Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring California? From sandy beaches to wild national parks and even wilder cities, California is the iconic state that defines American life – and San Francisco in the North is perfectly positioned for those who want to explore beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. But what can you expect? Anything and everything: from gorgeous, wild beaches to wonderful, sun-soaked vineyards.
We’ve handpicked the six best things to do in Northern California to make planning your next Cali adventure that much easier.
1. Yosemite National Park
This is America at its most awe-inspiring – and only a three-hour drive from downtown San Francisco. It’s wild, rugged and utterly enchanting. Take your pick from hiking through sequoia trees, witnessing waterfalls cascade down granite cliffs or kayak along the Merced River, which flows through the Yosemite Valley – one of the most easily accessible areas of the National Park. Even in the most popular spots like Yosemite Valley, it’s easy to get off the beaten path and discover why the park is world famous.
2. Napa Valley
While Yosemite offers a true wilderness adventure, Napa Valley lets you get in touch with classic Cali communities all while taking your taste buds on a trip of a lifetime. The area is home to some of the world’s leading vineyards and is heaven for foodies. It’s true, the people of Napa are experts in the good things in life, and they are more than willing to let you sample their laid-back, sun-soaked lifestyle. You can take tours of distinctive vineyards that vary from cave wineries to castles and quirky architectural gems like Quixote – one of the leading wineries in the region.
3. Big Sur
California is famed for its coastline, and it doesn’t get any more spectacular and dramatic than the Big Sur region of central California. The hidden coves, ideal surf spots and rural coastal communities, along with the Pacific Coast Highway, make it perfect road trip territory. Hike along cliff paths as the waves collide below you before taking in sweeping vistas from coastal restaurants. If you can pull yourself away from the coast, explore the nearby Los Padres National Forest and its towering redwoods.
4. Point Lobos State Reserve
The coastline of California isn’t all about sandy beaches: head South along the coast to the Point Lobos State Reserve and take part in some of the best water-based adventures that California has to offer in a protected area that’s packed with wildlife. Take your swimwear and scuba and spend your time snorkeling and diving in the warm waters of the marine reserve or head out in a kayak to explore this patch of Cali’s central coast. Back on dry land the park is home to a number of great nature trails where you’re guaranteed to meet the wildlife that calls the park home. Oh, and you can also go whale watching. What more could you want?
5. Monterey County
One of the major problems with driving to Monterey County on the Pacific Coast Highway is that you’ll want to stop the car every 10 minutes as the coastal road reveals stunning view after stunning view. If you do make it to Monterey County, which is on the way to both Point Lobos State Reserve and Big Sur, you’ll be rewarded with a choice of seaside towns, with Monterey and Carmel being the two most popular picks.
6. Muir Woods National Monument
You don’t have an excuse not to visit these ancient woodlands – it’s practically on your doorstep! Towering redwoods, which date back over 1000 years, are the tallest living things in the world, and they provide the perfect setting for escaping the summer sun or leafy fall strolls. While you can’t bike the varied trails of the park, the nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park has a number of adrenaline-pumping routes that come with panoramic views of San Francisco and the Bay area.