Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Not everyone has the opportunity to take vacations for a week or longer throughout the year, which is why weekend getaways are so essential. Just two or three days away from your normal routine and scenery can leave you feeling refreshed and inspired when Monday morning rolls around, especially if you’re in Northern California. This part of the state has a wide variety of options for if you’re looking for beach time, high mountain scenery, college towns, and natural wonders. Here are 10 great weekend getaways in Northern California to satisfy your thirst for adventure.
There are several national parks in California, but plan to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park for a remote wilderness experience. The impressive landscape here was shaped by a volcanic eruption that occurred just a little over a century ago. You can camp in the park with a tent or RV and then set out on a hike to see the volcanic aftermath, towering mountains, shimmering lakes, and lush forests. You can hike to the top of Mount Lassen for a challenge or take a more leisurely stroll around Manzanita Lake here. There’s a campground store here that seasonally rents out kayaks and SUPS too. Don’t miss the underground lava tube called the Subway Cave and the impressively beautiful Burney Falls waterfall.
San Francisco is always an obvious choice for weekend getaways in Northern California, especially if you’re looking to go sightseeing or attend a festival. There’s always something exciting going on in San Francisco, whether it’s a street fair, parade, charity race, or protest. You can hit up the highlights to see famous sights like Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street or keep things more low-key by visiting one of the many craft breweries in town and taking a long, scenic walk through Golden Gate Park. The Castro and Mission District are always popular spots to hang out on the weekends, and the California Academy of Sciences and other museums are top picks for families.
For unbelievable scenery and a chill hippie vibe, head to the Mt. Shasta area for the weekend. The namesake mountain rises 11,000 feet tall from the valley below and is the perfect photography subject. Get outdoorsy for your weekend in this area by visiting nearby Lake Siskiyou, Castle Lake, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and Mount Shasta City Park. There’s always the Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park and the Mt. Shasta Nordic Center for winter fun, and then some fun art galleries, shops, and museums in town to check out.
Another remote natural wonder in Northern California to visit for the weekend is Lava Beds National Monument. Come here to put on a hard hat and go caving on your own without a guide. This is one of the very few cave systems in America where you don’t have to book a guided tour and can explore the underworld at your own pace. However, the park does offer ranger-led programs too if you want to learn more about the caves here. There is affordable camping for tents and RVs in the park and a two-mile Cave Loop road that you can drive along and stop at various cave entrances to check them out. Easy, moderate, and challenging caves are all at your fingertips to explore!
Chico is a college town with some excellent park trails to get some exercise and an impressive craft brewery scene. Bidwell Park has excellent trails for hiking, biking, and dog walking to start your day. Then you can tour the Bidwell Mansion, go for a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and browse the Chico Certified Farmer’s Market. Secret Trail Brewery is another awesome spot to visit if you love craft beer, have your dog along for the weekend, and enjoy food trucks. There’s even the National Yo-Yo Museum here to check out!
Slow down your pace of life with a weekend trip to Bodega Bay in Northern California. There’s a campground right on the marina, where you can hire a local guide to take you out on a sailboat adventure. Nearby, you can check out the filming sites for the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds. For your weekend beach and ocean fix, visit Bodega Head, Doran Beach, and Mammoth Rocks.
If you head a bit further south, you can also check out the amazing town of Monterey on a weekend getaway. Spend your weekend seeing the scenery along the 17-Mile Drive and spend time on the beach at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. In town, weekenders love the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail offers one of the most scenic bike rides you’ll ever have.
Sonoma is most known for being a top wine region in Northern California, but there is much more to see and do than just drink wine here. Sonoma has a lovely downtown area with a plaza that’s perfect for a weekend stroll. This is the heart of town with a park, lots of shops and eateries, and a playground for the kids. Sonoma Coast State Park and Jack London State Historic Park also offer great weekend activities and recreation.
Mendocino is charming and romantic, with a laid-back vibe and epic scenery to match. For your Northern California getaway in Mendocino, stay at a quaint B&B and spend time hiking down to the rugged beaches. There are many state parks and reserves in this area to get your nature fix, as well as small art centers and museums to learn about the area. Try to catch a weekend show at the Mendocino Theatre Company if you can.
For a Northern California weekend trip off the beaten path, check out the town of Grass Valley. This town has a quaint downtown with lots of shops and a rich gold mining history. Take a guided tour at Empire Mine State Historic Park and check out the allegedly haunted Holbrooke Hotel. There are also lots of wineries in this area, and nearby Nevada City is a fun place to explore on foot to finish off your weekend.