This week, Visit California (the state’s tourism marketing arm) announced plans to launch a new online platform aimed at promoting Indigenous tourism destinations, experiences and businesses in California.
Visit Native California will launch in March 2023 on VisitCalifornia.com with blog posts, suggested itineraries and podcasts highlighting opportunities for travelers to visit and learn more about California’s 109 federally recognized tribes and tribal communities.
The announcement was made at one of the centerpieces of tribal tourism in California, the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, which is slated to open in early 2023.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
Native California Tourism
State officials and tribal leaders from across the state gathered for a press conference last week to discuss the new platform and draw attention to some of the goals it will advance.
“Our native cultures have discovered, protected and preserved the landscapes that visitors come to California to see today,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California. “Our shared culture and lifestyle draw visitors to California … and tribal people across the state have shaped that culture and lifestyle.”
“It’s woven into California itself,” she continued, “and Visit Native California will curate, preserve, and elevate the stories of California Natives.”
Funded with a $1 million earmarked grant from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, Visit Native California will be the first federal platform to advance Native American tourism experiences the top-of-mind way, according to Beteta, the the forthcoming called Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza “the epicenter for all tribal cultural tourism in California.”
“This project, this site, gives my people an opportunity to share our culture, celebrate our culture, and educate the public about who we are as a people,” said Reid Malanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians new cultural center. “This is us. This is our story.”
“When we share our culture,” he continued, “it helps preserve our culture.”
“This is a historic step forward for Visit California,” added Sherry Rupert, CEO of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. “California is uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on the growth of tourism and attendance at tribal cultural experiences,” she said, citing the fact that nearly a quarter of all Native American-owned businesses in the US are in hospitality, employing nearly 118,000 people offer and generate $14 billion in sales per year.
Indigenous experiences throughout California
After the press conference, tourism officials, tribal representatives and media in attendance made their way to the nearby Indian Canyons Golf Resort. There they got a taste of some of the experiences and tribes travelers will be able to learn about on the Visit Native California platform once it’s live.
Among them, travelers can head to the state’s northern Oregon border and visit Yurok Country in the Redwood National Forest. There, they can learn about the Yurok’s stewardship of the old growth forests and pristine shores of this part of California, participate in guided canoe tours in massive one-piece redwood dugouts, or enjoy vibrant jet boat rides along the Klamath River.
Farther south in Tuolumne County, near the edge of Yosemite National Park, travelers can meet with members of the Me-Wuk tribe and learn their language through educational events and take part in seasonal guided tours that explore their ancient ways and way of life in the country .
About an hour’s drive northwest of Sacramento in the Capay Valley, guests at Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s Cache Creek Casino Resort can spend an afternoon sampling the gourmet olive oils and wines produced in Seka Hills, among other activities.
The meet-and-greet was followed by a lunch specially prepared by Executive Chef Crystal Wahpepah of Oakland’s Wahpepah’s Kitchen. She is a member of the Kickapoo Nation from Oklahoma but was raised in Oakland and her restaurant is a tribute to the Ohlone country where she lives and where her restaurant is located. Dishes included specialties like pumpkin squash soup with edible flowers and chilli oil and bison meatballs with dried blueberries, and a tart but sweet chia berry pudding with an acorn flour chocolate chip.
During the meal, me-wuk singers shared songs at the top of their lungs, and young Oakland tribesmen performed traditional dances.
The day presented a snapshot of the partners featured on Visit Native California. But even that was enough to reflect the variety of experiences travelers will encounter at the site, and is an encouraging step forward in promoting California tourism businesses that are locally owned and operated, albeit other states and others Nations around the world are beginning to seek their own indigenous tourism businesses to attract travelers.
Given the size of California’s Native American population and the range of activities, places, and landscapes for travelers to explore, the state could truly become a driving force for Native American-inspired travel in the United States and beyond. Hopefully that will be the case once Visit Native California launches.
However, the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza is reason enough to be optimistic about the future of Indigenous tourism in the state.
Brings Native American culture to downtown Palm Springs
The Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza will be a multifaceted complex where visitors can learn more about the traditional residents of the Palm Springs area and their more than 500 modern descendants. It will be the second largest Native American cultural center in the country.
The center has been in the works since 2015, with groundbreaking in May 2018, and is scheduled to open in early 2023 at the corner of East Tahquitz Canyon Way and North Indian Canyon Drive. The 14-acre property is located right in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, just blocks from popular hotels in town including the pet-friendly Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs and the Hyatt Palm Springs.
Designed by JCJ Architecture and The Penta Building Group in collaboration with the Cahuilla Nation, the center will consist of a number of individual components. A new iteration of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum will house art and artifacts dating back thousands of years. An Oasis Trail featuring a water feature lined with native California fan palms gives visitors a glimpse of the region’s unique ecology.
There will also be an expansive wellness facility called Spa at Sec-he, which means “boiling water” and alludes to the hot mineral springs from which Palm Springs takes its name. In addition to the 22 treatment rooms, visitors can enjoy men’s and women’s bathhouses and a relaxation garden for relaxing before or after treatments, as well as outdoor mineral pools for soothing soaks, a salon and fitness center.
Come for the museum, stay for the spa…or vice versa.
As for Visit Native California, the platform promises to be an exciting first step in highlighting the many peoples who inhabited California before the arrival of Europeans and in supporting the compelling tourism activities that their descendants created as they spread strive to share their cultures with visitors to this day.