Trinidad State Beach in Northern California via Unsplash by Everett Mcintire
Northern California is packed with an incredible variety of breathtaking places to explore, especially for fans of the great outdoors. While Southern California is famous for its beaches, Northern California is more well-known for its dense forests and sprawling mountains. Of course, there are plenty of gorgeous beaches to visit, too, so pack your sunscreen!
Here are 10 must-see NorCal hotspots that should absolutely be on your travel radar.
1. Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Giant Redwood Trees via Unsplash by Dan Meyers
No trip to Northern California would be complete without seeing the larger-than-life redwood forests. While you can view these towering giants in many locations throughout NorCal, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is an especially stunning area that’s home to some of the oldest and largest redwoods in the state. Take a scenic drive down the 31-mile stretch of the “Avenue of the Giants” for a self-guided tour through a truly enchanting forest. There are plenty of stops where you can enjoy a picnic surrounded by some of nature’s most majestic beauty.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf via Unsplash by Gigin Krishnan
San Francisco is a vibrant city with endless options for visitors to have some fun, but Fisherman’s Wharf is a fantastic starting point, especially if you’re interested in San Francisco’s food scene. Located right on the water, Fisherman’s Wharf is a paradise for seafood lovers, but there are plenty of delectable options for all tastes. The area is also home to a huge range of attractions, from museums to roller coasters to aquariums, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is just a seashell’s throw away.
3. Big Sur
Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey County via Unsplash by Spencer Davis
Big Sur is a picturesque stretch that delivers the best of both worlds — it’s a magical blend of SoCal’s serene beaches surrounded by NorCal’s rugged wilderness. Big Sur is a great place to start your adventures if you’re traveling south to north, as it’s situated right between SoCal and NorCal, so mark your California travel map and work your way up. From camping and hiking to whale watching and beach combing, there’s no shortage of outdoor adventures at your fingertips.
4. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls via Unsplash by Mick Haupt
Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest and most famous national parks, not only in California but in the world. In other words, if you’re wandering the West Coast, make it a priority. With more than 1,200 square miles of nature to explore, you’ll find endless trails, waterfalls, mountains, and so much more.
5. Wine Country
Sunlit vineyard via Unsplash by Ales Maze
Located just an hour or so north of San Francisco, NorCal’s Wine Country consists of many lovely towns and cities, including Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Guerneville, and plenty of others. Naturally, wine tasting is the name of the game here, but that’s certainly not the only reason to explore this gorgeous area. Each city and town has its own unique flavor and attractions, and you could easily plan an entire vacation in Wine Country alone.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse via Unsplash by Dan Wroblewski
Often compared to a quaint New England town, Mendocino is a wonderful coastal village that has plenty to offer visitors, including charming lighthouses, many eclectic shops and galleries, and plenty of exquisite restaurants that serve the freshest off-the-boat seafood you’ve ever tasted.
7. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Sky Gliders at sunset via Unsplash by Ryo Chiba
A blast for kids and adults alike, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a delightful place to spend the day. After swimming and sunbathing at the scenic beach, take a quick stroll over to the boardwalk, where you’ll find roller coasters and other amusement park rides, arcade games, tasty carnival fare, and many other attractions. There are many reasons why you should visit California, but spending a carefree day on this iconic boardwalk is truly one of the best. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most beloved NorCal destinations among locals and tourists alike.
8. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe via Unsplash by Tim Peterson
Known for its crystalline waters and breathtaking mountain views, Lake Tahoe is located in the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountains along Nevada’s border. During the summer, enjoy all of your favorite aquatic activities, as well as some of NorCal’s best hiking. During the winter, the area’s ski resorts come alive.
9. Six Rivers National Forest
Forest via Unsplash by Amos Gwa
Six Rivers National Forest is nestled in the upper northwestern corner of California right before you hit Oregon, so it’s one of the best places to finish your upward journey. Named for six beautiful rivers that all run within its boundaries — the Smith, Trinity, Klamath, Mad, Eel, and Van Duzen — this area is a haven for anyone looking to camp, hike, fish, and simply enjoy NorCal’s natural splendor.
10. Klamath National Forest
Klamath River via Unsplash by Megan Nixon
Like Six Rivers National Forest, Klamath National Forest is located right at the cusp of Northern California before you enter Oregon. The forest has two distinct sections divided by the Shasta Valley, with rugged mountain ranges on one side and gentle volcanic terrain on the other. Whether you’re adventuring or relaxing, the sprawling forest is sure to please anyone looking to see what NorCal nature is all about.
California has so much to offer, so don’t feel pressured to experience everything in one go! Spend some time researching each location to find the destinations that align with your preferences. NorCal isn’t going anywhere, so come back soon!