30 Things to Do in Northern California

Seasonal ideas: What to do in Northern California, Winter 2017-18:

See my ideas for what to do in Northern California in February

The new SFMOMA is supposed to be amazing.

Go snowshoeing, skiing or snowboarding at Lake Tahoe (see my ski lesson experience here)

See the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park (see more: where to see elephant seals)

Wine country with thinner crowds? Check out winter in Napa Valley.

Additional resources and recommended places to stay are listed at the bottom of this post. Click on the images here for my favorite guidebooks:


30 things to do in Northern California:

gold country road trip

A lot of people visit this blog looking for ideas for Northern California because I write so much about my home region (find more in the California category or subscribe to my quarterly newsletter for much more about NorCal). But you should know that you can find many suggestions for specific regions in my other “30 things to do” posts:

What to do in Napa Valley

What to do in the Monterey Bay area,

What to do in Lake Tahoe,

What to do in San Francisco

What to do in Sacramento

What to do in Mendocino County

And to save money: free things to do in Northern California, hotel deals in California, and affordable family travel ideas in Northern California.

Of course this post can’t cover all of Northern California! The region is huge, and I’d need a book to cover it all, so I’ve chosen to include the places that I know well and love.

What to do in Northern California

What to do on the Northern California coast

1. Hike at Bodega Head or Stornetta Public Lands

30 Things to Do in Northern California | This Is My Happiness

Bodega Head, a dramatic cliff that juts out into the sea, is a gorgeous place to walk and, in the winter and early spring, even watch whales. There was a whale playing in the water the day that I was there, and it was one of the most beautiful walks I had ever taken. The volunteers on site will let you know if any whales have been spotted that day. Learn more about travel in Bodega Bay here.

Or try one of my favorite hikes in Northern California at Stornetta Public Lands near Point Arena. It’s uncrowded and offers the chance to see seals swimming in the calm waters between the rock tables.

2. See elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park

What to do in Northern California: Elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

Elephant seals gather in this protected area just south of San Francisco year-round for mating, birthing, and molting. You can observe the elephant seals just about any time of the year, but the guided tour in the winter might be the best choice, especially if you want to see the huge males fighting. Find out how to make visit them here: where to see elephant seals.

3. Point Reyes National Seashore

What to do in Northern California: Visit Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a peninsula that extends 10 miles out into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. It is the best raw, rugged nature in this part of the state: dramatic cliffs, strong winds and crashing waves, elk and deer roaming the hills, and barking seals at the beaches. The Point Reyes lighthouse sits precariously down a large staircase at the very tip of the peninsula. Winter and spring are good times to visit for whale watching and the seal viewing. Learn more here: what to do in Point Reyes.

4. Russian Gulch State Park on the Mendocino coast

This is one of the state’s most stunning state parks. The entire Mendocino coast is worth visiting, especially if you like your scenery a bit rugged with fewer crowds. Bring a picnic lunch and eat at one of the tables with incredible views of the water, take in the scenery of the bridge and cliffside walks, and visit the Devil’s Punchbowl. Kids will love the beach, where a creek runs along the sand until it meets the sea.

What to do in Northern California wine country

For more California wine country tips, check out my complete 3-day Napa Valley itinerary, hotels deals in the wine country, or Top 10 California Wine Country.

5. Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma: What to do in Sonoma

What to do in Sonoma: Cornerstone Gardens

This eclectic outdoor space just outside Sonoma consists of plots that have been designed by some of the world’s leading landscape architects. What results is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours, a nice way to break up wine tasting time, and a family-friendly stop if you have kids. Plus, Sunset Magazine now has its test gardens there.

6. The Meritage Resort & Spa: Where to stay in Napa

There are many excellent spas in Northern California; unfortunately, I have visited very few. The spa at the Meritage Resort, just outside of the city of Napa in the southern part of Napa Valley, is gorgeous. It’s built in a large cave (directly under the vineyards pictured above). The Meritage offers day-spa services plus great wine tasting at Trinitas, use of the hotel’s beautiful pool, and hiking in the hills above the spa. Looks for the lowest prices at the Meritage on Booking.com.

Insider’s tip: If you stay at the resort, ask for a room that’s not above the bowling alley. Take the hotel shuttle into town to avoid driving after dinner and wine.

7. Experience the quiet of Anderson Valley wine country near Mendocino

What to do in Northern California: Anderson Valley

If the subtlety of Pinot Noir is your thing, don’t miss the quiet beauty of Anderson Valley. This narrow valley is nestled in the soft rolling hills just outside the redwood forest that leads to the rocky shores of the Mendocino coast. Wineries here are laid back –expect friendly service, very low tasting fees, and wines that reflect the cooler weather of this lesser-known wine country. Check out MendoWine for more information.

8. Road trip through Livermore Valley, Napa, Sonoma, or Alexander Valley wine country

What to do in Northern California: visit Livermore Valley

Let yourself get lost on the small roads of Northern California wine country, especially in Sonoma, Napa, Alexander and Livermore Valleys. The hills and wineries provide the perfect scenery, which changes depending on the season. In winter, expect bright yellow mustard growing between bare vines; in spring, expect rolling green hills; in summer, expect dry brown hills and full green vines; and in fall, expect vibrant fall colors in the vineyards.

Livermore Valley is located farther south (it’s east of the Bay Area) and offers beautiful scenery, friendly wineries, and excellent wines at places like Wente Vineyards and Murrieta’s Well.

Alexander Valley lies in the northern part of Sonoma County. Its vine-covered hills, quirky towns, and off-the-radar wineries make this area very worth exploring. It’s a wilder version of Napa Valley–much less crowded, less expensive, but just as beautiful. See more of Alexander Valley here.

Insider’s tip: There are many beautiful back roads all over NorCal wine country, but beware of driving in Napa Valley — the traffic can be terrible on weekends. Avoid Highway 29 though Napa Valley because it can be slow. I prefer the Silverado Trail, but another good option is to take 29 north and then cut over to the Silverado Trail to head back south. In Alexander Valley, take Dry Creek Rd.

9. Hiking in Napa Valley and Sonoma County

The wine country isn’t just about wine — the nature there is also beautiful, and there are many great areas for hiking. Look for state parks, search for hiking suggestions online for the specific place you’ll be, or ask at the tourism offices for trail information. There are some good hikes in the hills around Calistoga in Napa Valley, or combine a hike with some history at Bale Grist Mill State Park.

10. Visit boutique wineries

Boutique wineries in Northern California

Boutique wineries produce wine in small quantities. Most boutique wineries sell their wines only at the wineries or at a few local collectives or specialty shops. The wines are usually very good, and because there are only a few hundred to a few thousand cases of the wine, a certain feeling of experiencing something special comes along with the tasting. Boutique wineries are generally smaller, friendlier, and offer a more personalized experience.

Some of my favorites are Envy Wines in Napa Valley, the small wine tasting rooms in Downtown Napa (especially John Anthony Vineyards), Blair Estate in Carmel, McCay Cellars and other small wineries in Lodi, Murrieta’s Well in Livermore Valley, Lula Cellars near Mendocino, and Three Wine Co. in Clarksburg.

11. Art in unexpected places in Napa Valley

What to do in Napa Valley: Art in Napa Valley

Several wineries in Napa Valley house art collections, and wineries and tasting rooms all over Northern California host art exhibits. For much more about art in Napa Valley, click here.

12. Napa Valley’s showstopping wineries

What wineries to visit in Napa Valley

Even though these are already well-known, I felt that I had to include them because they’re special in their own way. Places like Castello di Amorosa, Chateau Montelana, Beringer, V. Sattui, Silverado, and Robert Mondavi may lack the personal touch of the small wineries but have beautiful gardens, impressive architecture, and fun tours that make them popular among visitors to the valley. I’d recommend visiting one or two and spending the rest of your time in smaller wineries. (Find much more about Napa Valley here.)

Insider’s tip: These wineries can be crowded. Choose which one you want to visit based on the type of experience you are looking for. Get there early and then spend the rest of the day at small wineries that will be less crowded. A fun alternative is the tasting rooms and Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa.

13. See redwoods at Armstrong Redwood Preserve, northern Sonoma County

Where to see redwoods near Sonoma

This state park is located north of Guerneville in Sonoma County and provides a completely different look at the nature in rural wine country. From camping to day hikes and easy family-friendly walks, this forest is a wonderful place to experience the beauty of Northern California.

Plus where to eat in Napa and Sonoma wine countries:

Where to eat in Napa and Sonoma

Oh my Lord, the food in Northern California is just amazing, and the wine country has some of the region’s best restaurants. Try Catelli’s in Geyserville, All Seasons Bistro in Calistoga, The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, and Oenotri, Tarla Grill, ZuZu, and Grace’s Table in downtown Napa. Less expensive options include Ca’ Momi Enoteca, C Casa, Pica Pica, and other purveyors in the Oxbow Public Market in Downtown Napa.

What to do in the Bay Area

14. UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Berkeley

What to do in the Bay Area: Berkeley botanical garden

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places in Northern California. Its 34 acres of plants from around the world, including rare and endangered plant species, are beautifully displayed among the hills above Berkeley. It’s also a wonderful place for children to run and explore nature. Find out more about it here.

15. Ferry Building, San Francisco

The Ferry Building is not only the place where commuters get on and off the ferry; it’s also an indoor food market that showcases the best local food products from the San Francisco area. Stop in here to browse and grab a quick lunch or sit down for a meal–you can even take a spot outside overlooking the water. Depending on your schedule, take a ferry to Sausalito or around the Bay, or cross the street and check out the huge fountain sculpture. You can read the 5 reasons I love the Ferry Building here.

16. Museums in San Francisco

San Francisco Museums with Kids

I’m a firm believer in spending as much time outside in a destination as possible, which means that even though I love art and museums, I often skip them in lieu of a long walk or slow afternoon in a cafe. Many visitors to San Francisco might not realize what they’re missing in the museums because the city has so much to see outdoors. The world-class exhibitions at the de Young, MOMA, Legion of Honor, and Asian Art Museum, plus the insanely cool kid-friendly exhibits in the new California Academy of Sciences and Exploratorium, are definitely worth looking into. (See more about visiting San Francisco here and here.)

Insider’s tip: Enter the de Young Museum, go directly to the right, and head for the tower elevators. Take the elevator to the viewing platform and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Then exit through the museum and take a stroll through the sculpture garden. Both are free and open to all.

Save time to hike around the Legion of Honor Museum. Just down the path from the museum are wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, especially nice at sunset.

What to do in the Sacramento area

17. UC Davis Arboretum, Davis

What to do near Sacramento: UC Davis Arboretum

University of California at Davis is known around the world for its programs with plants, agriculture, and now wine and even beer making. The university’s campus in the cute college town of Davis sits about 20 minutes west of Sacramento. The arboretum’s 100 acres of gardens include plants from all over the world, divided into collections, such as Australia, the Desert, and East Asia. Because the weather is nice here most of the year, you can spend an easy day in Davis soaking up the town’s quirky atmosphere and walking the arboretum with a picnic stop along the way.

Insider’s tip: Find out which the areas you want to visit first because unless you have a bike, you probably won’t want to walk the whole 3.5 mile loop. Visitor parking is available along the route (get a map here). The Desert areas and Redwood Grove are must-sees.

18. Sacramento restaurants, Midtown Sacramento

Grange Sacramento: Farm to fork restaurant in Sacramento

Sacramento has been called the Farm-to-Fork capital of the United States. This means that the food here tends to be very fresh, coming from all the farmland that surrounds the city, and that restaurants prepare menus from what’s seasonal and local. There are many good places to eat and drink, especially in Midtown, including Biba, Red Rabbit, Centro, Grange, Ella, Kru, Pushkin’s, Magpie, Mother, Hook & Ladder, and Thai Basil. Find out more about Sacramento’s food scene here.

And Vietnamese food, Sacramento

Sacramento is home to a huge Vietnamese population (many of whom I am fortunate to have as my students), so this is a great place to try their food. Little Saigon is the center of the Vietnamese community, but you can find pho places all over town. Because I don’t eat much meat, my favorite Vietnamese place is a vegan restaurant on Broadway, alongside many good ethnic restaurants. The owner is a Buddhist and takes great care in serving cruelty-free, fresh food that honors Vietnamese traditions and health at the same time. (Read more about it here).

And breakfast in the outdoor garden of Tower Cafe, Sacramento

Tower Cafe is a fixture in Sacramento, especially loved for its lush outdoor garden and fun food. The restaurant serves an always-changing mix of globally-inspired dishes in a casual atmosphere. My favorite way to experience Tower is to come in the morning and have a slow breakfast outdoors. The seasonal French toast is famous — custard-filled baguettes with a compote of beautiful seasonal fruits. Insider’s tip: If you go on a weekend, get there early to avoid a long wait for a table outside.

19. Sacramento’s Coffee Culture

Sacramento is one of the nation’s hottest coffee cities now with local roasters taking awards and plenty of variety to please anyone’s taste. The award-winning coffees at Temple (with three cafe locations) make it the city’s best-known coffee roaster, but other standouts include Insight Coffee, Naked Coffee, and Chocolate Fish Coffee.

20. Capitol Park, Sacramento

What to do near Sacramento

Capitol Park, in the center of Downtown Sacramento, is one of the city’s nicer outdoor spaces. Go inside the large capitol building to see the dome and the historic rooms. Then spend time walking the park and admiring the variety of trees from all over the world as well as the rose garden and war memorials. Find more activities in Sacramento here.

21. Experience farm-to-fork at farmer’s markets, Sacramento, Davis and Lodi

Sacramento farmers market largest

Most of California’s cities and towns have frequent farmers’ markets, especially in the summer when the variety of local produce will make your head spin. Sacramento has a market just about every day; the largest is on Sundays 8-12 under the freeway at 8th and W. There are nice smaller ones in Downtown/Midtown Sacramento during the week–get the schedule here.

The farmers’ market in Davis is quite an event, complete with musicians, food stalls, art, and many different food products from the region, including great organic produce, local cheeses, and olive oil. While the Sacramento markets have a similar variety of products, the Davis market stands out because it’s a community event that is fun for the whole family. It’s open Saturdays and, in the summer, Wednesday evenings.

The market in Lodi is a big event with locally grown produce plus cheese, local wines, and small bites hosted by area restaurants. Thursday evenings in the summer in Downtown Lodi.

22. Biking to Folsom

The Sacramento area is perfect for biking because it’s flat and has good bike trails. The best trail is the American River Bike Trail that runs 32 miles from downtown Sacramento to Folsom. There are many points where you can get on the trail and, if you don’t have a bike, you can rent one. The Nimbus Fish Hatchery makes a fun stop along the way, especially if you have kids. Visit the bike trail website here.

What to do south of Sacramento

23. The wines of Clarksburg

Where to taste wine near Sacramento

Just south of Sacramento is a quiet wine country nestled in farmland along the Sacramento River. The Old Sugar Mill is an old building where you can taste wine from 10 local wineries. Tasting fees are about $5 per person, and it’s open 11-5 every day. Try the wines at Three Wine Co. and Due Vigne. Bogle Winery is hidden down small winding roads. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, tastings are free, and the property has a nice outdoor picnic area. Friday evenings in the summer mean lots of fun with live music and people sprawled on the grass with wine and picnics. Open 11-5 daily.

24. Lodi Wine Country

Where to taste wine: Lodi wine country

Lodi wine country is one of my favorite Northern California finds. If you like wine country where tasting costs next to nothing and comes without pretension (but really good wines!), Lodi is for you. It’s home to about 100 (!) different wine varietals and many excellent California wines, including their most famous grape, Zinfandel, as well as less expected ones like Verdelho, Tempranillo, and even Cinsault.

This is a good area to experience harvest and crush (without the crowds and prices of Napa Valley). The town is a real slice of rural California valley and has several good restaurants. My recommendations are McCay Cellars, Harney Lane Winery, Borra Vineyards, Oak Farm Vineyards, Bokish Vineyards, plus Riaza Wines and Jeremy Wine Co. for downtown tasting rooms. Learn more about Lodi wine country here.

25. Go birding & See Sandhill Cranes, South of Sacramento

The valley of California is a haven for migrating birds. In late fall and winter, enormous sandhill cranes and other birds from far north settle here. Places to see birds include the Isenberg Crane Reserve near Lodi and the Cosumnes River Preserve between Sacramento and Lodi.

What to do in the mountains of Northern California

26. Lassen National Park

things to do in Northern California national park | Photo credit: Markus Spiering on Flickr

California’s national parks can be crowded (have you been to Yosemite over Spring Break?!), but Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the state’s lesser-known and less crowded parks. There are several places to camp in Lassen: try one of the new rustic cabins at Manzanita Lake or the tent cabins at Volcano Adventure Camp for kids (to open in August).

Photo credit: Markus Spiering on Flickr

27. Eat at Trokay Restaurant, Truckee

When Trokay Restaurant owners John and Nyna Weatherson moved to Truckee from New York City, they brought their superb culinary training and experience with them. This cozy, modern restaurant in Truckee’s historic downtown was where I had the best meal I’ve ever had! The French-inspired New American cuisine includes flavors, colors, textures, and ingredients so interesting and perfectly executed that I really couldn’t wait to see what was next. Trokay offers a regular dinner menu and two prix-fixe menus with the option of adding wine pairings. Most salads start at $14 and entrees at $36.

28. Go hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains

What to do in Northern California | This Is My Happiness

If you haven’t been to Lake Tahoe, it’s reason enough to come to Northern California. It really is stunning, especially in the winter and spring when the mountains are covered in snow, contrasting with the deep blue of the lake. More about Tahoe and its hiking trails here and here. Try hiking at Squaw, the Flume Trail, the Shirley Canyon Trail, and the trails from D.L. Bliss State Park.

There is something for everyone in the Sierra Nevada, especially around Lake Tahoe. Above is the view from above Squaw Valley. Most of the year, you can hike the state parks, bike the flat trails near Lake Tahoe, or go boating, kayaking, and river tubing. In the winter and spring, you can snowshoe in the state parks, ski, and take in the spectacular views.

Insider’s tip: Avoid the casino hotels; instead, rent a house near the lake or try one of the area’s elegant hotels or inns.

30 Things to Do in Lake Tahoe, California | This Is My Happiness.com

Near Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a nice town to spend a couple of days–there’s shopping, excellent food, and, of course, many skiing and hiking options. Above is the Truckee River Legacy Trail. Donner Memorial State Park is a nice stop for walking, a picnic, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing when there’s snow, and learning about the Donner Party in the park’s small museum.

29. Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Where to see giant sequoias in Northern California:

In the old Gold Country east of Sacramento and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this area has beautiful scenery, growing wine production, and historic towns like Columbia and Murphys. This is a side of California that many don’t expect: rugged, rural, and totally fun, but the Big Trees State Park is a true wonder. Giant sequoias and other varieties of large trees withstood the exploitation of the 19th century, and now easy walking paths take visitors through groves of both new and old trees.

30. Apple picking and apple pies in Apple Hill

what to do in Northern California in the fall

Apple Hill just outside of Placerville in El Dorado County is a wonderful place to spend a day no matter the season, but it’s especially fun in the fall. Come here for apple picking (try 24 Carrot Farm for organic you-pick apples) and fresh apple pies (try Apple Pantry Farm for the best). More about Apple Hill here.

And besides Apple Hill, little stands selling just-picked fruit and other products like vegetables and eggs are all over Northern California. Some simply have a box for you to put your money in. Others sell fruit that is pesticide-free even if the farm is not certified organic.

Insider’s tip: Summer is the best season for fruit in Northern California. Early summer brings apricots, cherries, and strawberries, while mid-summer brings nectarines, peaches, pluots, plums, raspberries, and blueberries. Late summer and fall are good times for figs and persimmons.

What would you like to do in Northern California? If you’ve spent time here, what are your suggestions?

Shop for what to wear while visiting Northern California:

Recommended places to stay in Northern California:

The City of Napa:

The Meritage Resort: A full service resort with spa, dining, pool, hiking and wine tasting on-site

RiverPointe Resort: A budget option with individual mini cottages, family-friendly amenities, and a walking trail

The Westin Verasa: The quality and upscale design you expect from Westin in a convenient location


The Citizen Hotel: Located in the heart of downtown, this is a beautiful boutique hotel

The Westin: Luxury on the riverfront


Little River Inn: A beautiful family-friendly property

Brewery Gulch Inn: Award-winning small hotel where local food is king

San Francisco:

The Westin St. Francis: Historic hotel on Union Square

Super 8 Union Square: A clean budget hotel in a superb location

Kensington Park Hotel: Boutique hotel in a historic building one block from Union Square

This apartment is amazing (click here for $40 off your first Airbnb stay)

Lake Tahoe/Truckee:

Red Wolf Lodge Squaw Valley: A family-friendly option with easy access to hiking, skiing & the Village at Squaw Valley

The Hyatt North Lake Tahoe: The convenience of a full resort with beach access on the North Shore

Condos at Northstar: My family loved staying here–the condos are cozy & comfortable

The Ritz-Carlton at Northstar: If you’re looking for luxury and a superb ski location, this is it.

Sea Ranch/Gualala:

Il Tramonto vacation rental: One of our favorite places! If you’re looking for wild beauty on the coast, stay here!

Additional resources:

Fodor’s Guide to Northern California

Top 10 California Wine Country

30 Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

30 Things to Do in Napa Valley

30 Things to Do in San Francisco

A Day Trip to Apple Hill

A Day Trip to Bodega Bay

The Historic Architecture of California

A Romantic Getaway in Napa Valley

Winter in the Wine Country

The Perfect Day in Berkeley

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley

The Perfect Day Trip to Sacramento

A Local’s Guide to Sacramento

The Perfect Day Trip to San Francisco

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Napa Valley with Kids

Lake Tahoe: 5 Things to Do with Kids in Winter

48 Hours in Truckee

Two Museums in San Francisco

Warm Weather Activities at Lake Tahoe

Top 25 Things to Do in California

You may also be interested in my three-day guide to Napa Valley

Join me on Pinterest and Instagram for more travel and design inspiration from California.

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30 Things to Do in Northern California



  • LOVE this list!

    I would include Tilden Park in the East Bay – the steam trains, Little Farm, Botanical Garden and Merry-Go-Round make it a perfect spot to go with little ones. You definitely need a car to get there and from place to place.

    San Francisco has great playgrounds. We spent a day last summer going from one to another using a city map and a parent user group list. http://www.ggmg.org/Playgrounds/playground_summary.html

    Riding BART was a treat for our little one and she would have happily stayed on the train all day.

    The Train Museum in Sacramento is a perfect place for toddlers. It’s gigantic, everything in there was meant to be touched and there is an entire room upstairs with toy trains to play with. Perfect place for rainy, windy, or too hot days.

    Northern California, you spoil us!

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, it does spoil us. That is, until the valley temps hit 100s like they will this week. Eek.
      Thanks for the suggestions. I haven’t been to Tilden Park but it’s on my list now!
      I actually have another big post of things to do with kids in the area, and the train museum will be in that post for sure. I love that place.

      • Brady Leith says:


        We’re getting married in Vegas, May 1st, (elegant not Elvis impersonators). We are trying to plan a honeymoon trip. We’ve decided to drive from Vegas May 2nd to Lake Tahoe, for 2 or 3 nights, then driving to San Fran/Northern California for 2/3 nights. We have 4 days, 5 nights. We’re 52 and 51, not hikers or joggers, mostly seeking the BEST VIEW of Lake/Mountain from our room/deck in Tahoe. Our plan is simply REST, kick back and not feel rushed. However we surely don’t want to just sit and read a book the entire time. Our flights leave San Fran airport on Saturday May 7th. So we have We generally consume about 9 or 10 bottles of wine/week. Our favorite is LaCrema Red/Pinot Noir (Williamette/Russian Valley/Sonoma Coast/Monterrey) My fiance’ would love to visit their winery.
        We’re big sports fans, (Alabama Football!! ROLL TIDE!!) So, naturally we’ll get tickets to San Francisco Giants baseball game. And of course we would love to get pictures and views of Golden Gate Bridge. I wish we had time to visit everything, Fishermans Wharf, China Town, ride a cable car…..My fiancé would enjoy anything considered “fun”. We’re not arts and crafts people although she might like a museum.
        Being from Fairhope ALabama we’re conservatives. We would like to visit an area pub, wear our jeans one night, then the next night find some fine dining, experimenting with west coast fish. We live 2 miles from Mobile Bay, 25 miles from Gulf Of Mexico so we really enjoy our Oysters, Shrimp, Grouper, Snapper, Red Fish…..
        Can you share with us your ideas. We may never get to visit the west coast again, although we visit Vegas two or 3 times per year. So its very possible we’ll plan another NOCAL visit. I hope you have a chance to offer your input for 2 true southerner’s. We’ll return the favor if you ever want to visit our Alabama Beaches, or our lovely town of Fairhope. Its very nice here. Very peaceful, great schools and the folks love trees and flowers. Every street corner is planted with beautiful flowers for each season. We have many festivals, Mardi Gras and a great book store, Page and Pallet.
        Thanks for your help.

        • Jenna says:

          Hi Brady, Sounds like a really fun trip! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I will send you an email as soon as I can. However, in a situation like this where you are looking for a lot of ideas, I usually recommend that people contact the tourism office of the place you’ll be visiting. They know the ins and outs of the destination and are experts at recommending where to stay and what to do based on your interests and budget.

    • Vanc says:

      Wow, i agree awsome list !

      Too bad that Yosemite is not considered as in northern California, it was my favourite place in California, and one of the most famous I’m sure : http://peertinet.com/rv/Places_to_Visit_in_California.php

      Maybe I would have added some village where we can discover the gold history (I don’t remember the name of the one I visited)

  • Awesome. Pinned for future reference! Have done southern Cal but never north. Would love to see Lake Tahoe, do the wineries and up to Redwoods!

  • Jennifer says:

    Great list! There are some wine areas you listed tat I’d love to visit! Another thing on my bucket list for Northern California are the Red Woods and Sequoia National Park.

  • I will be forwarding this to my friend – a fellow art historian. She is moving to San Francisco in September and now I have a reason to visit more often!

    Great list!


  • naomi says:

    Very extensive post about the many things to do in Northern California! I’d recommend it for any travelers!

  • Ayngelina says:

    What a great list, thanks for sharing this 🙂

  • lola says:

    gorgeous photos here! i’m coming to Napa in September and will have to go back to this post for ideas. i’ve heard the wine train is great. 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      My posts about Napa Valley would be even more useful, I think. I love that area! Let me know when you come through–maybe I could meet you for a glass of wine? 🙂

  • Inspiring post, Jenna, especially the photo of the Davis Arboretum–gorgeous!

  • Charu says:

    Great list–will be so helpful for me when I visit Tahoe later on!

  • jill says:

    The longer I live here in California the more I realise that we’re so lucky. So many things to do all year around.

  • Gidget says:

    How can you list “Northern California” without actually mentioning the northern part of California? Haven’t you ever been up here? Nothing beats the beautiful waterfalls of Whiskeytown Lake, and McCloud. Also, Mt. Shasta is unbelievably gorgeous!

    • Jenna says:

      I was specific in the first part of the post in mentioning the area this post covers. There is no other term for the areas that this post includes, but because it doesn’t cover the entire northern half of California (which is HUGE!), I made sure to be clear that I was covering the areas from the Bay Area in the west to Lake Tahoe in the east, Lodi in the south and the top of Sonoma County in the north. Northern California is technically the entire northern half of the state–it starts down in Monterey County and goes all the way up to the Oregon border. No, I have not been to the places you mentioned, but I look forward to doing so, hopefully early next year.

    • Jennifer says:

      Agreed! I married into a Redding family, and have absolutely fallen in love with the area. Burney Falls is also a must see!

      • Tammy says:

        I’m a second generation Reddingite, my mother’s parents came from Trinity Co. so I’m quite a native here. As a young adult, I couldn’t wait to get away. And I did, for 5 years. But I found that I missed the mountains that surround us on all sides but the south.
        For anyone who loves nature, this is the place to come! Redding is a nice town, but within minutes you are up in the mountains with access to all types of outdoor adventures to choose from. We also have wineries that you can tour and taste. It doesn’t get much better than it does here I feel.

  • Ann says:

    Great post! I have lived in CA my whole life, but just moved to Northern California 5 years ago. Many of the things you mention I still need to try. I would say you definitely need to make it to the far north part of the state. There really is gorgeous scenery up there. The Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta, and the drive up Hwy 70 up to Quincy are so worth the trip. In the spring there are literally hundreds / maybe even thousands of waterfalls off of HWY 70 and the Feather River winds through the canyon below. It really is breathtaking. The coast all the way up to Oregon is gorgeous too. Way Northern California has the rugged, sparsely populated terrain and even makes you think maybe you aren’t still in the most populous state.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for the suggestions! Yes, I definitely am looking forward to exploring more of the state. The Lassen area has been on my list for quite a while. There is just so much to see and do within 2-3 hours of here that we end up traveling a lot in the lower half of NorCal.

  • Monna W says:

    There is so much more to northern California than Napa, Bay area, and Sacramento. I am sorry you have not taken the time to explore. For those of us who really live here, Sacramento is thd crntral valley and the Bay area is central coast. Napa and Sonoma are Wine country.

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for your comment, but a more careful look at the post will show that I cover more than just the 3 areas you mention, that I do in fact live here, and that I did not intend to cover Northern California in its entirety. As I mentioned above, Northern California is considered everything from Monterey up to the border with Oregon. I wanted to give suggestions for the areas listed (which also include Tahoe, Amador Cty, Lodi, the Delta, and Sonoma County), which are all parts of Northern California.

  • Joseff says:

    Wow! These are all wonderful places to visit in Northern California but I think my number 1 choice would be to check out and explore the seafood in Bodega Bay because that’s just one of my favorite dishes. Thanks for sharing these amazing places in Northern California, hoping to explore more soon.

  • MarkM says:

    Good places. BUT… Technically, these aren’t really Northern CA. I know locals call it No. Ca. (I lived there for over 20 years), and it has bugged me the whole time. These are all locations in, essentially the Bay Area… Which is about mid-way in the state. There’s nearly half a state North of the Bay Area, which I consider Northern California. You should be more accurate.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for the comment, and while I know that Northern California includes much more than this post covers, I would have to disagree with your definition of the places. I’ve lived here for 15 years total, and as you said, not only do people who live here refer to this area as NorCal, but Northern California is considered the northern half of the state on many, many resources I’ve checked. If I called this post “30 things to do in the Bay Area,” that would not be accurate at all since the Bay Area doesn’t even include Sacramento or any places east of that. It’s hard to find a title when these specific regions don’t have a name that encompasses them, so I did my best.

      • Tammy says:

        Resources aside Jenna, people that live north of Sacramento consider anything north of Sacramento as Northern Cali. From south of Sacramento is Central Cali, and from Bakersfield south is Southern Cali. I’ve lived here all my life, you will not find any reference to this. It’s a far Northern Cali thing.

        • Jenna says:

          Good point that people who live in the far north of California would not consider the area north of Sac as Northern California. Since I live in Sacramento, I will stick to the words–we definitely consider this to be NorCal!

  • Bonnie says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions for where would be the best area to visit to see the big trees in No Cal? It looks like there are different areas for Redwoods and Sequoias. Crater Lake sounds really neat too and I’d like to see Alcatraz. Is it impossible to see these things in one week? I am very geographically challenged and with CA being so big, it’s hard to wrap my head around planning a trip. We’d be coming from the East Coast so we’d like to get as much bang for the buck as we could. Our son is in LA, is it feasible that we could fly into LA and drive north and see alot that way. Any suggestions? It would all be new to us so I’m sure we’d be happy seeing most any of the many beautiful areas but the big trees are at the top of the list. Many thanks!

    • Jenna says:

      You can see the big trees at the Avenue of the Giants, Redwoods National Park, Muir Woods near San Francisco, Armstrong Redwood Preserve in Sonoma County, and Calaveras Big Trees State Park south of Lake Tahoe. The latter has a nice collection of Sequoias, but the park is small. You can also see them farther south at Sequoia National Park, which might make more sense if you’re starting out in LA.

      Yes, you can fly into LA and do a coastal trip driving north and doing a lot along the way. If you have only 1 week, it would be hard to squeeze it all in, but you could drive up up from LA quickly and skip the sights.. I’m not sure what you mean by Crater Lake, which is in Oregon. Lake Tahoe? If you want to see Alcatraz and Lake Tahoe, you could split your time for one week with 4 days in San Francisco, including a stop in Muir Woods, then 3 days in Lake Tahoe with a stop at Calaveras Big Trees.

  • Julia says:

    I look forward to trying these (at least the ones I haven’t already done). Thank you for sharing!

  • jess says:

    No your correct this is nor cal.everything above Yuba is Jefferson and we like it that way!!!

  • Megan says:

    I live in Auburn and you must check out our rivers! The American river is basically in my back yard and is stunning, the Yuba river however is my favorite. There is University falls outside of Georgetown that is a must see all out water slide adventure! Also sister hot springs Harbin and Sierra hot springs are a must!

    • Jenna says:

      A friend of mine got married there, and it is beautiful. I need to spend more time there. Thanks for the tips…I will check them out!

  • Sharon says:

    Jenna, very nice post for the area you covered. Would love to see you write about Northern California, north of the area you covered. Lassen Volcanic National Park, Burney Falls, Subway Caves, Whiskeytown, Shasta Caverns, Turtle Bay Museum and much more. Please feel free to contact me if you need ideas. Lassen Park is only 3 hours from Sacramento.

    • Jenna says:

      I would love to visit Lassen soon. My husband and I have talked about it many times, but there is just so much to do around here that we end up visiting places that are a bit closer. Now that my younger son is almost 4, we can take longer car trips with him.

      • Tammy says:

        Wait for you son to get a bit older first. And you want to make sure you can make it to the peak because there is a glacier there that is a MUST SEE! I can’t remember the name of the lake there, but there is a glacier lake there that is such an incredible color of light blue. It’s amazingly beautiful.
        And very close is Bumpass Hell. You want to take that short hike to see the active sulfur pits and such. It’s very fascinating if quite stinky.

        • Jenna says:

          Great ideas. We’ve been trying to make plans to go to Lassen for the last year, but I can see that waiting until my kids can do more vigorous hikes would be smart. They’re 3 and 7 now. Thanks for the suggestions, Tammy!

  • Erin says:

    i am such a hopeless romantic love all your ideas Jenna….skydrifters is located in sacramento county …such an amzing DATE…you tailgate over to hwy16 and stonehouse or pack a picnic and be in the air for the sunrise….hotair ballooning is incredible…come fly the california sky.

  • we need to do sonoma county. we’ve only done napa.. but we always hear great things about sonoma. 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      You’ll love Sonoma County. The region has just about everything, from fantastic food and wine to rugged coastline and redwood trees.

  • Anna Anton says:

    And what the best why to visit the beautiful California, is in a luxury RV from http://luxervrental.com You can stop and park anywhere.

  • Ken Parker says:

    Great article.

    The one thing that I would add would be the majestic Mendicino coast, as well as the town of Mendocino itself.

    This has to be one of the most gorgeous stretches of coastline in the United States. I think it probably gets overshadowed by Big Sur, but it shouldn’t be.

    And I’ve read good things about Dry Creek Valley and its many wineries, which I intend to visit this summer during my annual trip to Mendocino.

  • Jeannelle says:

    Just a little critique. It is the Sierra Nevada, it’s one mountain range, so it is not plural.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for mentioning that. I know it’s one mountain range, but I think I’ve heard it plural as a way of shortening the Sierra Nevada mountains. Will make the edit.

  • Maureen says:

    You can add some of California Missions to your fantastic list. They deserve to be mentioned indeed. Thanks for this fantastic article and recommendations.

  • Brenda says:

    First, I will say I love reading about your love for Northern California, as you correctly stated, the entire area was not covered, but that which was on this blog is in fact NorCal. That being said, I really don’t understand why anyone residing in the region, would be arguing about it not being the “best” and competing for highest choice. Allow me to argue that this state alone is a marvelous treasure of nature, and there is nothing that compares to it in the rest of the country, and I am sure that there are many little hidden treasures all around it that neither of us, as much as we wish, can experience in its entirety, I hope so to one day!

    I am an immigrant of desert land, and I have to say that living in Sonoma County makes me feel thankful every single day. I live in paradise, and have nothing to envy to any other corner of the world I would dare to say. I have gorgeous coasts with stunning cliffs and rocky formations, rolling hills, mountains, creeks, lakes, and mudslides, flowers, trees of a multitude of types, giant redwoods I admire, fog, rain, clouds and sunshine, ideal weather (most of the year), food, wine and beautiful wineries all around me. Any drive I take for an hour or less on any direction is sure to leave me an awe and thankful for this paradise every instant of my life. Thanks for sharing the love! <3

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you, Brenda! I can understand why you love living in Sonoma County. It’s perhaps my favorite part of this state.

  • Marc says:

    Love the list and I have at least 10 more things to do to finish visiting all I have to do. Also I love the ghost tours in Northern California.

  • These are some nice, enjoyable classy activities but there are also some fun and free ones like these too!
    And growing up in Vacaville, one of my favorite areas was Old Sacramento

  • Erin says:

    Napa and Sonoma are nice, but you can’t leave out the Livermore Valley wine area! It is gorgeous, and produces fabulous wines. In fact, it is where Petite Sirah originated and just about every Chardy in Napa Valley was cloned from Wente Chardy grape! Awesome history and friendly people. Much less expensive too;)

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for bringing that up! I should update my list to include Livermore Valley. I went there just once but loved it and enjoyed Wente and Murietta’s Well wines.

  • Russ Dale says:

    Thank you for many great ideas.

  • Lolo says:

    Ohh this made me just a little homesick! Im from San Diego but practically grew up in Sacramento!

    • Jenna says:

      🙂 Sacramento has changed so much over the past 10 years or so. If you haven’t made it back here lately, come back and visit!

  • Norman says:

    This is one impressive list! You know…as a German we often thing America has beautiful nature but little else to offer. This really comprehensive guide proofs most of us are dead wrong. I’ve been long in the planning of an US road trip and North Carolina has always been on my list. Sooo beautiful

  • Jessica says:

    There are so many things on this list I already love and have done. Never new my town Sacramento had so much to do!!! Awesome list.

  • Amanda Reiss says:

    Thank you for a great list! We’ve only lived in the Bay Area three years and have done many of the things already. (Not an easy feat with three kids, I might add.) Need to visit Sacramento one day soon and Lassen National Park. It’s also been way too long since the kids were taken to Cal Academy of Sciences. I’m really itching to go north, too. And we’ve barely seen southern CA! We moved thinking 3-4 years for husband’s job, but now I don’t want to leave! We will literally never run out of wonderful places to visit just in our own gorgeous state. We just returned from Monterey. I can’t believe that is considered northern CA. Everything I’ve ever seen calls it the Central Coast. Hard to know exactly where to draw that line. Thanks again. I’m pinning this.

    • Jenna says:

      You’re right, it is central coast, but some sources simply split the state in half and call everything from there north “Northern CA.” i agree, though, that it feels different there, too. And yes, there’s so much to do in California. We’ve been here 14 years and still visit new places all the time (and revisit old ones, of course). We’re off to Mendocino for the first time this week!

  • Kaitlyn says:

    This is an awesome list! There seems like there’s so much to do in Northern CA! The pool at The Meritage Resort & Spa is stunning.

  • Rhianon says:

    Hi, this is a great list! There’s so many things to do here in Sonoma County. One of my favorite things to do lately is eat at Sally Tomatoes. They have really great food, and a very fun comedy night. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

  • Herbert says:

    We plan our next vacation – summer 2017 – this is a great list. I get inspired by all those beautiful places and will go for as many as possible.
    We want to mix our trip by using a vehicle and supply it with bikes – are their routes for bikes?
    Can you recommend any routes around Sacramento?

  • Sean Scott says:

    Great blog and list! Lived in California most of my life but it is always great to get new ideas!

  • Spring in Northern California is my favorite season—right when it’s warming up and before the fog casts a dreary shadow over the Bay for the coming 2, 3, 4 months 😉

    • Jenna says:

      This spring has been kind of crazy–windy, rainy, much cooler than usual–but I love spring here, too. Love those first days when we can eat outdoors again.

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