If you have never been to Fort Ross State Historic Park, just north of Jenner on the Sonoma Coast, you’re missing out on one of the most magical and historically fascinating places in the United States (I admit, I’m bias: I serve on the board of directors for Fort Ross).
Originally known as Metini, the land where Fort Ross is located was occupied for centuries by the Kashaya band of Pomo people. The Kashaya would have their first interactions with non-native people when the Russians arrived in the early 1800s to explore the coast for financial gain – otter hunting, to be exact. They would be successful – bringing back over 2,000 sea otter pelts to Alaska.
In 1812, the Russians settled at Fort Ross, with a group of Alaskan Natives who helped them built the fort. They hunted sea animals and traded with the Spanish. After nearly destroying the marine mammal population of the region, the Russians placed hunting moratoriums on seals and otters and proceeded to utilize the land for knowledge and exploration.
The Russians sold the Fort to John Sutter in 1841 and eventually it was owned by George Call in 1873. Call and his family were ranchers, who would create a ranching community that continues to thrive in the region today. In 1906, the land was purchased by the state. It’s one of the oldest state parks in California.
So what does this have to do with food and drink? Well, on Saturday, July 25, the park will host its annual Fort Ross Festival. The all day affair celebrates the many communities who lived – and continue to live – at and around Fort Ross.
Overlooking the ocean, guests can enjoy beer from various Bay Area breweries in the beer garden, including Sonoma County’s own Lagunitas, and ciders from Tilted Shed Ciderworks.
The Russians most likely drank both beer and cider when they occupied the area – including cider being made from the Fort’s historic orchard. The orchard, which guests can hike, features acres of apples, peaches, cherries, pear, quince and bergamot. Trees date back to the 1820s.
Accompanying the beer garden will be an International Food Bazaar. Guests can enjoy traditional Russian food, BBQ, crepes, curries and more from local vendors. I’m excited to sit on the cliffs at the Fort and enjoy some homemade ice cream by Guerneville’s famous Nimble & Finn’s – the best ice cream in the county.
And yes, it’s not just about food and drink: the legendary Horn Orchestra of Russia will perform, along with Kitka, Bay Area’s renowned Eastern European vocal group. Reenactors will be on hand, demonstrating traditional crafts and engaging visitor’s with moments out of Fort Ross’s history.
Community members from various California Indian tribes will share crafts, stories, and dances with guests. You never know, you might even see a whale or a sea otter, the latter have been making a slow comeback to the area.
Proceeds benefit the Fort Ross Conservancy, which helped save the park from closure during those state park budget cuts a few years back. $20 (includes park fees) per car. fortross.org