Northern California Vacation Destinations

You'll find plenty of great Northern California vacation spots along the coast. These small cities and villages are perfect for exploring the redwoods, relaxing in a cozy Victorian inn, enjoying scenic beaches, or doing a little sightseeing. 

There are many small towns and villages in this region, but not many sizable cities. Santa Rosa is, in fact, the only large city. Located in the heart of Sonoma County wine country, it's a good base for taking a tour of Sonoma wineries.

Eureka is the next largest town, followed by Arcata, Crescent City and Fort Bragg.

The listings below are ordered from north to south: 

Crescent City

Photo courtesy of Zigazigazee |
Crescent City, California, Battery Point Lighthouse

Listed for two years in a row by Forbes magazine as one of America’s prettiest towns, Crescent City offers a convenient base for a Northern California vacation. Located adjacent to Redwood National Park, it affords plenty of opportunity for exploring the redwood forest.

You’ll find lonely stretches of sandy beach, a working harbor, and a smattering of modest tourist attractions. Tour one of the two lighthouses, visit the Ocean World aquarium, or go sailing, sport fishing or whale watching.


Photo courtesy of cmh2315fl |
Trinidad, California

Occupying one of the most picturesque spots on the North Coast, this small town is a good choice for a relaxing Northern California vacation. The town overlooks a working harbor, where you can charter a boat and go fishing.

Explore the many trails, and watch the gray whales go by during the migration season. There are numerous beaches and secluded coves, great for beachcombing, agate hunting, and relaxing.


Photo by Don Forthuber courtesy of Humboldt County CVB,
Arcata, California

This college town is located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, where you’ll find the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, a popular spot for bird watching. At the heart of the town is Arcata Plaza, a town square surrounded by stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. Small town charm and stately Victorians are prime tourist attractions here.


Photo courtesy of nicksarebi |
Eureka, California, Old Town

With a population of 26,000, Eureka is the largest city on the Northern California Coast. The town began as a shipping center and remains a working seaport. Old Town is the jewel of the city, with its beautifully preserved and restored Victorians, galleries, museums, restaurants and shops.


Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton |
Ferndale, California Bed and Breakfast Inn

This Victorian Village is a popular and charming Northern California attraction. Set in the midst of of dairy farmland, Ferndale has an old-fashioned small-town feel. You can stay in a beautifully restored Victorian inn or bed and breakfast establishment, and enjoy the many shops, art galleries, and restaurants. This hamlet has earned its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shelter Cove

Photo courtesy of Emily Price |
Shelter Cove, CA

When you really want to get away from it all, this is the place to be. As the only town on the California Lost Coast, Shelter Cove is the perfect base for exploring this rugged wilderness area.

The town is adjacent to the King Range National Conservation Area, and offers several hotels, restaurants, and even a golf course. You’ll have to work to get here, as the access road is a very winding two way highway, but you can relax once you arrive.

Fort Bragg

Photo courtesy of Naotake Murayama |
Fort Bragg, CA beach

With a population of 7,000, Fort Bragg is the largest city on the Mendocino coast and provides a convenient base for exploring this scenic area. The city is home to the Skunk Train, a historic railroad that takes you through the pristine redwood forest. To the south, you can catch a fishing or whale-watching charter at Noyo Harbor.


Photo © JD Lasica |
MacCallum House Inn, Mendocino
Mendocino CA lodging, MacCallum House Inn

This scenic village is one of the most popular Northern California vacation destinations. Perched on headlands overlooking the Pacific, the village boasts an abundance of historic structures, art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfast inns.


Photo courtesy of Lee Coursey |
View from Harbor House Inn
Elk, California, view from Harbor House Inn

There’s not much to do here except relax and enjoy the scenery -- and that’s the point. If you're looking for a serene Northern California vacation, this is the place. Greenwood State Beach provides the scenery, and a bit of history, plus there are upscale restaurants and bed and breakfast accommodations, so you can decompress in style.


Photo courtesy of Brian Romans |
Mouth of the Gualala River
Gualala, California, mouth of the Gualala River, Northern California vacation

Located at the mouth of the Gualala River, this small town attracts outdoor enthusiasts. Enjoy bicycling, diving, fishing, golfing, kayaking and canoeing. You’ll also find an Arts Center, galleries, shops, restaurants and inns.

Santa Rosa

Photo courtesy of Up & Away Ballooning | Sonoma County Tourism Bureau
hot air balloon tour of Sonoma wine country

With a population of 162,000, Santa Rosa is the only large city in this region. Located about 23 miles from the coast on Highway 101, Santa Rosa provides a convenient base for exploring Sonoma County’s wine country or booking a sightseeing tour. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants, accommodations, and attractions here.

Bodega Bay

Photo courtesy of Shane Forster |
Bodega Bay, California

Tiny Bodega Bay is situated on one of the most scenic Northern California vacation spots. Catch a fishing or whale watching charter, go horseback riding on the beach, rent a kayak or take a kayak tour. There’s also golfing, surfing, diving, and hiking.

Return to Best California Beach home page from Northern California Vacation Destinations