The Spanish Mission of San Rafael California

One of the most interesting stories pertaining to the old Spanish Missions of California regards Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael California. This is a very convenient  mission to visit being located just about twenty miles north of San Francisco along U.S. Hwy 101.

san rafael arcangel

San Rafael Arcangel, San Rafael California

If your vacation plans include San Francisco, make certain to head north over the Golden Gate and visit historic San Rafael.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel Replica 

The original mission replica you’ll explore today, the one dedicated in 1949, was built according to original specifications known at the time.

There were no photos of the original structure therefore the replica was built based on what was known with some variations. The small church building faces west whereas the original faced east. The site location is next to the St. Raphael Parish of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The replica site is approximate since other church buildings had been built adjacent prior to 1949.

Today’s visitor will notice that the old mission replica is in no way adorned as are most all  other California missions. This was because, as mentioned above, Mission San Rafael Arcangel was not originally planned to become an official stand alone mission. Built as a branch of Mission Dolores, the church building was a fairly plain unadorned structure.

san rafael arcangel bells

San Rafael Arcangel historic bells

The Problems at Mission Dolores

The realities at Mission Dolores in San Francisco were such it’s believed that 5,000 Native Americans were buried at the mission cemetery. Disease ran rampant at the mission site and as was the case with much contact between Europeans and Native Americans, the Indians were easily affected by European bred diseases. This phenomena began from the very first contact between Native American and European. This problem continued into the 1800’s all across the western frontier.

A Change of Climate

The site of Mission San Rafael Arcangel was chosen for a reason. The area which in present day San Rafael California had much more sunshine and much less fog than the San Francisco peninsula to the south.

mission dolores san francisco

Original Mission Dolores, San Francisco, CA

The mountains to the west of San Rafael acted as a buffer to the weather coming off the Pacific Ocean. The regular fog and damp conditions caused illness. The San Francisco peninsula lacked the natural barrier that San Rafael enjoyed.. The added sunshine and generally milder weather was sought to help the healing process. The move to establish the mission in San Rafael seemed to work quite well. Ailing Native Americans seemed to recover very well at this new more sunny and mild location.

Visiting Mission San Rafael Arcangel 

A day trip north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Mission San Rafael Arcangel is an excellent addition to a Bay Area trip planner. The story of the Spanish Missions is really a vivid story of the very beginnings of California settlement. There’s much to learn visiting any of the old missions and Mission San Rafael Arcangel tells us a very unique part of that story.

st. raphael arcangel catholic church

St. Raphael Arcangel Catholic Church

From San Francisco, drive north on U.S. Highway 101 from the Golden Gate Bridge about fifteen miles and exit at Central San Rafael (Exit 452). The mission is located at 1104 Fifth Avenue about four blocks west of the freeway.

Driving to San Rafael from the east bay area allows you to cross the bay via the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. After you merge onto U.S. Hwy 101 northbound take exit 452 as described above.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

World War Two Attacks on the West Coast

California and the Old Spanish Missions

sonoma barracks

Old Sonoma Barracks

For those making a trip to the Sonoma wine country from San Francisco can easily visit both Mission San Rafael Arcangel and the Sonoma Mission in Sonoma California during a day trip. Mission Sonoma (Mission San Francisco Solano) was the last of the twenty-one missions built and was actually constructed by the Mexican government after their ouster of the Spaniards.

The Mission Sonoma is located in the heart of Sonoma California, between the cities of Napa and Santa Rosa off State Hwy 12.

The town of Sonoma is also in the heart of the beautiful Sonoma Valley wine country which this area north of San Francisco Bay is so noted for. It’s also adjacent to the popular Napa Valley wine country. The old Spanish mission and the entire town of Sonoma is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

Parts of Sonoma State Historic Park include the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters Vallejo’s Home. Visitors typically walk through the streets surrounding Sonoma’s historic central plaza. Maps are available at the Sonoma Visitors Center.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)


Tour the WWII Submarine U.S. Pampanito

The USS Pampanito Goes to War

Between 1944-45 the Pampanito completed six war patrols in the Pacific Theater. After her shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, the USS Pampanito headed directly for Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and arrived there in February 1944. Her deployment was during the latter part of the Pacific war.

world war two submarine pampanito

USS Pampanito

When you tour the USS Pampanito you will get a good feel of the last few years of the war. This was the period after the Battle of Midway when the U.S. was quite on the offensive in the western Pacific. Her first war patrol took her to Saipan and Guam. She had to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs of damage caused by Japanese depth charges. An interesting thing when you tour the Pampanito today are the separate displays of items such as depth charges, torpedos (shown above right) and torpedo hatches. Your visit to the vessel is more than just a tour of a submarine. It’s really a well rounded presentation of World War Two submarine warfare in general.

The Patrols of the U.S.S. Pampanito

The Pampanito’s second war patrol took her near the Japanese home islands where she almost was almost hit by torpedos from a Japanese sub. Her third patrol was in the South China Sea where she inadvertently sunk a Japanese troop ship which was transporting British POW’s. This was quite common of the Japanese to bring some POW’s back to the home islands. The Pampanito picked up over 70 survivors of that sinking. The fourth patrol was off Formosa where she sunk a 1,200 ton Japanese cargo ship. The fifth patrol was in the Gulf of Siam where another cargo vessel was sunk and then back to the Gulf of Siam for her sixth patrol.

us navy world war two submarines

USS Pampanito SS 383

After the sixth patrol the USSA Pampanito sailed back to Pearl Harbor then on to San Francisco for an overhaul. She then went back to Pearl Harbor but was called back to San Francisco because of the war’s end.


The USS Pampanito was decommissioned at Mare Island next to the North Bay town of Vallejo California in December 1945. It’s not far east of Vallejo in the Sacramento River where the Navy stored many old World War Two vessels in what was called the “mothball fleet“. The question is…what does a perfectly good submarine do after the war and after being decommissioned? Not a whole lot until 1962 when the Pampanito was assigned as a Naval Reserve Training Ship at Vallejo. Finally in December 1971 the USS Pampanito was officially taken off Navy registration records, almost thirty years after the launching of this historic United States naval ship.

world war two diesel submarines

Another view of the USS Pampanito

Today, the USS Pampanito is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an official National Historic Landmark.

Just as the ship berthed behind her, the Jeremiah O’Brien, the Pampanito was recognized as being an invaluable asset perfect for historic preservation and for the public to enjoy and learn from. While the Jeremiah O’Brien represents the all important Liberty Ship program, the Pampanito represents the heroic contributions of submariners during war.

Visit the USS Pampanito

The USS Pampanito is now owned and operated by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association which displays several historic ships.

world war two submarine torpedo

World War II submarine torpedo

The submarine was transferred to the Maritime Park Association in 1976 and was opened for public tours in 1982. When you visit the Pampanito you’ll pass the Maritime National Park which displays several more historic ships like the side wheeler Eureka which among other assignments ferried passengers and automobiles over San Francisco Bay during the early 1900’s.

If you enjoy exploring old vessels and World War Two naval ships, you’ll absolutely enjoy these displays adjacent to Fishermans Wharf at the San Francisco Maritime Park. It’s one of the very finest displays of maritime vessels in the United States.

See these additional Trips Into History articles on the links below…

World War Two Attacks on America’s West Coast

A Civil War Submarine

Today, this classic World War Two submarine also makes a great venue for group sleepovers. Organizations such as the Cub Scouts have taken advantage of this opportunity to spend the night on the Pampanito using it’s 48 bunk beds. Small waves churned up by passing cargo ships often give the Pampanito a slight roll so those who spend the night aboard may get an authentic sailing experience. The Pampanito also conducts educational programs for adults and youngsters.

submarine torpedo loading hatch

Original torpedo loading hatch from the USS Pampanito

Take a fascinating tour back to the times of World War Two and the U.S. Navy in wartime by visiting the magnificent floating museum which is the submarine USS Pampanito.

To get to the submarine on Pier 45 in San Francisco, walk straight through the Musee Mecanique (entrance shown at right)  at Fishermans Wharf and turn left on the pier. At that point you will see both the Pampanito and the Jeremiah O’Brien behind her.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Salton Sea California


salton sea

The Salton Sea in the far distance as seen from Joshua Tree National Park

If you’ve ever flown into either Los Angeles or San Diego from the east, chances are you’ve noticed a very large body of water in the middle of the desert. A very large lake seemingly out of nowhere. What you’re looking at is the Salton Sea in the Sonoran Desert. What’s even more surprising about this massive body of water is that prior to the first decade of the twentieth century the Salton Sea didn’t exist.

The Salton Sea, one of the world’s largest inland body of water, is located east of the Palm Springs California area. The Salton Sea is also located at one of the earth’s lowest spots at 227 feet below sea level.

How the Salton Sea Came About

Before the Salton Sea California formed the area was referred to as the Salton Sink. The very reason why the sea formed and stayed was nothing less than a man made engineering debacle.

shoreline salton sea

Abandoned structures along the Salton Sea shoreline

There is nothing more important to a desert area than water. Where’s there’s water there’s people. Without it there is no way for settlements and agriculture to survive. Many historians and archeologists will point to the absence of water as to the primary reason why many of the ancient North American Native tribes abandoned areas and resettled elsewhere.

When the 1900’s began southern California was growing rapidly. Los Angeles, in particular, and in large part due to the railroad, was growing at a very fast pace. The obvious source of fresh water for increased agriculture was the Colorado River. The plan was to divert water from the Colorado River into the Salton Sink for the purpose of agriculture. After canals were constructed the Salton Sink, for a time, became fertile. In fact, the Southern Pacific Railroad had a railroad siding settlement in the Salton Sink.

The Debacle

A few years into the project, the Imperial Canal which was built from the Colorado River to the Salton Sink became filled with river silt. As a result, new canals and levees were built on the river north of the clogged canal.

salton sea canal

Alamo Canal from the Colorado River, circa 1905

While you would assume that this measure would alleviate the problem, the year 1905 brought very heavy snows to the Rockies in addition to more than normal rainfall. The result was that the Colorado River roared down and breached levees along the new canals. Instead of diverting some of the Colorado River flow to the Salton Sink, for a few years until 1907, the entire Colorado River flowed on and off into the sink. The Southern Pacific Railroad settlement as well as others were submerged under the new sea. For it’s part the Southern Pacific Railroad hauled in rail car loads of dirt to try to stem the flooding at the head gates on the Colorado River.

Because the entire area of the Salton Sink was filled with salt deposits it didn’t take long for the fresh river water to turn into salt water. The river fish that flowed into the Salton Sink along with the fresh water eventually died off. The salinity of the water was deemed saltier than even ocean water. Over the years the 500 square mile Salton Sea (depending on rainfall the sea increases and decreases in size) became increasingly polluted with runoff water container fertilizers.

salton sea real estate

Early real estate promotion at the Salton Sea

In actuality, over hundreds and thousands of years, the Colorado River did at various times overflow into the Salton Sink and then eventually would evaporate. The Salton Sea this time hung around. This was due to the runoff of the salty, fertilizer and pesticide laden irrigation water from valley farms. The entire ecology of the area changed and unfortunately not for the better.

Efforts to Promote the New Inland Sea

Interestingly enough, eventually real estate promoters and some recreational enthusiasts touted the Salton Sea as being a southern California recreation playground. Indeed, at one time the real estate business along the Salton Sea boomed. Salton City on the seas west shore was the most populous settlement.

Fishing in the Salton Sea was quite popular in the 1950s. The average depth of the body of water is about thirty feet. The Salton Sea was stocked with various species of salt water ocean fish. Unfortunately, in regards to Salton Sea fishing, the only fish of any real quantity that appears to have adapted to the extremely salty inland sea is the tilapia which was imported from Africa. Tilapia fishing is quite active today. Gone are the yacht clubs and the plans for massive recreational development. The primary reason for the decline was the sea itself. Because of the chemical pollution and the ever increasing salinity, the smell above the water can be unpleasant. The smell of decayed algae blooms each spring and early summer keep many away. In addition, the smell of dead fish seems to be a year round problem.

salton sea recreation

Early Salton Sea real estate promotional sign

Birding at one time was quite healthy. However since the mid 1990’s more and more birds have died off. It has been said that at one time more than 600 dead birds per day were collected. The exact reason for the die off of birds has not been determined. Avian botulism was initially considered the reason but there is some disagreement on this. Still today, birdwatching does go on at the Salton Sea.

Desert Development

What eventually happened to the hoped for shangra-la of the southern California Sonoran Desert can be experienced today. All you need to do is visit Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells in the Coachella Valley and that’s where the real recreational and resort development took place.

When you see today’s lavish golf courses and resorts along the entire line of towns in the Palm Springs area, remember that this area was nothing but arid desert scrub land when the Salton Sea  occurred by accident in 1905. Big resort development occurred in the desert, it just occurred about sixty miles west of the Salton Sea.

Links to two additional articles on our Western Trips site you’ll find interesting is a Visit to Joshua Tree National Park and the famous Scotty’s Castlein Death Valley California.


salton sea photos

Salton Sea shoreline

Visiting the Salton Sea Area

The Salton Sea is bordered on the south by the fertile Imperial Valley.  West of the Salton Sea is the Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park. The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge as well as the Salton Sea State Recreation Area are on it’s shores. The Salton Sea State Recreation Area offers more than a thousand campsites, picnic sites, trails and a Visitor Center. This recreation area runs from the town of North Shore to Bombay Beach.

While there have been several efforts to address the ecological problems of the Salton Sea, and efforts continue to this day, the area does receive an estimated 100,000 plus visitors each year. The recreational activities include boating, water skiing, sailboarding, hiking and fishing (mostly tilapia) and birdwatching.

To reach the Salton Sea State Recreational area from the city of Palm Springs, drive eastbound for about 18 miles on Interstate 10 and exit to the right at the Brawley / El Centro 865 Expy. After 12 miles turn left at CA 195/66th Ave and continue on CA 195 for just under a mile. Turn right on CA 111 and drive about 21.5 miles.


Musee Mecanique / San Francisco


The Old Game Arcades

San Francisco tourist sites are aplenty and there’s never a shortage of unique things to see. One of these is located right at the San Francisco pier 45, Fishermans Wharf.

Musee Mecanique in San Francisco

It’s the world famous Musee Mecanique and it’s an enjoyable and fun trip to San Francisco’s past. It is one of the finest collections of old arcade games and devices that take you back to the 1920’s and before. The museum features hundreds of quarter operated games and exhibits from the turn of the century. Penny arcades were very common at venues like county fairs but by but by the 1950’s many of these arcades were replaced by modern machines. Back in the time of the penny arcade the video games played today of course were not in existence.

Many of the early games included pinball and fortune telling devices. Others were elaborate models of frontier towns, Ferris Wheels, a pinball version of an old baseball game and many other quite interesting novelties. Another popular machine found in old penny arcades were the peep show devices. where d the viewer could see views of various objects and later to actually see moving pictures. In the 19th century and very early 20th century this type of machine was one of the most popular.

Old time arcade game

You will experience the shooting galleries of the pre-video era. There are other great games of skill dating back to the 1920’s.

When you have a chance to view or play these antique games at Musee Mecanique you will probably marvel at the engineering that made them operate. In a way the technology involved with these devices is quite simple compared to the electronics of today, but this is what makes the machines so charming in the first place.The name penny arcade was derived from the fact that the penny was the common coin used to play them.

The Old Time Arcade Equipment

One of the most popular of the Musee Mecanique old machines is Laffing Sal. She and others like her were built in Pennsylvania during the 1920’s and shipped to amusement parks around the country. To give you an idea of the cost of these machines, when built Laffing Sal would have cost around $360. In 1940 the machine would have cost around $5,700. Laffing Sal was seen in the 1950 movie “Woman On The Run” and in the 1953 movie “Man In The Dark“.

Laffing Sal from the early arcade era

Other fully working exhibits at Musee Mecanique include a fortune teller, sex appeal meter, Regina Sublima original music box, Wurlitzer Orchestrion and an ancient Chinese royal courtyard.

These exhibits are still putting out music nearly 100 years later. While you’re there don’t miss the movie machines featuring footage from the aftermath of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Another one of a kind machine is the one to test your strength. It’s a mechanical hand whereby you set it to a certain level and essentially arm wrestle with it. Unfortunately I lost each time I tried.

What other arcade can you have a Wild West scene play out before your eyes for only a quarter. After this, spend a quarter to listen to the unique player piano with it’s own drums and mandolin. You may also enjoy the handmade carnival scene with actual moving parts. This museum is probably the best old arcade exhibit under one roof and is the product of a lifetime of collecting. Where else can you have this much fun playing with arcade machines that are almost a hundred years old and only spend a quarter on each. This opportunity at Musee Mecanique beats the modern day arcades where many games will cost you one dollar each time you play. Where else in such a scenic locale as San Francisco Pier 45 at Fishermans Wharf can you play such unique antique games and enjoy hours there for only ten to twenty dollars total.


Steam Flyer motorcycle on display at Musee Mecanique

Links to two additional nearby attractions in San Francisco that we’ve highlighted on our Western Trips site are the Cable Car Museum and the U.S.S. Pampanito World War Two submarine. You will also enjoy our photo article on the historic Santa Cruz California Boardwalk.

The History of Musee Mecanique

There’s a lot of history with Musee Mecanique and the arcade industry in San Francisco. This venue alone features a world class collection of over 200 antique arcade games all under one roof. Game historians who frown on today’s digital presence look at the total display of these old machines as the evolution of arcade entertainment.

Most of the machines at Musee Mecanique were scavenged from the old “Playland at the Beach“, a venue that was located for years near San Francisco’s Cliff House on the Pacific Ocean. When the Cliff House was being remodeled the collection needed to find a new home. Indeed, the San Francisco public wanted these machines kept on display.and this led the museum to its current location in the Fisherman’s Wharf area at Pier 45.

The Musee Mecanique is truly one of San Francisco’s treasures.The collection was owned by Edward Zelinsky who actually started his collection at eleven years of age. The collection just grew and grew with acquisitions being made throughout Zelinsky’s lifetime. He collected the old games prior to World War Two and continued when he arrived back home after the war. One of the most unique displays at the museum is the “Steam Flyer” which is not a game but a fully and beautifully restored red steam motorcycle built in the 1920’s by a man in Sacramento California.

Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien exhibit outside of Musee Mecanique

There was a lot of experimenting with steam motorcycles during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and this exhibit is one you don’t want to miss. This particular motorcycle, which could be the only one of its kind in the world, and it’s still in working condition, is estimated to be worth over $250,000.

All of the machines on display were collected over a long period of time by Edward Zelinsky who recognized their historic value at the time. To amass such a collection today would take an astronomical amount of money.

A Lifetime Collection

Dan Zelinsky, the son of the original owner, now operates the museum. As you can imagine, these antique machines require constant maintenance.and several have had major restorations. Old San Franciscan’s may miss the fun atmosphere of the old Playland on the Beach location, but the larger Pier 45 location is ideal for introducing the tourist crowds to this unique display.

Inside San Francisco Cable Car Museum

When your travels include a San Francisco vacation I would highly recommend a stop at Musee Mecanique. It’s right at Fishermans Wharf, near many other popular attractions, and it’s free to enter. Musee Mecanique is open 365 days a year, from 10 am to 7 pm weekdays and 10 am to 8 pm weekends and holidays From 1930 colorful marionettes to penny stretcher machines to fortune tellers, Musee Mecanique is a vintage arcade museum second to none.

Also, adjacent to Musee Mecanique on Pier 45 are two restored World War II vessels. One is, the submarine USS Pampanito and the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien. Both vessels are open for tours. I have toured both vessels and Musee Mecanique and I would recommend all of them.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

San Francisco Telegraph Hill


Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill

Historic Telegraph Hill is one of the Seven Hills of San Francisco. It’s as well known as the San Francisco cable cars and Fishermans Wharf and it’s the site of the distinctive and quite unique Coit Tower. Thousands of people visit Coit Tower annually and if your upcoming plans include a visit to San Francisco, this is one stop you do want to add to your trip or vacation planner.

A Semaphore for Telegraph Hill

Today’s Telegraph Hill was known by several different names over the centuries. The Spaniards who were the first to occupy present day California had named the hill “Loma Alta” which meant “high hill”. After that, the earlier settlers on San Francisco referred to the hill as “Goat Hill“. Eventually, the name Telegraph Hill took hold and for a reason. During September 1849, just a year before California’s statehood and after the U.S. took control from Mexico, a semaphore was built on the hill as a means to alert citizens of the ships entering San Francisco Bay. The semaphore consisted of a pole that had two arms. Depending on the configuration of the pole’s arms, the operator could send a message as to what type of vessel was entering the city. Was the vessel a steamboat?, a side wheeler?, a sailboat?, a frigate?, a sloop?, etc.

View of Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island from Coit Tower observation deck

Why This Was Important

One might ask why this signaling form the semaphore on Telegraph Hill was so important. The fact of the matter was that it proved itself quite useful in the realm of finance and trade.

The knowledge of the character of the cargo entering the bay and thus entering the city could and did reflect on prices set. If a trader was unaware of what type of cargo would be unloaded, the prices he or she paid might be too much. This is an example of the law of supply and demand up close. If whatever cargo an arriving vessel carried would add a surplus to current inventories, then prices were apt to drop and drop quickly. Those who made a living through speculation would become daily observers of the Telegraph Hill semaphore.

The Electric Telegraph

Most people know the effect that the transcontinental telegraph had on the short lived yet still famous Pony Express system. As soon as the telegraph lines were completed, the Pony Express vanished within just a few months. After the electronic telegraph was completed in 1862, the semaphore on Telegraph Hill was eventually taken down. Even though the semaphore was gone, Telegraph Hill retained it’s famous name and is today one of the top attractions for those visiting San Francisco.

Lillian Hitchcock Coit

The Building of Coit Tower

Those visiting San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill today will be able to explore Coit Tower. The twenty-one story high tower was constructed in 1933 during the time of the Great Depression.

Coit Tower is named after Lillian Hitchcock Coit, who donated much of her fortune to the City of San Francisco. Lillie Hitchcock Coit came to San Francisco with her parents in 1851. Her father was a surgeon and a graduate of West Point.

Coit had a colorful history. Aside from being seen smoking cigars and wearing trousers, the wealthy socialite also had an affinity for gambling and in this pursuit often dressed as a male. Lillian Coit was also very enamored with the city’s firefighters. In fact, Lillian Hitchcock Coit was listed as a volunteer firefighter. She became such a fixture at fires around San Francisco that she was actually named the official mascot for Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5. She was awarded a gold badge from the volunteer firefighters honoring her membership. It has been said that Lillian Coit was always fascinated with the fireman’s red shirt and helmet.

Mural inside of Coit Tower

Lillian Hitchcock Coit passed away in 1929. The funds used for the building of Coit Tower represented about one-third of her entire fortune. Coit also funded the construction of the “three firefighters statue” in San Francisco’s Washington Square Park.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History photo article on the Cable Cars of San Francisco. On our Western Trips site see our visit to San Francisco’s Nob Hill.

Visiting Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill today is mostly a residential area. You can actually drive up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower where there is parking available. As a walking tour, there are a several ways to reach the top and Coit Tower. You can walk up from Lombard or Greenwich Street. The Filbert Street steps, just to the south, lead through much more of the lush landscaping.


(Photos from author’s collection)