Historic Day Trips in the East Bay

A playwright's home, a mission, a museum and a memorial have their own unique story to tell as visitors gain insight on the past.

Credit: missionsanjose.org
Credit: missionsanjose.org

Written by Bill Zavestoski

Sometimes history is right in our midst, but unless we were lucky enough to visit on an elementary school field trip, we might not have any idea that something significant has happened in our own backyard.

Hop in the car with the family and spend a day getting to know these historic sites within easy driving distance of East Bay. The best part? You can get to all these destinations on one tank of gas (or less).

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

1000 Kuss Rd.


(925) 838-0249

Why Go? You may get inspired to write a masterpiece of your own after seeing where America's only Nobel Prize winning playwright, Eugene O'Neill, created his most memorable plays like Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten. All were written in Tao House on the 158-acre ranch O'Neill and his wife bought in 1937, drawn by the privacy and climate of the San Ramon Valley.

Insider Tip: All visitors must take a free National Park Service shuttle from Danville to the home and grounds. Shuttles leave from The Museum of the San Ramon Valley at 205 Railroad Ave.

Must Do: Take advantage of the guided tours offered on Fridays and Sundays, for which you must make reservations in advance. On Saturdays, you can go the self-guided route and don't have to make a reservation.  

The Fine Print: There is no entrance fee—even the shuttle ride is free. Shuttles on guided-tour days leave at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., while on "Saturdays Without Reservations," you can hop aboard at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m..

Mission San Jose

43300 Mission Blvd. (at Washington Blvd.)


(510) 657-1797

Why Go? The Spanish missionaries had no reservations (pun intended) about putting Native Americans to work at the missions. It helped secure Spain's hold in Alta California and spread Christianity to the masses (do I detect another pun?). See what everyday life was like for these folks in the early 19th century.

Insider Tip: Flash photography is prohibited inside the mission. ”There were lots of artifacts on display, and lots of paintings and drawings that you can't find in books or online," a recent visitor wrote online. "Overall, it was insightful and informative."

Must Do: Stroll through the adjacent cemetery and note the birth and death years dating to the 1800s on many of the gravestones.  

The Fine Print: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Self-guided tours at $3 for adults and $2 for students are available during those hours, with check-in at the gift shop. The only reservations needed are for the docent-led tours offered at 1 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month; $5 for adults and $2 for students.

Museum of the San Ramon Valley

205 Railroad Ave.  


(925) 837-3750

Why Go: The museum is housed in the restored 1891 Danville Depot and features a permanent exhibit of local valley history.

Insider Tip: Reserved tours with a docent can be scheduled during open or closed hours by appointment. In the spring, walking tours of Old Town Danville, Alamo Cemetery and the Tassajara One Room School House are offered.

Must Do: The Museum features a permanent exhibit of local valley history, beginning with geology and prehistoric times all the way to the present day.

The Fine Print: Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for students with an ID, $1 for children and there's a $5 family admission. The museum is open just three hours a day: 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

Military Ocean Terminal 


(925) 228-8860

Why Go: To honor the 320 men killed on July 17, 1944 when the munitions ships they were loading for the Pacific theater troops exploded. It was the greatest loss of life on the home front during World War II. In October 2009, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial became the 392nd unit of the National Park Service.

Insider Tip: The memorial is located on five acres at Military Ocean Terminal Concord, a semi-active military base. Reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance and visitors are shuttled to the memorial on National Park Service vehicles from the Concord Naval Weapons Station Identity (ID) Office. Park in the visitor parking lot at MOTC. All visitors must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and have a government-issued ID.

Must Do: Just stand, look out and imagine what happened that tragic night. It may not be as haunting as the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, but you'll get a chill learning more about the history of the site.

The Fine Print: Tours, lasting about 90 minutes, are available Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. There is no fee for the shuttle or tour.


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