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California’s Fascinating History

Travel back in time with host Soterios Johnson to get a taste of what the Golden State was like long ago

California is a world-class destination for all sorts of travelers—including history buffs. Visitors can find rich historical gems in surprising and delightful ways, from hidden plaques in San Francisco's Portsmouth Square and Chinatown to Angels Flight, a still-operating funicular in downtown Los Angeles that dates back to 1901.

Many California cities can trace their roots back to Native peoples, European explorers, the Gold Rush, and a melting pot of cultures that blended over hundreds of years. On this episode of the California Now Podcast, host Soterios Johnson delves into that history in three iconic California cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Johnson starts out in the City by the Bay, connecting with author and San Francisco historian Gary Kamiya about how the city has played host to bootleggers, the Beat Generation, and everything in between. Next, Johnson speaks with Robert Petersen, host of the Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast, about some little-known aspects of La-La Land culture—including everything from Walt Disney’s favorite haunts to peacock crossings in Arcadia. Finally, Johnson talks to Bill Lawrence, president and CEO of the San Diego History Center, about how the confluence of San Diego's Spanish settlers, the military, science, and popular culture make for a fascinating history lesson—and a one-of-a-kind sightseeing experience.


Gary Kamiya, author of Cool Gray City of Love and Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City

Robert Petersen, host of the Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast

Bill Lawrence, president and CEO of the San Diego History Center


Gold Rush–era buildings, iconic restaurants, and “Frisky Whisky” are just a few of the historic aspects of San Francisco, according to author and historian Gary Kamiya.

San Francisco

Lombard Street

San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts

Portsmouth Square

Chinatown San Francisco

Mission Dolores

Jackson Square Historic District

North Beach

The Place

Caffe Trieste

City Lights Books

Coit Tower

Whether you're a fan of Walt Disney or Charles Bukowski, Los Angeles offers plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the city's history, says Robert Petersen.

Los Angeles


Angels Flight Railway

Rodeo Drive

Gelson's Supermarket

Charlotte and Robert Disney House

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round

Tam O'Shanter Restaurant

Grand Central Market

Bradbury Building

The King Eddy Saloon

Esotouric Tours

Haunts of a Dirty Old Man Tour

Lost LA

Innovation and reinvention are two common themes connecting present-day San Diego to the past, according to Bill Lawrence, president and CEO of the San Diego History Center.

San Diego

San Diego History Center

San Diego Presidio

The Junípero Serra Museum

Balboa Park

Barona Cultural Center & Museum

Cabrillo National Monument

Point Loma

Maritime Museum of San Diego

USS Midway Museum

Liberty Station

USS Recruit

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Museum

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Salk Institute

About the Host

Soterios Johnson, formerly the local host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on radio station WNYC, moved from New York City to Davis in 2016. By combining his journalistic instincts with his personal curiosity, Johnson will use the California Now Podcast platform to develop a deeper understanding of his adopted home.

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