California is an amazing state. There’s a huge variety of landscapes and activities, you can go surfing and skiing on the same day. And the sights you can see are truly breathtaking. Tall, tall trees, rugged coastline, and of course a few glasses of wine. When making a list of things to do don’t miss these stunning spots you must see in Northern California.
I’m writing this post about my recent trip to California which is in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association and Visit California. My trip focused on eight rural regions of the state, so my posts will share a lot of off-the-beaten-path ideas, but with a few well-known spots thrown into the mix as well. Spending your tourism dollars in California is also a great way to help the state recover from this year’s wildfires.
My recommendations for what you must see in Northern California will cover the Shasta Cascade, North Coast, and Gold Country regions based on the map above.
As you can see from the map above, the Shasta Cascade region covers quite a bit of ground up north. Its name comes from the Cascade Mountain range and from its famous peak, Mount Shasta. The area is well-known for its mountain scenery as well as it’s volcanic landscape. Mount Shasta is actually a volcano, which brings me to my first must see…
Lassen Volcanic National Park
This park is a fabulous spot to go for a hike and check out some pretty cool thermal/volcanic activity. One of the stunning spots we hiked to was Bumpass Hell. It’s a pretty simple three-mile roundtrip hike that leads to a boardwalk hovering around bubbling pots and steaming rock vents. You’ll be able to smell when you’re almost there. While Bumpass Hell was a unique spot and felt a bit like something you’d expect to find in Yellowstone, the hike itself was my favorite part. The title image at the top of this post was taken on that Bumpass Hell hike.
Lassen is at high altitude, so pack water and expect winter weather conditions outside of the summer season.
The Shasta Cascade area is also known for its lakes. You can even rent houseboats on Lake Shasta! If you want to find a bit more of a low key lake, check out Whiskeytown Lake. It’s a National Recreational Area and I went for a ranger-led kayak tour around the lake. It has some cute little islands in the lake that you can even dock up to and go explore. You can also have fun at the area beach and splash and play in the warm water.
If you’re traveling in the summer season, they have free ranger-led kayak tours you can sign up for in advance. They even have special tours that allow you to earn special badges. One of their specialty tours is a moonlight kayak tour and the badge glows in the dark!
Other popular spots in Shasta Cascade that I didn’t get to experience are Manzanita Lake and some of their waterfall hikes.
Another region of California that is a spot unto itself is the North Coast. This region is named aptly as it’s the north coastal area of the state. There are so many stunning spots in this region, but perhaps most notable is the…
Redwood National & State Park
Our family has visited the Redwoods before on our Seattle to California road trip, but I was able to get introduced to a new area of the forest on this trip. It’s good to note that the Redwood Forest area is actually a collection of national and state parks. We’ve previously visited the Avenue of the Giants which is along the 101 in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Along the Avenue of the Giants is where you’ll find the Founders Grove, one of the most popular spots to stop on a northern California road trip.
On this trip, we visited the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It’s a great spot to visit since it has some of the largest redwood trees in the park. Be aware though that the “tallest” trees aren’t labeled or pointed out to help protect them from vandalism or harm. However, you can probably have good luck asking the rangers at the Prairie Creek Visitors Center to point out Iluvatar, one of the largest trees which was featured by National Geographic. Across from Illuvatar is Atlas, one of the widest trees in the park.
The true beauty of visiting the Redwood Forest is getting out and hiking. Many hikes are simple and short, perfect for families. What I was most amazed by both times I’ve visited the redwoods is the silence that occurs inside the forest. Even if you’re down the path from your friends, you won’t hear them. It’s a sort of spooky magic. Also, know that there are no trees you can drive-thru in the redwood forests. There are drive-thru trees, but they’re privately owned and not in the national or state parks.
Battery Point Lighthouse Crescent City
If you’re heading north of the redwoods, Crescent City is a popular stopping point for road trippers. We ventured out to the Battery Point Lighthouse for sunset and it was absolutely breathtaking. You’ll find yourself perched on the rocky coastline as you watch the sun drop over the horizon. I also loved snapping shots of the quaint lighthouse that sits on the spot.
Fort Bragg Glass Beach
Fort Bragg is a popular coastal town for northern California visitors, and it’s perhaps most known for its glass beach. Thanks to the placement of an old bottling factory, Glass Beach was a picture-perfect spot to find sea glass. Unfortunately, humans have stolen these pretty bits of magic and now most of the beaches in the area have very little sea glass, and the glass you find is often clear or brown, not the pretty blues and seafoam colors you’d dream of seeing.
But just because you can’t stock up on sea glass, don’t take Fort Bragg off your list. There is a gorgeous walking and biking path along the coastline that is the perfect spot to soak up some California sun and keep your eyes peeled for sea-life off the coast.
Stornetta Lands & Point Arena Lighthouse
For a stunning glimpse of the rugged northern California coastline, you must visit the Stornetta Lands and Point Arena Lighthouse. There’s a lovely rural walking path along the Stornetta Lands coastline, but the Point Arena Lighthouse is the real delight in my opinion. It’s one of the tallest lighthouses on the west coast that you can climb up. When I visited we even spotted whale blow spout spray off the coastline!
There are some fabulous beaches along the North Coast that I wish I could have visited. If you have the time, consider checking out Agate Beach and College Cove Beach. College Cove Beach is supposed to be a fab spot for sunsets. And don’t miss visiting some of the cute coastal towns in the area. Popular towns we visited were Trinidad, Ferndale, and Mendocino.
Hotels Worth Checking Into in North Coast California
Be sure to check Travelocity for hotel prices, they’re currently running a sale that has savings up to 10% off normal prices! (affiliate links)
We stayed in this charming historical inn before our visit to the redwoods. It’s located just north of the Redwood National & State Park, making it a great spot to stay before or after your redwood tour. And trust me, order the cinnamon roll for breakfast!! (Check prices for the Requa Inn)
Featherbed Railroad Caboose Bed and Breakfast
This spot is a quirky and cute bed and breakfast that is located next to the gorgeous Clear Lake in northern CA. I think this would be perfect for families but unfortunately, they’re only permitted to have two guests each. However, the cabooses do make it a fun and unique spot for couples. (Check prices for the Featherbed Railroad B&B)
If you’re looking for historical luxury in main street USA, check out the Tallman. We enjoyed dinner and drinks at their Blue Wing Restaurant which features a beautiful patio dining area. The hotel features beautifully appointed renovated rooms that will make you feel cozy and pampered. (Check prices for the Tallman Hotel)
Mar Vista Cottages
I might have saved the best for last. I fell in love with the Mar Vista Cottages in Anchor Bay. The yellow-sided cottages are adorable, but it’s the hospitality of the owners, Renata and Tom. They even offer fresh eggs and a u-pick garden to help you cook up a yummy breakfast. (See more photos of the Mar Vista Cottages)
When you’re ready to head back inland, heading east and south will lead you into Gold Country. This region is home to El Dorado County and famous for Sutter’s Mill in Coloma where gold was first found in 1848. The gold rush of California began shortly after, leading to the 49’ers moniker. While I have a list of stunning spots not to miss in Gold Country, I also feel that part of Gold Country’s story is the people. While traveling around the region, don’t miss the chance to talk with the locals and experience some honest hospitality.
OARS River Rafting on the South Fork of the American River
You already know that our family loved our OARS rafting trip! This time I got a feel for how fun it is for a day trip. We suited up and headed out. There are some exciting rapids on the short river stretch that will give you some good splashes. Be sure to pack a GoPro! I regretted not having one, you can get some fun shots if you sit up front when the rapids hit the raft. I love rafting because it gives you a whole new sense of the environment that you can’t see from the highway.
— BORDER FREE TRAVELS✈ (@BorderFreeProd) September 16, 2017
Black Chasm Cavern
If you like the idea of going underground for some stunning sightseeing, check out the Black Chasm Cavern in Gold Country. It’s a pretty short tour that ends in a large cavern where you can see all sorts of crazy geological structures. After your deep earth journey, don’t miss out on walking through the Zen Garden trail. There are some great stone outcroppings and being in nature might help bring you some vacation zen.
When you’re ready for a rest and bite to eat, head to the Volcano Inn. Volcano is a tiny mountain town and the Volcano Inn is a gem that I highly recommend stopping at. We had a great food and wine experience with the owner, Tracey. She’s created a charming small town spot and the patio at the Volcano Inn is a great spot to hang out with a nice glass of wine. Don’t miss out on strolling the small main street, there’s even a pastry shop.
Lewis Grace Winery
Of course many visitors to northern California will think about Napa Valley in regards to wine, however, the Gold Country has some offerings as well. We had a lovely time at the Lewis Grace Winery touring their property and of course, taste testing wine. They’re a family owned operation, so when you go in for a tasting you might just have one of the owners serving you up. Gorgeous spot to catch the sunset, too!
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park
Of course, no visit to Gold Country would be complete without a glimpse into the history of the area. The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park has been created to help showcase the California gold boom history. We even got to try our hand at gold mining in the river! The countryside of Gold Country is also unique and will give you a very different image of California that what you’d think of from the North Coast region.
Those are just a few of the spots I think you must see in Northern California. Of course, you don’t want to miss exploring San Fransisco and perhaps even Santa Rosa and Napa Valley. The capital city of Sacramento is also a popular spot with visitors. Stay tuned for more posts about the great state of California!