The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California in 2023 | travelers 🧳 (2023)

Northern California is one of the most popular vacation destinations due to its diverse landscape, unique attractions and elegant cities. While planning a vacation in this busy state can seem daunting, there are a few places that should be on everyone's bucket list.

The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California

Families, couples, friends, and solo adventurers alike can all find a new favorite vacation spot in Northern California. Praised for its rugged coastlines, stunning national parks and stunning redwood trees, this destination is a nature lover's dream.

But Northern California is also known for its delicious clam chowder and trendy landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge.

There are many great places to explore, but save time for these well-known favorites and off-the-beaten-path stops. Read on for 16 of the best places to visit in Northern California.

1. Yosemite

The 16 Best Places to Visit in Northern California in 2023 | travelers 🧳 (1)

Andrew Opila/Shutterstock

Yosemite National Parkit's a vast 1,200-square-mile natural spectacle at its finest. Visitors explore famous waterfalls, deep valleys, meadows, redwoods and nature.

You can walk, cycle or listen to a guided tour to make the most of your visit. Various events are held in Yosemite throughout the year. Depending on the time of your visit, you can attend the Yosemite Music Festival or join the Sierra Art Trails.

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2. Gran Sur

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Doug Meek / Shutterstock

Drive through Big Sur, a 90-mile journey through redwood forests and coastal areas. You can admire these impressive scenes driving on Highway 1, where there are several designated places to turn off the road for a closer look.

While you're there, you can't miss the Bixby Bridge or thePfeiffer Big Sur State Park. If you look closely during the trip, you can spot whales, sea otters and California condors, large endangered birds.

Keep reading: Where to stay in Big SuryBest time to go to Big Sur

3. Redwood State and National Parks

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Yaya Ernst/Shutterstock

Redwood National and State Parksprotect more than the tallest trees in the world. Meadows, oak groves, rivers and coastlines also run through these parks. Spend the night camping at Redwood Parks to make the most of your visit.

You can choose between camping or camping inland. If you can't stay the night, consider driving through the picturesque countryside, hiking, biking or walking your dog in the vast and beautiful area.

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4. San Francisco

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You can't leave California without seeing the sun set over San Francisco. Sunset flights offer priceless views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the skyline.

Families should stop atBay Area Discovery Museumon a visit to San Francisco. Interactive exhibits stimulate curiosity and learning.

Keep reading: The best time to travel to San FranciscoyWhere to stay in San Francisco

5. Holy Cross

In Santa Cruz, visit Natural Bridges State Beach, where seals, sea otters, starfish, sea slugs and anemones can be found in crystal clear waters.

Make time for a walkBoardwalk of Santa Cruz, one of the few remaining original wooden walkways in California. This amusement park offers games, rides, delicious food and alcoholic beverages.

Finally, you must stop at Monarch Grove. Thousands of monarch butterflies flutter among the eucalyptus trees and you can enjoy a peaceful walk along this magnificent trail.

6. National Forest and City of Mendocino

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Produções Geartooth/Shutterstock

Part of the California Coastal Range, the Mendocino National Forest is so large that it's impossible to see it all in one trip.

It's a good area for hiking, but avoid July and August when temperatures can reach 100 degrees. May is the best time to visit as you'll see more flowers and wildlife than in winter.

The Village of Mendocino is a beautiful area nestled between Mendocino Headlands State Park, the Big River and the Redwoods. Visit the Bookstore Gallery, Featured Gallery and Village Toy Store.

7. Lake Tahoe

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Best Seller / Shutterstock

Lake TahoeIt is famous for its crystal clear waters and spectacular views of the mountains. Visitors marvel at this 22-mile lake that sits at over 6,000 feet above sea level.

Stop at famous restaurants, local art galleries and shops on a trip to the second deepest lake in the United States. In winter, you spend time skiing and snowboarding. Summer visitors can go kayaking, rafting or backpacking.

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8. Gilroy Premium-Outlet

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Michael Vi/Shutterstock

Take a trip toGilroy Premium Outletfor the shopping spree of a lifetime. This huge mall is located in Gilroy, a city that is part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

It is one of the largest outlets in Northern California, with over 145 outlets. Popular stores like Banana Republic, Coach and Polo Ralph Lauren sell premium clothing at deep discounts.

9. Dunsmuir

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Stephen Moehle/Shutterstock

dunsmuirIt is a picturesque and peaceful town surrounded by snow capped mountains. From here you can see the highest volcano on the continent, a river and simple shops.

This railway town has fewer than 2,000 inhabitants and even first-time visitors feel right at home. Here you can relax, browse unique shops and fish for Grandfather Trout.

10. Sonoma

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Kent Sorensen/Shutterstock

Sonoma, California is on the outskirts of San Francisco. Downtown features several historic buildings that represent the city's colonial past and the National Historic Landmark, Sonoma Plaza.

As you explore the city's history, dine at famous restaurants, browse local shops and visit tasting rooms. Join Wine Country Bike Tours to fill your day with wine tasting.

11. Muir Wald

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Various Photographs/Shutterstock

While there are many places to see redwoods in Northern California, Muir Woods stands out from the rest. This park is the most visited redwood park in California due to its ancient redwood trees.

Nearly one million travelers visit Muir Woods National Monument annually. There are several trail options, all with different lengths.

Even those short on time can take a short stroll through this beautiful park. See other popular sites like Mount Tamalpais State Park and San Francisco from these woods.

12. Monterey Bay Aquarium

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DieMonterey-Bay-AquariumIt should be on your list of the best places to visit in Northern California, regardless of age. There are numerous impressive exhibits such as:

  • Deep
  • giant pacific octopus
  • bay life
  • penguins

The website will keep you informed of upcoming events and dates. Check it out before visiting Northern California to make sure you stop here at the perfect time.

13. Castle of Hest

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

Castelo Hearstis a unique museum in San Simeon, California. Once a mystical property filled with guest houses, terraced gardens, fountains and pools, this 100-year-old home is the place to be.

There are several tours to choose from, some will take you back in time while others focus on specific areas of the property. Stop by the world-famous outdoor pool, where you can take perfect photos of your trip.

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Josué Hawley/Shutterstock

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home toPico Lassen, a volcano that erupted in 1914 and went dormant three years later. Surrounding this peak are natural wonders such as sulphurous springs, clay pots and boiling springs.

As you walk along the paths, you will feel strangely comfortable due to the silent forests and tranquil lakes. However, a closer look at the volcano from vantage points baffles visitors to this day.

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15. National Steinbeck Center

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Salinas, CA, USA August 8 The John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California is dedicated to promoting the works of famous American author/James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

All avid readers should take a trip toNational Steinbeck Centerat least one time. It is a masterful installation dedicated to the creativity of Steinbeck's work. The founders designed it with the hope that it would lead to educational improvements.

Steinbeck's depictions of ordinary people touched hearts across America. Whether you're referring to the free spirits of Tortilla Flat or George's compassion in Of Mice and Men, you can feel the timelessness of his work.

16. To Winchester Mystery House

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

Located in San JoseWinchester Mysterious Househas a tragic history. The family that once owned the house fell apart when a girl and her father died at just a few years old. The widow moved from Connecticut to San Jose and renovated an eight-bedroom farmhouse.

Many believe that this widow built the house under the guidance of a medium or spirits. Today you can tour this massive property, find memorabilia, try out an escape room and test your aim in the shooting gallery.

things to consider

Before planning a trip to Northern California, consider the following:

  • The weather
  • your budget
  • The place

Northern California weather is fickle and varies with the seasons. The best time to travel is between April and July or August and November, as the chances of significant rain and humidity are relatively low.

Your budget also plays a role in your decision. Hotels in popular areas tend to be more expensive, and some attractions charge high entrance fees. If you want to plan a vacation on the cheap, check out the free options in the FAQ section below.

Many Northern California visitors want to visit all the attractions in one trip. Unfortunately, most attractions aren't close enough to walk or even drive between them without wasting a lot of time travelling. Before traveling, check the distances between your destinations.

common questions

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Learn some more important details about vacationing in Northern California below:

What are the best things to do in Northern California?

Couples enjoy picnics on the beach, while adventurers must test their surfing skills in the Pacific Ocean. Visiting unique stores is another fun option.

What are some Northern California vacation ideas?

If you plan on spending the night in Northern California, try camping in a national or state park like Redwoods Parks. Alternatively, you can take a road trip along the coast, stopping at hotels in famous cities like Santa Cruz.

What are the best cities in Northern California?

California is best known for its bustling cities, state parks and national forests, but there are some notable cities as well. Bolinas is home to the beautiful Bolinas Lagoon and a delicious beachside cafe. Jenner, with less than 200 residents, offers amazing hikes like the Vista Trail.

What unique places to visit in Northern California?

Unique places to visit include Albany Bulb City Park, Rock City and the world's largest monopoly bank. Winchester Mystery House is also a unique attraction for adventurers.

What can you do for free in Northern California?

There are several places in Northern California that you can visit for free. Spend time at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, walk the Sundial Bridge in Redding or visit the Trees of Mystery Museum in Redwoods. You can also go hiking to see the stunning natural surroundings.

So what's the best place to visit in Northern California?

The best place to visit in Northern California depends on your passion. Nature lovers can enjoy numerous national parks, while history buffs should visit museums and historic cities. Those looking for relaxation find peace and quiet in rustic and peaceful places.

Regardless of your vacation style, you'll find a new favorite vacation spot when you travel to Northern California. What are you waiting for? Book your trip today!

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