Northern California Vacation

Along the Wild and Rugged North Coast

If you want to commune with nature, a Northern California vacation could be just the thing. This is the land of awe-inspiring redwood forests and dramatic driftwood strewn beaches.  But don’t think you have to rough it. You can commune with nature while enjoying all the creature comforts your heart desires. There are more than enough world-class restaurants, charming inns, and B&Bs to choose from.

But if roughing it is more your style, you'll find some outstanding places for that as well. The point is, you’ve got choices. Stay in a cozy Victorian bed & breakfast, or go camping -- right on the beach or among the redwoods.

Scenic view of the Lost Coast in Northern California

California Lost Coast  Photo courtesy of BLM/Arcata

There’s something here for just about everyone, except perhaps sun worshippers. This is not the place for sunbathing. In fact, be sure to bring a sweater or jacket, because it’s cool in this part of the world, even in the summer.

For our purposes Northern California includes the following counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma. Listings are always ordered from north to south, wherever possible.

Northern California Attractions

Vineyard, Sonoma County California

Sonoma County Vineyard  Photo courtesy of SCTB |

There may be no large cities here, but there's plenty of culture. You'll find a plethora of wonderful old Victorians and other historic structures, enough Northern California wineries to keep you very busy indeed, and lots of art and cultural offerings.

The North Coast features fascinating lighthouses and historic sites, art galleries and museums. There are fine restaurants, live entertainment venues, spas and unique shops. Take a ride on the Skunk Train, stroll through the coastal Mendocino Botanical Gardens, or visit a brewery.

If you'd like to visit wine country, you're in luck. Mendocino County is home to over 80 wineries, while Sonoma County boasts a jaw-dropping 300. You’ll find plenty of tours and tasting rooms available. Try the Anderson Valley for Mendocino wineries or the Green Valley for Sonoma wineries, if you want to stay close to the coast.

Northern California Beaches and Parks

Mendocino Coast, California

Mendocino Coast  Photo courtesy of Aaron Logan | Flickr

The Northern California coast is an area of wild and rugged natural beauty, where you'll find redwood groves, ferny grottos, and secluded sandy coves hidden among craggy headlands and towering bluffs.

Northern California boasts the most magnificent redwood forest on the planet. These trees grow particularly tall and lush in the moist, foggy climate. Redwood National Park, along with the Redwood State Parks, provides plenty of opportunity to enjoy them. If you’re pressed for time, just take one of the scenic routes through the redwoods.

No Northern California vacation is complete without a little wildlife watching. There’s plenty to be seen, from tiny tide pool critters to impressive animals like Roosevelt elk and migrating whales. There are numerous species of birds and an abundance of seals and sea lions One creature you’re unlikely to forget is the appalling banana slug, which looks, as its name suggests, like an over-ripe banana.

Banana Slug  Photo by Joseph Smith, courtesy of National Park Service

If the cool, refreshing climate gets you feeling energetic, you’ll have an extensive menu of outdoor adventures to choose from. There’s camping, hiking, fishing (both ocean and stream), diving (including abalone diving), horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing. Then there’s also beachcombing, surfing, sailing, ATV riding, cycling, and even golfing.

Go surfing in Bodega Bay, or explore the wilderness in the California Lost Coast. Take your horse (or your dog) for a romp on the beach. So many possibilities...

Not only will you find dramatic Northern California beaches and stately redwood forests, but rivers, lagoons, and wildlife areas also provide recreational opportunities. The North Coast is truly a prime location for outdoor adventure.

Del Norte County Beaches | Humboldt County Beaches
Mendocino County Beaches | Sonoma County Beaches

Northern California Vacation Destinations

Victorian architecture, Ferndale, California

Ferndale, California  Photo © Harris Shiffman |

The North Coast is a region of small towns and villages. The only sizeable city is Santa Rosa, located in the heart of Sonoma County's wine country. Along the coast, Eureka is the largest city, while Arcata, Crescent City, and Fort Bragg are considerably smaller.

But these small towns have their charms. If you're interested in art and architecture, head to Eureka, tiny Ferndale or even tinier Mendocino, California. Here, you'll find a thriving art community and well-preserved Victorian architecture.

But if you just want to get away from it all, enjoy the splendid scenery in small towns like Trinidad, Elk, and Bodega Bay.

Northern California Bed and Breakfast Inns
& Great Places to Stay

Joshua Grindle Inn, Mendocino, California

Joshua Grindle Inn, Mendocino  Photo courtesy of James Gaither |

You'll find an abundance of romantic Northern California bed and breakfast inns and charming resorts. Some are restored Victorian homes, and others are coastal inns with lovely views. You can even lodge at a historic lighthouse at Point Cabrillo or Point Arena.

Make your northern California vacation a cut above the ordinary. The selections below are just a small sample of outstanding accommodations the region has to offer.

If you’re looking for budget lodging, your best bet is to stick to the larger towns: Crescent City, Eureka and Fort Bragg.

If you have your heart set on exploring Sonoma County wineries, consider making Santa Rosa your base.

Del Norte Coast Lodging | Humboldt Coast Lodging
Mendocino Coast Lodging | Sonoma Coast Lodging

Northern California Vacation Information

You'll find many great sources of information to help you plan your northern California vacation. Some even offer free vacation guides and maps.

Information Sources for Northern California Travel

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