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Northern California is home to everything from rugged coastlines and beautiful beaches to picturesque vineyards, dazzling lakes, rushing rivers and soaring mountains, with exciting cities and unique towns in between. With such diverse terrain, it’s not surprising that this region offers practically an endless number of things to do. As such, we’ve helped narrow it down, providing the best of the best to make that planning much easier.
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The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is one of California’s most enduring symbols, one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and an iconic San Francisco landmark. While many only come to capture a shot of the bridge that opened in 1937, the best way to actually experience it is to walk across. The 1.7-mile span stretches from the city to the Marin Headlands, and the sidewalks are open during the day for pedestrians and cyclists. Then, when it’s time to snap that picture-postcard shot, head over to Battery Spencer on the Marin County side. A former military installation that once protected the bridge and the bay from invaders during World War II, today it’s one of the best spots for capturing the bridge with the entire city as the backdrop.
The Lost Coast is 24.6 miles of pure magic, set along the state’s most undeveloped stretch of shoreline. A true paradise, this is one of the few areas of California where solitude can be enjoyed with jaw-dropping beauty. Hike the trails that offer overlooks of the Pacific and the coastal cliffs, surf or just watch the surfers ride the waves that are legendary, with consistent year-round swells washing onto the rocky shoreline.
Redwood National and State Parks, just south of Crescent City, is home to some of the world’s tallest trees. Walk the trails and you’ll be able to gaze up at countless magnificent old-growth redwoods. Afterward, you can take a scenic drive through the giant redwoods along Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, where Roosevelt elk are often spotted in the prairie just off the road. Then, venture to the coast and check out the tide pools – at low tide, the pools are filled with all sorts of marine life like hermit crabs and starfish.
Napa Valley is home to around 400 wineries that produce some of the world’s best vino. Don’t miss the chance to do some tasting and touring if you’re a wine enthusiast. This region is also an acclaimed foodie destination, with its food scene measuring up to, and sometimes even exceeding, its famous drink. You’ll definitely find plenty of delicious offerings to go along with that fine glass.
Moss Beach Distillery is a must-stop when driving scenic Highway One to or from San Francisco, though it’s really a destination in itself. It offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific, whether you’re inside or out. The heated outdoor patio overlooking the ocean is ideal for dining on appetizers next to the warmth of a fire pit, and it’s pet-friendly too. If you’re fascinated by the paranormal, be sure to ask your server to tell you the tale about “The Blue Lady” that’s said to haunt the place.
Northern California hosts many hot springs that are ideal for soothing sore muscles or just soaking your cares away. Located 22 miles east of Clear Lake, Wilbur Hot Springs is a solar-powered, off-grid destination resort set within a 1,760-acre nature preserve where the therapeutic waters are said to have a rare and unique configuration of minerals that make it unique from the other hot spring resorts and spas in the region. You can spend the night, or get a day-use pass, which includes access to the hot springs, pool, sauna and nature preserve.
Yosemite National Park is one of the country’s most stunning national parks with its soaring granite peaks and cliffs, endless waterfalls and lush stream-filled meadows. One of the best ways to experience it is to go for a hike, including the trek to Vernal Fall where you ascend over 600 granite steps to the falls as the gentle mist splashes your skin and creates colorful rainbows on the way up. The park offers many other activities as well, including world-renowned climbing, paths for biking, fishing and tubing.
One of the most charming towns in California is located in Gold Country, offering the opportunity to delve into the state’s famous gold rush history and much more. The historic Main Street is lined with many unique shops, fantastic eateries and even a number of wine tasting rooms. You’ll find a number of award-winning small production estate wines, and tasting opportunities with the actual winemakers. In the surrounding area, visit historic sites and participate in all sorts of outdoor adventures, including cave exploration.
For the ultimate panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay Area, head to Grizzly Peak, located in Berkeley’s renowned Tilden Regional Park. It’s worth spending an entire day here because of the farm and environmental educational center, botanic garden, a lake for swimming and even a steam train. From Grizzly Peak, you’ll be mesmerized by the sparkling city lights that seem to stretch forever.
The world famous Winchester Mystery House is a Victorian mansion that was designed by Winchester Rifle heiress Sarah Winchester – and it even has it’s own movie, “Winchester” (2018). The 160-room mansion is filled with unexplained oddities, and was unlike most homes of its time, with modern heating and sewer systems, three working elevators, gas lights and 47 fireplaces. With the fascinatingly odd design of the house, and rumors of Sarah’s ghost still residing, it draws spectators from across the globe to try and understand the strange architecture and the reasons behind it.
The Farallon Islands are just 27 miles outside the Golden Gate, part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The Farallon Islands are a food-rich marine ecosystem that’s home to a wide array of marine life, like dolphins, seals and sea lions, whales, and seabirds, including tufted puffins. Accessible via boat tours, where you can see an endless number of sea lions vying for a spot in the sun, including the gigantic, and endangered, Steller sea lion.