Fort Ross State Park, California Coast


There are several good parks and noteworthy towns worth visiting along the Pacific Coast, north of San Francisco.  Since I was trying to make it all the way to the city by nightfall, I had to pick and choose my stops.  One place I was certain to make time for, was Fort Ross State Park.

Fort Ross State Historic Park is located about 90 miles north of San Francisco, and just south of Salt Point State Park, on CA Highway 1.

Fort Ross stands as a reminder that some of the first settlers on the California Coast weren’t English or Spanish, they were Russian.  In fact, Russia established a number of outposts stretching from Alaska to California.  Fort Ross was the southernmost outpost for the Russians, but people of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds lived here, during its operation from 1812 to 1841.

From the parking area, you pass through the visitor’s center and head down a path, which leads to the entrance gate.  Once inside, you’re free to wander around the perimeter.

I headed directly to one of the corner buildings that served as guard towers.  You’re allowed to walk inside and climb to the top, giving you a great view of the ocean in the distance.  In the picture above, you can also see Rotchev House (it’s kinda behind a tree).  This is the only original building at the site, everything else has been reconstructed.

Looking down the wall to the southeast, you can see the edge of Kuskov house, and in the distance, the Russian Orthodox Chapel (the first one constructed south of Alaska).

Duck into the Kuskov house for a moment, and you’ll find things arranged much as they would have been 175 or so years ago.  One room holds supplies…

… while another houses farm equipment.

From the southeast blockhouse, you get an even better view of Sandy Cove–a beach area that’s accessible via a short trail from the fort.

Sandy Cove was used by Fort Ross workers for loading and unloading ships.  A large structure allowed a gangplank to be raised into position, connecting the ship with the shore.

Here’s another view of the chapel, from across the yard.  Notice the gathering of people around the cannon in the middle.  Historical re-creators tried to gather everyone for a lesson in firing the cannon.  I politely avoided the group, and that was a good decision, because it was a very long time before I heard the cannon fire.  (It also gave me a good chance to sneak into the Official’s Quarters and snag some snacks from a “what they ate” lesson, that had sjust wrapped up!)

I decided to take the long way back to the parking area.  Turns out, I missed the official trail and ended up taking an unnecessarily long route back.  That was all okay with me, because it was a beautiful walk…

… with great views of the ocean.

After my trip, a friend asked me how I enjoyed Jenner, California, which is located south of Fort Ross and north of Bodega Bay.  I had to admit that quite honestly, I just drove through, and didn’t pay much more attention to it, than any other part of the coast.  But, he’s quite knowledgeable about the NorCal coast, so I’ll pass along his recommendation: Jenner is worth checking out.

You can learn more about the history of Fort Ross, and find visitor information here.


There’s just one big attraction that draws visitors to the tiny town of Bodega, California.  The town served as a setting for the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Birds”.  Not Bodega Bay, mind you, but Bodega, which is a few miles from the coast, and about a mile from Highway 1.  So, hang a left…

… when you see this barn in the woods…

… and drive into town, looking for this famous church.  You’ll find it on a hillside on the right side of the road.  Just behind and to the side, you’ll find another landmark from the film, the Potter Schoolhouse, which now serves as a museum and gift shop.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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