Surprisingly, the Wells Fargo Museum paints a vivid portrait of early California life by using the company’s once-vital stagecoaches as a centerpiece. For generations, the Wells Fargo wagon was the West Coast’s primary lifeline; if you didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to use it (a ticket from Omaha to Sacramento was $300), then you’d be forced to take a long boat trip around Cape Horn. The curators have done a good job bringing the past to life by including biographies of some of the grizzled drivers of the 1800s, posting plenty of old ads, allowing visitors to climb aboard a nine-seat wagon, furnishing a reproduction of a “mug book” of highway robbers from the 1870s, and even putting together a sort of CSI: Stagecoach re-created investigation revealing how they’d catch thieves after the fact. Wells Fargo has lost a lot of its cache in American culture; the Western theme fascinated kids in the 1950s but faded soon after. This well-assembled, two-story museum (budget about 45 min.) helps restore some of that imagination again. There’s a free audio tour, too, although everything is so well signed you won’t need it.
- Erika Lennert