The treasures of Northern California are buried deep in the rugged landscapes and diverse ecosystems of the west coast. If you dig deep enough, you'll discover countless unexpected sights and things to do. Stretching for almost 600 miles from San Luis Obispo County to Oregon, the region is known for its redwood forests, fertile farmland, and beautiful Pacific coastline. San Francisco is its cultural and financial heart, but the vast national parks system and thriving University towns give this region a broader appeal to tourists. Whether you're looking for luxury shopping, stunning architecture or trying to get lost in nature, Northern California boasts a wealth of unforgettable destinations.
The peaceful community of Mendocino may be small, but its charming vibe and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean make it a popular Northern California destination. Artists and travelers alike enjoy the downtown district with its galleries, eclectic eateries and cottage-style inns granting unbeatable views. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are perfect for birdwatchers and nature lovers, with over 47 acres of rare and beautiful plants. For a unique experience, take a friend to Fort Bragg for a railbike ride through the redwood forest.
Fans of Tesla, Google and Apple may want to detour through the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Home to dozens of the world's largest high-tech companies, Silicon Valley is an upscale region circling various suburban cities. Visitors can take advantage of the extensive public transportation if a rental car isn't in the budget. Photograph the Google Android Lawn Statues at Googleplex, and enjoy a view of Apple's futuristic campus from the visitor center's terrace café. Visit one of several tech museums or, if you fancy a rush of adrenaline, take a Tesla out for a free test drive.
Located in the scenic Eastern Sierra Mountains, Inyo National Forest promises some of the most breathtaking sights in Northern California. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains is home to some of the oldest trees in the world, including Methuselah, estimated to be almost 5,000 years old. Head for Mono Lake to see the towering limestone tufas emerging from the alkaline waters. A rental car is ideal for a trip like this, so pack your bags for a family road trip or a romantic getaway for two.
In the early 20th century, Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere beat the Fresno heat to fulfill his life's dream of citrus farming. Over four decades, he excavated a 10-acre system of underground caves, patios and courtyards using shovels, picks and similar hand tools. He also cultivated multiple varieties of fruit-bearing trees and vines, some of which still thrive today. If you're passing through Fresno on your way to Yosemite or the Bay, stop at the Forestiere Underground Gardens for a guided tour and fascinating history lesson. Appreciate the Roman-inspired architecture and cool microclimate, which can be up to 30 degrees cooler than street-level.
Like the Hollywood Sign and the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park is one of California's most treasured landmarks. Granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, and diverse wildlife attract millions of visitors yearly through all seasons. Tent and RV campgrounds provide access to fishing and hiking trails, while cabins and inns are available to those who crave the usual comforts. To witness the natural phenomenon known as the firefalls, plan to arrive at the start of February. If weather conditions are just right, the setting sun illuminates the waters of Horsetail Falls, making it appear to glow red-orange.
With a total area of 0.3 square miles, Amador City is California's smallest city by size, but don't let its minuscule dimensions fool you. The city's mines were some of the most lucrative of the California Gold Rush, with the well-known Keystone Mine producing an estimated $24 million in gold. Some of the original historic buildings and gold mines remain as a testament to this once-thriving prospecting town. Wander the old streets, browsing through locally-sourced restaurants and antique shops along the way. Sample some wines at a couple of winery tasting rooms, or book a room at the refurbished Imperial Hotel and have a nightcap at the Oasis Bar downstairs.
No trip to Northern California would be complete without experiencing San Francisco. From the famous Golden Gate Bridge to the oldest Chinatown in America, this city by the bay is a prime destination for fans of history, architecture, culture, and diverse cuisines. Take a selfie in front of Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world, and then enjoy some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman's Wharf. Have a picnic at Golden Gate Park and, if you have room in your budget, take the ferry to Alcatraz Island. It's possible to see San Francisco's most famous sights in a day but to avoid rushing, stay at least one night in the Bay Area.
For 31 miles through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Avenue of the Giants navigates through some of the most impressive forests in the world. Over 50,000 acres of giant redwoods rise into the sky, blocking most of the sunlight from view and filtering the commotion from nearby Highway 101. Pictures don't do these massive trees justice, so be sure to pull over at one of the turnouts to appreciate the scale. Visit the Rockefeller Forest to walk the famous trails, or locate a fallen tree for a unique selfie. Pgiam / Getty Images
In the fertile valleys north of San Francisco Bay, bustling cities and seaside towns give way to wine country. Napa Valley is one of the most premier wine-growing regions in the world. Visitors come for the wine and stay for the gourmet cuisines, boutique hotels, luxury shopping, and historic architecture. If you're hoping to burn a few extra calories before wine tasting, try hiking one of the many scenic routes or biking the paved Napa Valley Vine Trail. For the best of both worlds, find a wine hike. Enjoy captivating views of the sprawling vineyards and stop at a few wineries for some tastings.
Mt. Whitney is located among the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, on the Sierra Crest. At over 14,000 feet in elevation, it's the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States with several routes and trails leading to its summit. The most famous of these is the John Muir Trail. This route starts from Yosemite National Park and goes all the way to the summit of Mount Whitney, over 200 miles of breathtaking Sierra Nevada backcountry and wilderness. The entire hike takes about a month, but visitors are welcome to explore the trail in smaller doses or ascend the peak in one day. For more information, visit the National Park Service website.