function OptanonWrapper() { window.dataLayer.push( { event: 'OneTrustGroupsUpdated'} )}Native American Cultural Experiences at California’s State Parks—South
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Native American Cultural Experiences at California’s State Parks—South

Native American Cultural Experiences at California’s State Parks—South

From San Diego County to Santa Cruz, see these cultural sites to learn about Native American history

With more than 100 tribes and a human history dating back thousands of years, California is filled with onetime Native American settlements and cultural sites. Many are located on tribal land with limited or no public use, but a number of culturally significant places are accessible at California’s state parks. In fact, the California State Park system preserves what its website describes as “an unparalleled collection of culturally and environmentally sensitive features and ancient habitats, including many significant California Indian villages.”

Visit the state parks and you can learn about local and regional Native American history in park museums and also explore areas that have changed little since the time before the arrival of Europeans, when up to 1 million indigenous people lived in California. Ranging from the Central Coast to the desert, the following destinations in the southern half of the state are among those identified by the state parks as offering the best opportunities to discover the world of California’s indigenous peoples.

The following parks are listed north to south.

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

The 12th in the chain of California missions established by Spanish missionaries, Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park tells the story of the Ohlone and Yokuts Indians who suffered from disease and labored under cruel conditions here. To put events into perspective, the park’s website describes the mission as “a site of great loss and trauma” that belongs to the “complex and difficult history” and “devastating legacy” of the Spanish mission system.

On the ancestral lands of today’s Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the park has an original one-story adobe built by and used as housing for the mission’s indigenous people. It’s the only surviving structure of its kind in California, and the seven-room building has a museum that recounts the impacts of the mission system on the Ohlone and Yokuts individuals and their traditional cultures.

Monterey State Historic Park

With its collection of 19th-century residential, governmental, and commercial buildings, Monterey State Historic Park preserves the world of California’s first capital. While the focus is primarily on Monterey during its Spanish, Mexican, and American eras, the park’s Pacific House Museum has an impressive assortment of Native American crafts and artifacts displayed on its second floor.

Built in 1847, the Monterey Colonial–style adobe building served many functions—courthouse, jail, tavern, and newspaper office—before opening as a museum in 1957. The collection isn’t limited to California tribes, so in addition to Pomo baskets, you’ll also find Southwest pottery and weavings, Plains Indian deerskin robes and moccasins with exquisite beadwork, and crafts from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park

The ancestral home of the Kawaiisu people, Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park outside Tehachapi (about 40 miles southeast of Bakersfield) is only open for guided tours on spring and fall weekends because of the highly sensitive nature of the site.

An orientation takes place at the Tehachapi Museum before participants caravan 12 miles to the park. The outing involves a three-mile hike during which you’ll get spectacular views of the Tehachapi Valley and Sand Canyon, as well as looks at archaeological sites, including a painted cave. Reservations are highly recommended for the four-hour tour.

A Shoshonean tribe, the Kawaiisu lived in the Tehachapi area for as long as 3,000 years after migrating from the Great Basin. They were known for their basketry, and the Chemehuevi of the Colorado River region are considered their closest modern-day relatives.

La Purísima State Historic Park

Considered the most completely restored of California’s 21 missions, Mission La Purísima Concepcíon was at the center of 300,000 acres of traditional Chumash lands. The complex of buildings is part of La Purísima Mission State Historic Park on the edge of the city of Lompoc, in northern Santa Barbara County. What distinguishes this state park is that it includes nearly 2,000 acres of chaparral- and oak-covered hills, where you can hike and discover the natural world that the Chumash would have known. The park also has traditional Chumash dwellings in a reconstructed village.  

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, California

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

Hidden away off Highway 154 between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, the rock art at Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park dates back at least to the 1600s. These pictographs are found on the walls of a small sandstone cave within the traditional lands of the Barbareño Band of Chumash Indians. A short trail leads to the cave, where a heavy and locked iron gate prevents entry to protect the paintings from vandalism. But you can peer through the gate and see the pictographs. After visiting the cave and seeing the paintings in their natural setting, you can view close-up details of the rock art by visiting an online virtual tour

Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park

The Antelope Valley was part of a major trade corridor used by three groups of Native Americans, and at the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park you can see a remarkable collection of rare artifacts and crafts from the Southwest, Cal