Northern California contains around 40 counties. Each county offers new insight into life in California. It would take years to visit every exciting location in Northern California.
During your vacation, make time for the best places to visit in Northern California. Many of these destinations are unique to the Golden State. Do you know of another place with a treehouse inside a redwood?
Feel free to use this travel guide as a California checklist for your next road trip. Grab a state map and a marker. You’re about the plan the best California vacation your family’s ever seen.
1. Stroll Through the Petrified Forest
North-west of Santa Rosa is the small town of Calistoga. The town is known for two things, the petrified forest, and a natural geyser. The landmarks are ten minutes apart, making Calistoga a great day-trip option.
The Petrified Forest includes a half-mile hiking loop through an old-growth forest. It takes you past trees that lived over 3 million years ago. You can go on a self-guided tour or wait for a tour guide.
An ancient blast from Mt. St. Helena flattened the entire forest and coated it in ash. Over the centuries, minerals seeped into the buried trees. In 1870, a homesteader discovered the forest.
2. Admire Stunning Glass Beach
In the 1900s, residents in Fort Bragg used the nearby beach as a dump. Decades of clean-up efforts left behind a clean beach dotted in shimmering colors. The colors come from sea glass formed when waves tossed broken bottles.
Nowadays, the beach isn’t as impressive unless you head for secluded spots. Visitors collected too much sea glass since the beach opened. If you plan to visit, take pictures, but leave the glass behind.
Tip: Ocean temperatures in Northern California are chilly year-round. If you plan to swim, pack a wetsuit. Deciding which to choose depends on the water temperature and your activities.
3. Zipline Through the Redwoods
Have you ever wondered how a bird feels flying through a redwood forest? Get an up-close view of these giant trees with a zipline canopy tour.
Head over to Sonoma County to experience flying through a redwood canopy. Several companies in the area offer ziplining courses with varying degrees of difficulty.
Do a little homework before your trip to find a zipline course fit for you. Some courses might be too intense. One popular ziplining course requires you to rappel down at the end.
4. Solve the Mystery of the Winchester House
In 1886, Sarah Winchester moved into an 8-room house in San Jose. By the time of her death in 1922, construction expanded it to 160 rooms. The real reasons behind the never-ending construction remain a mystery.
The secrets hidden in Mrs. Winchester’s home survive until this day. Workers found a hidden attic room in 2017. The new room gives visitors a look at furniture owned by the widow.
Maybe you’ll spot a hidden treasure during your mansion tour. There are 24,000 square feet to explore, plus the lush gardens. Wear your comfortable shoes because the tour goes for about a mile.
5. Explore the Lava Beds National Monument
Up in Siskiyou County is Lava Beds National Monument. Due to intense volcano activity in the area, sections of the park are covered in old lava flows.
In the park, you’ll find examples of lava chimneys and tubes to explore. The lava tubes are large caverns perfect for hiking. Before you head to the monument, check to see which caves are open.
6. Drive Down the Avenue of Giants
Looking for a low-impact California vacation in Humboldt County? Head over to old Highway 101 and drive down the 31-mile Avenue of Giants.
The highway passes through the middle of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. On the north end is the Eternal Tree House and Founder’s Grove. Make time to visit the quirky local shops on the south end of the avenue.
7. Visit the Oldest Chinese Temple in California
50 miles east of Redding lies a little-known Californian landmark. Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds was built in 1874. Originally a Taoist temple, in time, included many other eastern religions.
When the local Chinese people moved on, those who remained made the temple a park. They wanted to preserve the rich history of the gold rush era Chinese workers.
The temple is full of ornate furnishings—some items on display date back to before the temple’s creations.
The temple is still used for worship to this day. Check to see if there are any festivals planned during your trip.
8. Witness a Rare Tidefall in Marin County
Ready for a long hike with a beautiful ocean view? Head on over to Marin County and visit Alamere Falls. From any of the 3 trailheads, it is about a 7-8 mile hike to the falls.
Pick your starting point for the hike wisely. Some trailheads have no restrooms or potable water. There are no restrooms near the falls themselves.
9. Catch a Ride Through the Forest
Exhausted after hiking around Northern California but still looking for adventure? Why not take a train ride through the redwoods one afternoon?
Roaring Camp Railroads uses narrow-gauge steam engines from the 1890s. These are the same engines used to log redwoods during the 1880s.
The redwood forest trek lasts for 70 minutes. The engine climbs up Bear Mountain for a spectacular view.
10. Test Your Bravery in Moaning Cavern
Some caverns test your mettle during the descent. Moaning Cavern’s 10-story spiral staircase will make you question your bravery. If that isn’t exciting enough, you can also rappel into the cave.
The main shaft in Moaning Cavern is 165 feet tall and formed from marble. Adventurous guests can explore another 70 feet of tunnels below the main shaft. The expedition tour includes squeezing through a passageway called the Meat Grinder.
Plan a Trip to the Best Places to Visit in Northern California Today!
It might take you years to see all the best places to visit in Northern California. You might as well start planning those trips now.
When creating your trip schedule, alternate active days with relaxing days. Maybe try hiking to Alamere Falls and follow up with a redwood forest train ride. This way, you don’t end up too sore to appreciate Northern California’s beauty.
Ready to pack your bags for your California trip? Visit our Travel Checklists section for packing advice.