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The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California in 2024

The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California in 2024

What are the best places to visit in Northern California?

Explore the vast beauty of Northern California, where the splendors of Big Sur, ancient redwoods, and vibrant cities like San Francisco await. Beyond the familiar, discover hidden gems and majestic parks that promise an unforgettable adventure. From serene Sonoma vineyards to Yosemite’s rugged trails, Northern California’s diverse landscapes make for an unforgettable trip, and we’ll show you the best places to visit below.

Northern California is known for its natural beauty, eclectic cities studding the Pacific coastline, fertile valleys, Sierra Nevada mountains, and world-class hiking with dense redwood forests that flourish where fog and humidity creeps in along the coast.

If you’re headed here soon and have limited time to explore the region, there’s so much to see and do that it’s important to learn the best places to visit in Northern California — the ones that are really worth squeezing into your trip. 

If you spend your entire visit in San Francisco or Napa Valley, you’re going to have a great time. But if you venture further out into the natural beauty, secluded beaches, national parks, and hidden gems around the region, you’ll turn a great trip into a spectacular one that you can’t wait to repeat. 

Our NorCal visits have left us with a shortlist of the best places to visit in the region, honed and narrowed down to 16 destinations that won’t let you down with amazing views, activities, and experiences. Take a look at the list to start building your Northern California itinerary below! 

The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California

From Yosemite National Park to San Francisco and the vineyards of Sonoma, you’ll be ready to take your pick of the best places to visit in Northern California when you look through the list below.

We’ve added destinations that appeal to all types of travelers, so whether you’re up for urban exploration with endless dining, entertainment, and shopping or want to lose yourself deep in the redwoods or out chasing waterfalls, you’ll find the perfect spots to visit on your trip right here. 

1. Yosemite National Park

Gorgeous valley in Yosemite with fog over the valley for a piece on the best places to visit in Northern California

Andrew Opila/Shutterstock

Located about 4 hours east of San Francisco in the central Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is one of the jewels in Northern California’s crown. This is where you’ll find some of the most scenic wilderness in the region, from raging cascades and wild rivers to rugged cliffs and mountains blanketed in dense forests.

With almost 1,200 miles of terrain to explore, hike, and see from scenic overlooks, Yosemite is one spot you just can’t skip on a trip to NorCal. River rafting down the Merced, taking tours on horseback, camping under the stars or tucked away in lush, green forests — there’s not much you can’t do in Yosemite. 

Amazing rock formations and cliffs, many now famous around the world, include the renowned El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Half Dome. The powerful Yosemite Falls thunders 2,425 feet down, showering viewers with fine mist.

You can see many of these formations with an arresting view from Glacier Point looks out over Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome. In the southern section of the park, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is where 500 natural giants tower over you, standing up to 285 feet tall and dwarfing you in size as you hike or drive through.

Between May and September, you’ll find the best conditions for hiking, rafting, camping, and visiting the park’s waterfalls (some of which can start to dry up toward late summer and fall). 

Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Yosemite in 2024

2. Big Sur

Highway 1 running along the ocean next to big brown cliffs for a piece on the best places to visit in Northern California

Doug Meek/Shutterstock

If you’re looking to hike through majestic Pacific Coast and redwood forest views, discover hidden beaches where waves pound the shore, and take scenic drives that wind through wild Northern California, you’ve got to visit Big Sur.

This unspoiled stretch of the coast between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties offers a glimpse into what California was like in the distant past. This is the perfect area for hiking, camping, beaches, fishing, and enjoying the great outdoors. 

Take a drive down the twists and turns of State Route 1 and you’ll see rugged cliffs, rocky and sandy beaches, and mountainous forests stretching out before you. Bixby Bridge is one of the most scenic in the state, so be sure to grab a photo! 

The stunning Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is here and — lucky for you — it’s home to shaded hiking trails through oaks, redwoods, and waterfalls as well as one of the best beaches in all of California (take that, Santa Monica!).

Pfeiffer Beach is a secluded cove almost surrounded by rocky cliffs and uniquely purple-colored sand, thanks to a mineral in the area. Keyhole rock formations and sea caves give it a mystical quality that makes it one of the best places to spend a day in Northern California. 

Read Next: Where to Stay in Big Sur and Best Time to Visit Big Sur

3. Redwood National and State Parks

Couple in jackets and jeans pictured walking under a path cut in a big redwood tree in Redwood National Park, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

Yaya Ernst/Shutterstock

Dreaming of standing among California’s tallest, oldest redwoods? Make it happen at California’s Redwood National and State Parks, which includes over 139,000 acres in Redwood National Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, and Jedidiah Smith Redwoods state parks. 

Venture deep into the enchanted green Fern Canyon (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park) as plants and moss blanket the high canyon walls on either side. Take a rewarding hike among the gentle giant redwood trees in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park and within Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwoods National Park. 

About 45% of the world’s old-growth redwood trees can be found right here in these 4 scenic, unspoiled parks. If coast redwoods are what you’re seeking, there’s no better place to be! The parks span Humboldt and Del Norte counties with a humid temperate rainforest climate where the trees thrive. 

With around 40 miles of coastline between the 4 parks, fishing and hiking your way to hidden beaches and rocky coves are part of the charm of the Redwoods National and State Parks.

See rare and endangered giant condors with 9.5-foot wingspans in the parks, thanks to the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, and catch glimpses of Roosevelt elk, deer, bald eagles, owls, California sea lions, Chinook salmon, and more from the shore to the forests. 

Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Redwood National Park

4. San Francisco

Neat view of cable cars along the extremely steep street in downtown San Francisco, one of the best places to visit in Northern California


San Francisco is the second-most populous city in Northern California. It overlooks the San Francisco Bay as an eclectic hub where the past meets progressive attitudes. Filled with colorful districts, abundant eateries and shops, and thriving art and cultural scenes, it’s a must-visit place in NorCal. 

Once a destination for prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the California gold rush, San Fran later became the beating heart of the 1960s counterculture scene where hippie ideals, peace, and love drove the world-renowned Summer of Love in 1967 in the city’s Haight-Ashbury district. 

Today, that hippie past is palpable with homes, restaurants, and memorabilia in the district paying homage to musical and cultural greats like the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Ken Kesey (of “Acid Test” fame). 

Take a bay cruise to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island from a new perspective, ride a cable car down to iconic Fisherman’s Wharf to grab lunch, hike up the Twin Peaks hills for incredible views, and check out Chinatown to feel transported to another land. 

From touring the steep streets to find great spots to eat or listen to live music to visiting scenic spots like Baker Beach with views of the famous bridge and cliffs around you, San Francisco is easily one of the best places to visit in Northern California. 

Read Next: The Best Time to Visit San Francisco and Where to Stay in San Francisco

5. Santa Cruz

Pink sky overhead downtown Santa Cruz, one of the best places to go to when in Northern California

Engel Ching/Shutterstock

Some will tell you that Santa Cruz isn’t technically Northern California — it’s more central in the state, but still part of NorCal. We couldn’t leave it out of the list because it’s genuinely one of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Northern California! 

One of the only remaining original boardwalks in the state, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk deserves a visit when you’re here. You’ll find tons of places to eat, shop, ride thrilling rides (including a vintage wooden coaster), and admire the views of the beach from here. 

From the boardwalk, make your way to Santa Cruz Main Beach with big waves and plenty of sand to lounge and play on. For more secluded vibes and natural beauty, head to Natural Bridges State Beach or Pleasure Point Beach (popular with surfers). 

Downtown, you’ll find a lot of galleries, breweries, restaurants, bars, and live music venues (along with buskers rocking the streets) to make for a fun night out.  Wineries over on Mission and Western are perfect for a laid-back Saturday. 

Go see the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse on Lighthouse Point and Walton Lighthouse by walking or biking the path that connects them on West Cliff Drive. There’s a surfing museum and Lighthouse Field State Beach on Lighthouse Point — perfect for admiring the views of tidal pools, natural bridges, and surfers catching big swells. 

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) is packed with 3 floors of art exhibits and a sculpture garden. Head downtown to a craft lounge and make your own candles or ceramics! Big Basin Redwoods State Park is just a few miles north if you’re looking for a scenic spot to hike and see the giant trees.

6. Mendocino National Forest and Village

Bridge, cliffs, and water at the forest in Mendocino, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

Geartooth Productions/Shutterstock

With no paved roads in sight and the tranquil peace of a totally unspoiled and wild forest, the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California is our favorite place to slip away into nearly 1,000,000 acres for a mental reset far from honking horns and to-do lists.

Rugged mountains, green valleys, rushing rivers, steep canyons, and dense woodlands make it spectacular for an outdoor adventure. South Yolla Bolly Mountain stands over 8,000 feet high in the northern end of the park, while the Berryessa Snow Mountain Monument sits in the south. 

The easy Comanche Trail is a favorite for families and casual visitors, while the 5.6-mile Mount Linn Loop offers moderate difficulty with manageable elevation gains. The hard Traveler’s Home Trail spans 19 scenic miles along Eel River if you’re looking for a challenge. 

Wildflower meadows in the spring and fall are unforgettable with California poppies, wild lilacs, wild iris, and lupine swaying in the breeze with oak and conifer forests behind them. Stop in a grassy glade or among the oaks for a picnic after a hike.

Wildlife like black bears, mountain lions, golden and bald eagles, and black-tailed deer can be found throughout the forest in all of its 3 ranger districts (Grindstone, Covelo, and Upper Lake).

The waters of the Eel and Black Butte river along with rushing creeks are teeming with trout, steelhead, and salmon — this is why it’s a favorite spot for avid anglers. Spring, early summer, and fall are the best times to visit the forest to avoid the sweltering heat and humidity in July and August. 

7. Lake Tahoe

Rocks on the shore of Lake Tahoe, pictured with white rocks protruding up from the crystal-clear water and snow-capped mountains in the background


Spanning 22 miles in length and 12 miles wide, scenic Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular summer and winter recreation spots in Northern California. Located 6,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada mountains where California meets Nevada, it’s the second-deepest lake in the entire U.S. 

With 72 miles of pristine beaches and abundant fish, water sports options, lakeside hotels and rentals, and ski resorts, Lake Tahoe is the spot to be for those seeking exhilarating thrills and outdoor adventures. 

Sleepy North Lake Tahoe is the quieter side of the lake, featuring the small and funky Kings Beach, nearby chill Tahoe Vista with a 3.5-acre sandy beach, and Serene Lake Forest Beach on the northwestern shore.

River rafting, kayaking, boating, and hiking are popular here in spring, summer, and fall. World-class ski resorts in North Lake Tahoe are awesome during the winter and early spring at Diamond Peak and Honeywood from peaks overlooking the lake. 

In South Lake Tahoe, things are lively with larger towns packed with restaurants, casinos, bars, and shops. This is where you’ll find Heavenly Village, a great, walkable town filled with lakeside attractions and the famous Heavenly Gondola to take you up to Heavenly Mountain Resort — the largest ski resort on the West Coast. 

Fishing is awesome around Lake Tahoe with species like Mackinaw (lake) and rainbow trout, Sockeye salmon, and small- and largemouth bass snapping at baits and lures like crazy, especially in the spring, summer, and fall. 

Head to Emerald Bay State Park on the lake’s southwestern shore to find rugged hiking trails and paths designed for a leisurely stroll by the water. There’s an impressive Scandinavian mansion overlooking the lake, the 38-room Vikingsholm, built in the 1920s to check out, too. 

Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Lake Tahoe in 2024

8. The Lost Coast

Aerial view of the grassy hills along the Lost Coast in California, one of the best places to visit in NorCal with unspoiled beaches and coastal scenery

Pete Niesen/Shutterstock

As J.R.R. Tolkien penned, “Not all those who wander are lost,” and those who wander to Northern California’s undeveloped and rugged Lost Coast (Rockport to Ferndale) may just end up finding themselves along the way.

Coastal mountains, untouched and black sand beaches, rolling hills ending abruptly at the water’s edge, wildflower meadows, and easy to multi-day hikes wait for you on the Lost Coast. 

Take a scenic 4-hour loop drive from Ferndale on Mattole Road toward Petrolia. At Cape Mendocino, you’ll cruise with dramatic ocean and cliff views before looping around to 3.5 miles of otherworldly ebony sands at Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove and through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. 

Pack up enough gear and food for a few days, grab your Backcountry Camping permit, and hike the totally-unspoiled Lost Coast Trail.

Challenge yourself by hiking the 25 miles from Mattole River to Black Sand Beach over bluffs, hills, and meadows (a 3-day hike). The 9-mile southern section of the trail rises and falls from Hidden Valley to Needle Rock (there’s a Visitor Center here) with scenic views.

Beyond Needle Rock, the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park offers another 19 miles of trails if you’re here on a soul-searching, deep wilderness expedition. Bring a bear container, trekking poles, and water purification gear if you’re doing a multi-day hike.

You can visit the secluded Usal Beach, the longest sandy stretch around with a waterfall on its norther end, and birdwatch or stroll down the shore. Look for tide pools, elephant seals, sea lions, deer, bobcats, and eagles in this distal wilderness. 

At Shelter Cove, a thriving art community with 2 galleries, lighthouse, and village-style town with a grocery, coffee shop, eateries, and excellent fishing provide a touch of civilization in this otherwise-untouched world. 

9. Dunsmuir

Mossbrae Falls in Dunsmuir, one of the best places to visit in Northern California, pictured on a cool day

Stephen Moehle/Shutterstock

The railroad town of Dunsmuir is nestled in a scenic canyon, surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This village has no stop lights and few amenities, but it’s rich in natural beauty and small-town charm — a great little spot to visit in Northern California. 

The wild Upper Sacramento River (Upper Sac, as the locals call it) cuts directly through its center and is one of the main attractions for visitors with its excellent fishing, whitewater rafting, and scenery. 

The waterfall trails here will blow your mind. Hike a mile along railroad tracks next to the Upper Sacramento River to Mossbrae Falls cuts through the canyon fed by springs with cascades 150 feet wide and 50 feet high.

The Hedge Creek Falls appears after a 5-minute walk through an enchanted woodland in Hedge Creek Park. It’s a small but scenic waterfall plummeting 35 feet down with views of Mt. Shasta and the Upper Sacramento River. 

Go behind the falls to enter a small cave that, legend has it, was used as a hideout by a stage coach robber. For more challenging hikes, you can check out nearby trails at Mt. Shasta, a 14,162 foot volcano (the highest free-standing volcano in North America) or Pluto Cave, a lava tube you can explore up to 1,200 feet deep.

In winter, Mt. Shasta transforms into a skiers paradise with options to ski, sled, snowmobile, and snowshoe around the mountain. 

10. Sonoma

Wine barrels piled up and going into a cave in Sonoma, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

Kent Sorensen/Shutterstock

Sonoma is one of the most laid-back, affordable parts of California’s Wine Country. Expansive vineyards, charming wineries and tasting rooms, great restaurants, and scenic views of rolling hills make it even better to visit than Napa and one of our favorite places in Northern California. 

It’s a great city to visit for art galleries, farmer’s markets, and historic sightseeing. There are 19th-century adobe buildings once used by the Mexican military in Sonoma State Historic Park and examples of colonial architecture in Sonoma Plaza, a National Historic Monument.

The plaza is home to some of the city’s best eateries, shops, and tasting rooms with regional wines. If you appreciate pinot noir, chardonnay, sparkling wines, or zinfandel, Sonoma is perfect for your visit as a long-time grower of the grapes that produce these varieties.

There are several wine routes in Sonoma, with some vineyards and wineries close enough to bike to from your hotel or B&B, while others require you to rent a car for the trip (or book a Sonoma guided winery tour with a picnic lunch).

The Sonoma TrainTown Railroad will delight you (especially if you’re bringing kids) with its quarter-scale train with a 4-mile track that leads across bridges, through tunnels, and to Lakeview, a 10-acre amusement park and miniature town. 

Want to see the lay of the land? Take the Sonoma Overlook Trail from the Mountain Cemetery to hike through 3 miles of blissful scenery and see the undulating hills and meadows of the Sonoma Valley. 

11. Muir Woods National Monument

Photo of steps going up a dirt path with trees on either side in the Muir Woods, one of the best places to see in Northern California

Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Just a few miles north of San Francisco, the redwood forests and shady groves of Muir Woods National Monument provide a serene getaway from the city and some of the most picturesque woodlands in all of Northern California. 

Its close proximity to bustling San Francisco makes it a very popular place to visit, so coming during the low season is a good idea if you want less-crowded trails and better views of the forest scenery. Old-growth redwoods stand in clusters and tower nearly 260 feet tall over your head. 

There are no biking trails, but hiking trails span 6 miles through the wilderness with options for short and medium loops, longer out-and-back trails that lead to nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park, and the chance to wrap your arms — or try to, at least — around a giant coast redwood. 

While you can’t camp here or bring pets, it’s a choice spot to spend a day exploring natural trails with unique elements like half-buried steps that blend into the forest floor, huge ferns, and charming bridges that lead over dips and valleys. 

12. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Exterior view of the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a cloudy day with an image of it on a pier overlooking the water


You’ve got the chance to get up-close and personal with majestic marine and aquatic life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Anyone who’s visited will tell you it’s not like other aquariums — it’s one of the best in the world and offers tons of exhibits that can make every visit a totally new experience. 

Glimpse seldom-seen dwellers of the deep sea at Into the Deep, where you’ll see strange creatures like Abyssal comb jellies and slinky siphonophores lighting up the dark water.

Watch sea otters play, see a kelp forest and open sea zones with massive tuna and sea turtles, and spot a Giant Pacific Octopus looking very much like an alien. The Splash Zone is home to playful penguins and Monterey Bay Habitats show you coral reefs, seafloor, and more with a 90-foot exhibit. 

There’s a cafe onsite if you get hungry during your visit and 3 shops on the first and second floors of the aquarium where you’ll find themed gifts and merchandise to commemorate your visit. 

Want an even more immersive experience? Take a behind-the-scenes tour to follow aquarium guides through feeding, maintenance, and more or grab tickets to a show in the Auditorium or an up-close animal encounter, like the Albatross Encounter or the Penguin Feeding. 

Beyond the aquarium, you’ll find Monterey a great spot for other vacation fun. Hiking and biking trails, miles of beautiful beaches, and an array of eateries, shops, and bars downtown make it visit-worthy.

13. Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

San Simeon, California / USA – May 12, 2018: Exterior view of Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s extravagant coastal hilltop estate designed by architect Julia Morgan over 28 years/Abbie Warnock-Matthews/Shutterstock

On La Cuesta Encantada — Enchanted Hill — overlooking the Pacific in San Simeon, an unexpected cathedral-like castle rises above the landscape in grand Spanish Colonial style accented with Gothic and Neoclassical touches: Hearst Castle.

Representing the opulent and eclectic tastes of its creator and inhabitant, William Randolph Hearst, it was built in the early 20th century and thousands of lavish, star-studded parties were held here in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

Hearst filled the luxurious home with medieval and ancient finds brought back from Europe. Today, you can see the eclectic mash-mash of historic pieces that decorate the home and check out the amazing layout of the gardens that are just as impressive as the home. 

Outside, gushing fountains, sparkling swimming pools surrounded by antique statues from Greece and Spain, and the ruins of a private zoo (is this where the zebras at Hearst Ranch came from?) can be found along with lush gardens and perfectly-groomed landscapes. 

Located just 4 hours from San Francisco, Hearst Castle is available to tour with options to go through specific areas, like the kitchen and cottages, grand rooms, or intimate upstairs estate tours. 

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Bumpass Hell boardwalk in Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the best places to visit in Northern California, pictured from a hilltop

Joshua Hawley/Shutterstock

Lassen Volcanic National Park brings you to a simmering world of boiling springs, mud pots, steaming fumarole sulfur vents, and — most importantly — the awe-inspiring Lassen Peak Volcano.

Standing almost 10,500 feet high, Lassen Peak is the world’s largest lava dome and it’s right here in Northern California. The last eruption took place in 1914 and the volcano has laid in dormancy ever since, making it a safe way to get close to a volcano and see the ways it’s transformed the surrounding landscapes. 

You’ll see evidence of that famous eruption in the park’s Devastated Area, where lava rocks and barren areas show you the mighty power of the boiling lava and volcanic ash that once spilled over the land. 

From Lassen Peak, you’ll enjoy some incredible views over the park and California forests, lakes, and valleys. At Bumpass Hell, simmering mud pots appear like land mines in the ground around you and let you know the land here is alive. 

Follow 150 miles of trails through the park that lead to scenic views, serene lakes, and all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail in the northern section of the park.

Drive the scenic highway through the park, visit Sulphur Works to see steaming fumaroles, and cast a line at Manzanita Lake to catch and release trout. 

The 2021 Dixie Fire charred big areas of the park (especially Warner Valley and Juniper Lake), reducing many of the trees to bare trunks standing in barren fields that were once dense forests. Regrowth is happening quickly, though, and the areas of the park west of the highway weren’t affected.

Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in 2024

15. National Steinbeck Center

Exterior photo of the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

Salinas, CA, USA August 8 The John Steinbeck Center, in Salinas, California, dedicates itself to promoting the works of the famed American author/James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Fans of John Steinbeck’s works and bookworms in general will be happy to know that the National Steinbeck Center is here in Northern California. Located in the author’s hometown of Salinas, California, the museum is just 30 minutes from Monterey. 

The National Steinbeck Center is a memorial museum showcasing John Steinbeck’s many works at California State University. From The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men to East of Eden, Steinbeck’s stories enraptured readers around the world.

This museum highlights the way his works transformed the American literary landscape. Plan on spending about 2 hours to guide yourself through the museum after a quick orientation.

With its convenient Main Street location, you’ll find tons of things to do just outside the doors: Restaurants with outdoor dining, unique shops, art galleries, and the Queen Anne Victorian Steinbeck House just over on Central Ave. 

16. Winchester Mystery House

Image of the Winchester Mystery House, one of the best places to visit in Northern California

San Jose, California, USA – March 29, 2018: Exterior view of Winchester Mystery House at entrance. The Winchester Mystery House was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester/JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? At the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (the largest city in Northern California), you’ll learn the strange history behind the sprawling mansion owned by firearm magnates devastated by back-to-back tragedies. 

The founder of Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Oliver Winchester, died in 1880 and left the firearms fortune to his only surviving son, William Wirt Winchester.

Already terminally ill with tuberculosis, William died months later in 1881 and his widow, Sarah, inherited the fortune. She moved to California and bought the farmhouse that would become the 7-story Victorian Winchester Mystery House, rarely appearing in public and becoming a recluse in the process. 

Construction seemed endless on the massive house, lasting from 1886 to 1922, soon growing the modest home to gigantic proportions of 24,000 square feet, 10,000 windows, 160 rooms, 47 stairways, and 6 kitchens — all to the tune of $71 million in today’s money. 

Why wouldn’t she ever leave the property? What drove this frantic building and need to expand? Where did the local rumors of ghosts and poltergeists stem from — and were they rooted in truth?

You can visit the stately (now 4-story) home today with a Mansion Tour and stroll through the Sarah Winchester Gardens to see the place for yourself — and find out if something spooky lurks beneath the Victorian facade. 

Things to Consider

With plenty of ideas for the best places to visit in Northern California, you’re almost ready to start planning your trip in earnest — but there are a few things you should consider first. 

  • Cherry-pick your favorite places. You’ll undoubtedly find several spots you’re interested in visiting on this list, but Northern California is a huge region that would take weeks or months to explore in full. Pick just a few places to visit, choosing destinations that are conveniently located near each other, for your trip and make plans to come back for another visit if there’s more you want to see. 
  • Go during the right time of year. Northern California can offer some excellent winter destinations, like Lake Tahoe skiing resorts and indoor attractions like the Steinbeck Center or Monterey Bay Aquarium. But for the most part, you’re looking at a visit between April and October if you want good weather for hiking, urban exploration, and water sports. 
  • Figure out how long you should spend here. In NorCal, you’ll want at least 4-5 days to really get a sense of the region’s unique vibes, landscapes, and cities, but it’s even better if you can plan to spend 7-10 days. This gives you enough time to camp in a national park, do some hiking, explore San Francisco, or hang out on Santa Cruz beaches. 
  • Mind the wildlife. Some of the best places to visit in this part of California are deep in the wilderness, which is beautiful, but can be dangerous due to wildlife. Bears, elk, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, cougars, sharks — there are many animals in the forests, ocean, and mountains that can pose a threat if you’re not aware and careful. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Cityscape of Santa Cruz and its expansive beach as seen at dusk with the sun setting over the ocean


Make the most of your Northern California trip with a quick study of the most frequently asked questions other travelers have about coming to this wild and beautiful region. 

Where is the prettiest place in California?

Big Sur is often considered the prettiest place in California, offering the most dramatic Pacific Coast views with redwood forests alongside the scenic State Route 1 that winds through the area. Picturesque Pfeiffer Beach, Bixby Bridge, hiking trails, cliffs, and mountain views make it truly stunning to explore.

Where to stop in Northern California?

Some of the best stops in Northern California are Yosemite State Park, San Francisco, Big Sur, Redwood National Park, and Lake Tahoe. These destinations showcase the rugged natural beauty of the region along with the eclectic urban side of the Bay Area and its many entertainment, dining, and historic attractions.

What is unique to Northern California?

Giant coast redwood trees (only found in southern Oregon outside of Northern California), California Wine Country, cioppino seafood stew, the world’s tallest free-standing lava dome (Lassen Peak Volcano), and the funky city of San Francisco are all unique to Northern California.

What is the number one tourist spot in California?

San Francisco is the number one tourist spot in California, seeing over 21 million annual visitors with attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island, and Golden Gate Park. Lake Tahoe comes in second with over 15 million visitors each year for lake activities, nightlife, and skiing.

What is the nicest place to visit in Northern California?

Sonoma is one of the nicest places to visit in California with its laid-back vibes, diverse array of regional wines and vineyards, beautiful, hilly scenery in the Sonoma Valley, and huge variety of shops, restaurants, and historic landmarks in the heart of the idyllic town.

So, Where Will You Visit in Northern California?

When you’re looking for the best places to visit in Northern California, you can get analysis paralysis with so many options in front of you — redwood parks, beautiful beaches, bustling cities, charming small towns, and natural wonders that can impress even the most well-traveled nature lover. 

But don’t let indecision stop you from planning a trip! You can see a little or a lot and still ensure your visit is memorable in such a scenic destination. 

From Yosemite National Park to lesser-known gems hidden off the beaten path, pick out the sites that interest you most (natural, urban, or themed destinations) to plan a personalized trip that checks all your boxes and introduces you to the real NorCal.