Drive along the Sonoma County coastline, 11 miles northwest of Jenner, and you’ll find an unexpected park where local history and natural beauty converge. One of the first state parks in California, Fort Ross Historic State Park was established in 1906 to preserve North America’s southernmost Russian settlement. Today, visitors can learn about the outpost’s storied past while enjoying stunning views from the rugged ocean cliffs.
The native territory of the Kashaya Pomo people, this coastal area served as a seasonal camp to harvest fish and salt for trading. In the late 18th century, Russians began exploring the region.
With a mission to grow crops for their compatriots living in Alaska, members of the Russian-American Company, with the help of the Alaskan Alutiiq, erected a small settlement in 1812, which they named Fort Ross. For more than 30 years, this trading outpost served as a multicultural stomping ground with Russians living alongside native Siberians, Alaskans, Hawaiians, Native Americans, and other Europeans.
Visit Fort Ross to journey back through time. Get your bearings at the visitor center and museum to gain a deeper understanding of the area’s history and view interesting artifacts. Then explore the fort where many of the original Russian structures still stand. Find pelts hanging from the rafters in the fur warehouse. Stroll through the historic orchard, where peaches and pears were grown to help prevent scurvy. Survey the spot where California’s first windmill was built. And don’t miss a photo op at the Holy Trinity Chapel, made entirely out of redwood.
Framed by dense forest to the east and ocean cliffs to the west, the park’s sweeping seaside beauty is worth a trip in itself. Hike down to Sandy Cove, a sheltered beach where seals and sea lions frequently frolic. Outdoor activities abound: You can cast for rockfish from the shore or scuba dive to explore a turn-of-the-century shipwreck.
Tours and special educational events are offered throughout the year. On the first Saturday of the month, join a one-hour group tour followed by samovar tea. You’ll also catch the monthly windmill turning and have the opportunity to tour the Call House, where the Call family lived during the fort’s Ranch era. Kids will love the Environmental Living Program, an overnight-optional experience that gives them the opportunity to fill the shoes of a real-life historical figure, dress in period garb, and try their hand at traditional Russian foraging, cooking, and crafts. A Marine Ecology Program is also available for youngsters who’d like to learn about marine life in this intertidal zone.