If you’re driving along US Highway 395 through California, take an hour or so to stop at the Manzanar National Historic Site, the site of a World War II Japanese-American Internment Camp, outside of Bishop, CA. Built only in 2004, this National Park Service site is wonderfully well run and free for visitors.
When you enter the site, you’ll be struck by the stunning high desert views and stark isolation, and the first thing you’ll see is the ominous guard tower. Visitors have the option of a three mile driving tour of the barrack areas, or a stop at the interpretive center. I recommend starting at the latter, especially with kids, as this center does a great job of explaining Japanese internment during World War II. Start with the 22 minute film, then wander the auditorium (once a dance hall for the interred), looking at all the fantastic exhibits. Kids are immediately drawn to the display of what a barrack looked like inside, complete with kids’ toys and clothing, and the descriptions of school in the camp (you’ll even find a year book for middle schoolers).
The National Park rangers on-site are friendly and very knowledgable, and there’s a Junior Ranger option for kids. We walked part of the driving tour afterward, to experience a bit of the scenery (the Sierras are stunning) and camp-life of the Japanese-Americans at this time in history.
Date last visited:
Distance from the interstate:
Right off Hwy 395.
Hours of operation:
The outdoor sites are open every day, dawn to dusk. The interpretive center is open 9:00 am to 5:30 pm in the summer season, and 9 am to 4:30 pm in winter (November 1-March 31). Closed Christmas Day.
None. And most times of year, it’s either too hot, too windy, or too cold to picnic here. There are nice bathrooms and water fountains for drinking and filling up water bottles.
Manzanar is located nine miles north of Lone Pine CA (and just south of Bishop, CA), right off Hwy 395.