So you are making a trip to California, but you don’t know where to go? Most people think of California and immediately think that everyone knows how to surf, the weather is always perfect and warm, everyone lives near the ocean and has blonde hair, but guess what those are just some of the stereotypes about California and most untrue.
Southern California (or as we call it SoCal) is considered one of the most exciting places to visit, with Hollywood, Disneyland, Los Angeles, and San Diego being some of the top locations on everyone’s California bucket list. But what you might not know about is our sweet spots in Northern California.
Did you know it yes in fact does snow in California? Have you heard of the Sierra Nevada Mountains? Well Lake Tahoe, which is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is only a short hour and half drive from Sacramento, CA (my hometown) and known for some beautiful powder snow for your winter excursions.
Now this might be debatable, but most of us living in Central California consider this to be Northern California, we don’t consider Central California as part of the picture we split the state in two. Northern California, NorCal for short, is known for their beautiful outdoor mountains, trees, agriculture, and farm to fork restaurants. So with that being said, below are some of my favorite places to visit in Northern California.
1. San Francisco
San Francisco is perhaps one of the most well-known cities in all of California is a great starting point for a beginner visiting California. It is a location that is not too hot and usually cool and misty. There are tons to do in San Francisco and easy to get around with public transportation and Uber. Some of the top things to see in San Francisco are the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, the Exploratorium, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square and the Castro District.
2. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a gem and a great place to go any time of the year. During the winter, the mountains are covered in snow and during the summer, there are many hiking trails and hidden ponds to explore within the mountain tops. There are many viewpoints and photo opportunities of the trees, lakes, and mountains in this area.
Yosemite is undoubtedly one of the most popular National Parks in California and lately has been filled with tourists and locals because of all the rain fall we have received this year. NOW is the best time to visit Yosemite while the waters are up. Many people and rangers have said that there were waterfalls that they never knew existed because of the rain we received this year. Many people are taking the trips and visiting our National Parks and thankfully our fire warnings are LOW (however, that doesn’t mean it won’t change as we reach the dryer months over the summer), which has been rare for most of us Californians to see.
I think Sacramento has been underrated and is starting to become a town of it’s own. Sacramento has been known as the city of trees and the farm to fork capital of the United States. We are known are the amount of trees per capita (being second in the world compared to Paris) but we are also known for our great agriculture. Sacramento became the Farm to Fork Capital because we thrive in local restaurants and local produce. We have tons of farmer’s markets throughout the week, tons of local restaurants and we just love our food! Sure, sometimes NorCal is known for their hippy atmosphere, but these are one of the things I think we take pride in is being able to eat what we locally produce.
5. Glass Beach
Glass Beach is a popular location because of all of the sea glass that is swept away onto the shore. However, most of the glass are small pieces and the larger pieces of glass are less commonly found. This is still a wonderful place to visit and a great stop on your tour along the coast of HWY 1.
6. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is one of the most visited beaches in Northern California. This beach is perfect for families and kids because of it’s boardwalk with activities, arcades, rollercoasters, food and shopping. This is a great way to spend time on the beach yet enjoy other forms of entertainment. If you go here, some of the restaurants in Capitola are incredible including my favorite Shadowbrook Restaurant. There is a cute little cable car that takes you to and from the restaurant and is fairly intimate place to eat with excellent food options.
Monterey is fairly close to Santa Cruz and is another location I consider to be family friendly. They have an exceptional Aquarium that is worth checking out and is a cute town to be in and around. They have beautiful beaches and in proximity to Big Sur and Carmel along with it’s 17-Mile-Drive. Bixby Bridge is also another popular spot to take photos and see the stunning ocean and scenery.
8. Big Sur
Big Sur is one of those gems that is too delightful to describe. It often leaves me breathless with picture worthy scenic cliffs, Judy Pffiefer’s lovely little waterfall and great views of the ocean. The drive along the coast is breathtaking but be careful of the turns as they may be tight in some areas. Thankfully, HWY 1 has recently re-opened in March after a terrible storm during the winter months.
National and State Parks California is known for their elegant redwoods and I highly recommend taking a trip to the Redwood National Park. You can take a road trip up there and even drive your car through the tree and enjoy the dazzling tall trees along the coastline. There are plenty of places to hike and this is one of those gorgeous drives along HWY 1 which makes this road so unique.
What can I say about beautiful Napa? Napa with it’s rolling hills of grapevines and delicious tasting wine, why wouldn’t this place be on your list to visit? There is a wine train, places to take wine tours, tons of wines to be sampled, and even a chance to ride in a hot air balloon ride. Some of the best wineries to visit include: Mumm’s, Calistoga, Beringer, St. Helena, Alpha Omega, Cakebread, Chateau Montelena, Domaine Carneros, Chandon, Opus One, Castello di Amorosa and so much more. If you love wine, this is the spot for you!
Meet Our Contributor!
Who is NieNie from Adventures with NieNie? NieNie is a Korean-American and California native who is obsessed with travel, local foods, local art and adventures. She isn’t your typical travel blogger who quit her full time job to travel the world and yet still manages to make time for travel in her life. Learn about tips on how to save, work and still be able to travel with a full time career. Some of her favorite places to write about are the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Italy. Want to know more? Visit her at www.adventureswithnienie.com. Follow her on Instagram @adventureswithnienie.
I would love to visit San Francisco and the Yosemite Park. Both of them look like amazing destinations!
I’d love to spend more time in California if I ever get back to the States. I spent 5 weeks in Seattle and absolutely loved it…but would love to do a road trip down the west coast.
The drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco up the coast is truly beautiful!
Yosemite is truly a magical natural wonder!
Great picks. I love many of these spots. I’ll be taking the family to Yosemite this fall and I can’t wait!
Nice! It seems Yosemite has been super popular lately
Great highlights. It would take a long time to name all the top places! I miss living in Norcal and all the potential road trips it has to offer.
So many awesome road trip opportunities!
I’m in love with lake Tahoe and Monterey! I’d definitely put them on my bucket list for Northern California!
I love Monterey too!!