Since your kids are probably expert couch-cushion-fort builders, they’ll definitely be impressed with Fort Ross. A short drive away from San Francisco, this Russian fortress looms high above the Pacific Ocean and boasts breathtaking views with tons of entertainment for the whole family. As Fort Ross celebrates its long history with tons of exciting events, its unique California past comes to life. Your little history buffs might even want to bring a notebook along to write a report on their visit and impress their new teachers at school.

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How to get there: Fort Ross is located eleven miles north of Jenner, in Sonoma County, on Highway One. It’s approximately a two-hour drive from San Francisco.

When to go: The park and visitors center are open from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Friday through Sunday.

What to bring: Make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes for stomping around, layered clothing for foggy or windy weather (just in case), a beach blanket and sand-castle-Russian-fort-building paraphernalia for beachcombing, snacks and your fave playlist for the car ride. Don’t forget a camera to record the awesome day.

What to do: Your little ones will feel as if they’ve stepped back in time as they enter the Russian colony’s compound, once a bustling base for northern Pacific trade. It may seem a bit like a fairy tale, and they’ll happily explore the chapel, living quarters, barracks, and an old cottage (Rotchev House) within the fort. Although the Rotchev House (built in 1836) is the only original Russian-built structure on the grounds, the park seems convincingly authentic. The settlement also includes an impressive display of muskets in the armory and cannons often fired on celebration days. Climb to the top of the southeast blockhouse, and peep through the window for an incredible bird’s-eye view of the ocean below.

In the Fort Ross Visitor Center, you’ll find a small museum with the history of the Russian settlers and even a short video. Choose a souvenir from the hand-painted matryoshkas (wooden nesting dolls) and icons, lovely postcards, and traditional Russian costumes in the gift shop.

July 31st, 2010 - Fort Ross Celebration  of Russian America 1812-1841

Take a tour of the historic orchard that even Johnny Appleseed would envy, filled with apples, cherries, pears, and quince, and bisected by the San Andrea Fault. Follow the path for a short walk down to Sandy Cove, where you might see abalone divers or fishermen hoping to catch rock fish. At low tide, discover a starfish or sea urchin hiding in the tide pools. Back up to the top of the cliff east of the fort, you’ll find a beautiful cemetery dotted with simple wooden Orthodox crosses.

Where to eat: Picnic in paradise, along the beach, or at the picnic tables under the redwoods and just adjacent to the parking lot.

Don’t miss: Awesome upcoming events include a harvest festival, windmill turning, and even marine mammal watching.

Further afield: Nearby Salt Point State Park is yet another tempting spot to stop and roam Stump Beach or South Gerstle Cove.

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Online: fortross.org

What’s your ideal day trip in the Bay Area? Let us know!

— Nicki Richesin

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photo credit: The Nickster, Franco Folini, and lightrocker