. history. Learn more about them below.
California Missions Resource Center – Learn about the 21 missions located in the state of California. Each mission has its own page that contains a wealth of facts and information.
California Missions Timeline – An interactive timeline that details the major events that occurred between 1768-1853 during the founding and development of the Alta California.
Mission Image Galleries – Follow this link to view fascinating, historic images of the California Missions from the Mission era.
Map of the California Missions – Utilize this interactive map to find the locations of and directions to the 21 different missions.
The California Missions Trail – From the California State Parks Department comes this guide that details information about each one of the 21 missions.
California Historical Teaching Resources
California’s history is rich and varied and offers plenty of valuable opportunities for worthwhile lessons for students. Lesson topics include the California Gold Rush and the California Missions.
California Museum Lesson Plans and Classroom Materials – Explore the history of California’s flag and its symbols. Other lessons focus on the Gold Rush era and various objects, ideas and inventions that are unique to the state.
Land of Golden Dreams – Find social studies lessons for grades 4 and 5 and 7-12 concerning California in the Gold Rush decade, which lasted from 1848 to 1858.
Portraits of the Central Coast: California History Lesson Plans – These history lesson plans challenge students’ ideas about what it means to be a Californian.
Early California History – From the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art comes this 81-page Exploration and Settlement Curriculum guide for teachers.
Missions of California Educational Projects – These educational projects help students understand the Spanish exploration of California via the settlement of 21 Catholic Missions among other historical facts.