As a local to Northern California, I want to share with you 7 epic places you have to go to when you visit. It’s no secret that this part of California is full of outdoor adventure and stunning landscapes. Having grown up here and now residing in Sacramento, I’m constantly looking for the places to visit locally.
The Best Places to Visit in Northern California
When I think about what makes Northern California so special, the diversity in scenery comes to mind. With plentiful opportunities to be immersed in nature, there is truly something for everyone who visits. Whether you’re looking to discover a less-frequented national park or escape to the rugged coastline along the Pacific Ocean, you can truly do it all. The best part? You could easily do quite a few experiences in a single week trip in Northern California.
It is with great pleasure to share these 7 epic places to visit in Northern California. A few are those “off-the-beaten-path” gems that may require a longer drive, but ever so worth the effort. And then there are those that you simply cannot miss.
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park
When it comes to national parks in California, there are nine epic destinations to choose from. Lassen Volcanic National Park has always seemed to have been last on the list to visit and it’s certainly the most underrated after visiting several. Lassen’s unique landscape has everything from hydrothermal areas to volcano peaks.
You can explore places like Bumpass Hell where you’ll see pots of mud boiling and turquoise geothermal waters steaming into the cold air. In the distance, Lassen Volcano towers over in the distance. With 150 miles of hiking trails, it’s an opportunity to get outdoors where the crowds certainly are not.
2. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Many head to one of the furthest northern parts of California to get into the redwoods. Though this part of California is home to the tallest trees on earth, there is so much more to discover here.
One of my favorite things to visit in Northern California is located in this park. It’s called Fern Canyon. You may recognize it from Jurassic Park where some scenes were filmed. This canyon with 50-foot-high walls is drenched in ferns where water tumbles down into the creek that passes through. You can walk into the canyon and be immersed in what feels like perhaps the most otherworldly place I’ve been to in California.
You’ll want to wear good hiking shoes that can get wet, and certainly pack your camera as it is a sight to see and capture.
While Northern California is home to a long stretch of incredible coastline with a plethora of destinations, my personal favorite is Mendocino. The town of Mendocino itself has lots of character and is home to artists, small boutiques, and outdoor activities.
One of the best ways to experience Mendocino is through the coastal hiking trails in parks like Van Damme State Park and Russian Gulch State Park. The trails follow through headlands, weaving in and out of the cliffs that peak over the Pacific Ocean.
4. Lake Tahoe
One of the must visits in Northern California is Lake Tahoe. Popular year-round, you cannot go wrong if you choose to visit in the summer or winter. Lake Tahoe is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the border of Nevada and its crystal-clear waters are iconic.
In the winter, head to the slopes at ski resorts like Squaw Valley Resort or Northstar Resort for an epic day on the mountain. During the summer, hiking trails like Eagle Rock Hiking Trail Homewood or Cascade Falls are my favorite for incredible views. Lake Tahoe often attracts weekend crowds, so my number one tip is to visit mid-week.
5. Point Reyes National Seashore
Close to San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my go-to day trips in Northern California. Located in Marin County, it’s an area of California that has a protected coastline and is home to the quaint town of Point Reyes Station.
I’d recommend a slow travel day here where you can experience the coastal area with highlights like seeing the tule elk on the reserve, the famous Cypress Tree Tunnel, and keep your eyes out for the annual grey whale migration. For those looking to get out and hike, there are 150 miles of hiking trails to choose from in the National Seashore area. If you can, an overnight trip here will give you a lot more time to explore.
Once you’ve finished exploring, head into town to enjoy the bounty of local produce and goods. This part of California is known for its incredible oysters and local cheese. My favorite place for oysters is at Nick’s Cove just up the way in Marshall or Tomales Bay Oyster Company. And don’t forget to pick up Mt Tam cheese at Cowgirl Creamery — you will not be disappointed!
6. Humboldt Redwoods State Park
One of the most impressive places in Northern California to see the redwoods is located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Called the “Avenue of the Giants,” it is a 31-mile scenic road that drives through some of the tallest redwoods. I always recommend taking this route and stopping to explore while visiting this way.
You can drive along the Avenue of the Giants which parallels Highway 101 and stop to enjoy the sights. Guided trails will take you to private areas amidst the redwood forest and it’s an epic place to stop for a picnic. You can even camp in the park if you want to explore it further.
7. Sierra Buttes
One of our secret spots to go visit is located in the Sierra Buttes of Northern California. Not too far from the town of Graeagle, the Sierra Buttes is a playground of adventure. From craggy peaks to hidden lakes, I love heading out this way to go for day hikes.
One of my favorite spots in the Sierra Buttes are the Sardine Lakes. It reminds me a lot of the Dolomites in Northern Italy, where these greenish-blue lakes are nestled up in the mountains. On Lower Sardine Lake, there are cabin rentals with boating and fishing. There are a lot of hiking trails in this area as well to enjoy the views.
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