California dreamin’ includes treasure hunting off coast

When people think about California, they often think of beaches, Hollywood, Half Dome and the Golden Gate Bridge.

But how about old shipwrecks off the coast? How ‘bout gold mining?

One government entity, the State Lands Commission, knows all about those shipwrecks and the treasures they may contain. And rightly so: Treasure hunters must fork over a portion of what they find to the state.

Treasure seekers, history buffs and people who are just curious must apply with the State Lands Commission to legally search for buried treasure off the California Coast.
There’s plenty to search for.

On July 30, 1865, for example, the Brother Jonathan foundered off the coast of Crescent City, a vessel that began its journey during the Gold Rush and ended it in the West Coast trades.

In another case, researchers in October 1997 set off on the Point Reyes National Seashore (Drakes Bay) and scoured the bottom of Drakes Bay looking for the San Agustin, a Spanish galleon that sank in 1595 some 400 years earlier.

But no matter how intriguing the subject matter (what’s more exciting than buried treasure?) the bureaucracy of government gets in the way, starting with the Lands Commission.

However, dealing with any government entity, notes the federal Bureau of Land Management, can be a tedious process for treasure hunters. The steps needed to obtain a permit may even deter some.

Hunting for gold isn’t limited to coastal waters. The process that made California’s reputation around the earth, gold mining, also offers attractions.

But for those determined to hunt for riches, there are some simple requirements. According to, any citizen of the United States over the age of 18 can obtain a permit to mine for gold.

Other steps include obtaining a claim from the BLM and Forest Service that have current mining sites open.

There are four different mining claims and sites available to researchers: a Lode, a Placer, a Tunnel Site, and a Mill Site. Placers contain deposits of sand and gravel containing free gold, where a Lode is a rock placed between definite walls.

It’s also not free to mine for gold. According to the BLM website the costs vary, including a $15 service charge, a $34 location fee and a $140 maintenance payment.
According to, “In 2001, California ranked fourth in the United States in gold production. Approximately 449,200 troy ounces were produced worth about $122.3 million.”

Searching for gold is a popular activity in California, but one has to have the motivation and money to do so.

“I would love to mine for gold off of the California coast,” says Betty Gauthier, California gold enthusiast and history buff, “However, I’ve heard the costs to do so are expensive and if I don’t find any gold, then I’m out of a good sum of money.”

There have been many shipwrecks that have taken place off California, including at least one in Drakes Bay and the famous Electra, which was operated in San Francisco.

“I remember learning about the Electra at a very young age and becoming very passionate about what these ships went through,” says Paul Baumgarten, professional actor and historical collector out of Sacramento. “I learned all I could about all the ships that wrecked in California,” says Baumgarten. “I would love the opportunity to mine for gold. My wife and I are thinking about possibly going out on an expedition.”

He said the Electra went down on Oct. 16, 1894, and many of the crew were injured or lost.

“It saddens me to know these people were on these ships and some were never found,” says Baumgarten. “But it’s amazing what they were willing to endure out on the seas.”

According to author April Van Wyke in an article for the California State Lands Commission, “The La Paz, a ship of Chilean registry, was wrecked in a dramatic sea disaster in Mendocino harbor which resulted in the loss of a total of three vessels.” The La Paz shipwreck took place in 1855.

According to Lands Commission records, five people were lost in the La Paz Shipwreck and only one body was found – the captain’s wife.

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