The Anza Valley was originally occupied by the Cahuilla Indians as a spring and summer retreat from the desert heat below. The desert, now known as the Coachella Valley was too intense an environment for the tribes during the summer months so they migrated to the mountains and valleys above where they collected acorns and pine nuts and hunted the local game. Remaining relatively isolated, the inland tribes did not encounter Europeans until the mid 1770s. An exploratory party of more than 240 men, women and children known as the Portolá expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza, in search of an overland route from Sonora, Mexico to Alta California first discovered the valley on his way to Monterey, Alta California. De Anza passed through the valley on March 16, 1774, and again on December 27, 1775. De Anza originally named the valley "San Carlos". The name was later changed to Cahuilla Valley and was finally renamed in his honor to Anza Valley on 16 September 1926. The “Anza Trail” stretches over 1200 miles from Nogales, Arizona to San Francisco, California. The Anza Trail was designated a National Historic Trail by Congress in 1990 through an amendment to the National Trails System Act.
During the 19th century, settlement to the Anza valley and the upper Garner Valley included ranchers, a limited number of miners, and honey producers. From the late 1860s on, Anza was largely settled by families seeking to build ranches under the Homestead Act. Early settlers include the Hamilton, Wellman, Cary, Terwilliger, Hopkins and Arnaiz families, whose names are still common today.
The Anza valley has recently been designated as an area conducive for growing wine grapes. At an altitude of around 4000 feet in elevation the valley has a drier climate along with cooler days and nights than the nearby wine country of Temecula and, some think, has the potential of growing a higher quality of grape. The drier climate minimizes mildew, which needs to be treated in many vineyards.
Though perceived by outsiders as friendly and open to newcomers, Anza has been among those unique rural communities determined to avoid the social and environmental problems of over-urbanization and since the 1980s has sought to preserve its unique and creative culture by closely scrutinizing any development plans that could give rise to dysfunctions experienced in other regions of the state.
Visitors today will discover a tight-knit community of ranches, farms, businesses and churches. The locals are friendly, but continue to preserve a culture that holds its rural history dear.