If you’re captivated by California’s lively history, one of the most evocative spots in the state is Fort Ross State Historic Park, the well-restored remains of a Russian fur-trapping outpost built here in 1812. During a 30-year residency, the Russians farmed wheat and potatoes, traded with Native Americans, and trapped local seals and sea otters for their furs, which commanded huge sums on the European market.
By 1840, the near destruction of the sea otter population caused the company to shut down operations and sell the fort to Sacramento’s John Sutter, who financed the purchase on credit. Later, the abandoned fort was badly damaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and later fires, but the state has completed a high-quality restoration and reconstruction project, using hand-hewn lumber and historically accurate building methods to replicate the original barracks and other buildings, including a luminous redwood chapel.
From Hwy-1, Fort Ross spreads west, 20 miles south of Sea Ranch and a dozen miles north of the Russian River. Outside the fort’s walls, a modern visitor center (707/847-3286, daily summer, Mon.-Fri. winter, $8 per car) traces the site’s natural, Native American, and Russian history, and offers information on the park’s many fine hiking trails.