The upper half of the state is a diverse place, which means there are plenty of great weekend getaways in Northern California to get excited about. From coastal escapes to wine country towns, forested hamlets, and cosmopolitan cities, there is really something for everyone.
Some of these weekend destinations might be on your radar, but my guess is that several of them aren’t. There are quite a few small towns that have really come into their own in recent years which definitely deserve a weekend stay. Here are 25 terrific weekend getaways in Northern California to enjoy.
Headed south? Read our guide to the best weekend getaways in Southern California.
25 Weekend Getaways in Northern California
Healdsburg, located in Sonoma County wine country, is one of our favorite weekend getaways in Northern California. There are over 30 tasting rooms located in downtown Healdsburg, as well as many wineries in the surrounding countryside.
Williamson Wines is a family-owned winery which offers a tasting experience that includes food pairings with each wine. The tasting room is located in a beautiful courtyard setting and features an extensive selection of wines. Stephen & Walker Winery also has a tasting room downtown. They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals.
Outside of town, follow Dry Creek Road and discover several amazing wineries along the way like the breathtaking Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, known for its magical scenery and delicate chardonnays, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blancs.
Of course, no wine experience in Healdsburg is complete without a visit to The Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Movie Museum just north of town in Geyserville. In addition to great wines, there is also an extensive movie memorabilia collection, poolside cabanas to enjoy, and a great restaurant.
Beyond wine, Healdsburg is surrounded by beautiful countryside and offers many outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and kayaking, floating, or swimming in the Russian River.
Hungry? Healdsburg is known for its fantastic farm-to-table dining scene, with many restaurants featuring locally sourced ingredients and seasonal menus. The town is also home to several acclaimed restaurants, including SingleThread, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant celebrating the Japanese concept of omotenashi, and Valette, a restaurant focused modern American cuisine with a French twist and plenty of locally-sourced ingredients.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Glamping in Healdsburg is a luxurious way to experience the natural beauty of the region. We love Wildhaven Sonoma which has heated glamping tents steps fom the Russian River.
Fort Bragg is located on the ruggedly beautiful Mendocino Coast and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, rocky cliffs, and towering redwoods.
It is home to several unique natural attractions, including the Glass Beach, where visitors can see colorful glass stones that have been worn smooth by the ocean.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve is located just north of Fort Bragg and features a unique “Ecological Staircase” that showcases the area’s diverse ecosystems, including a beach, a coastal prairie, and a pygmy forest.
The Skunk Train, another popular attraction, is a historic railroad line that runs from Fort Bragg in Mendocino County to Willits in inland Mendocino County, California. It is named after the “skunk-like” smell that the train used to emit from its gas-powered engines in the early 20th century.
Today, the Skunk Train offers scenic train rides through the dramatic redwood forests dominating the region. The most popular route from Fort Bragg is the Pudding Creek Express, a 75-minute round trip from Fort Bragg to Glen Blair Junction. The trip includes views of the Pudding Creek Estuary and plenty of redwoods. There are also rail bikes available which are electric-powered and an incredible way to enjoy the lush, forest scenery.
There are several great festivals held in the region throughout the year. Held every July, the Mendocino Music Festival is a two-week event that features a variety of musical performances, including classical, jazz, and world music. The festival takes place in a beautiful outdoor venue overlooking the ocean.
The Whale Festival in March includes whale watching, nature walks, arts and crafts, and a chowder cook-off. In September, Winesong is a weekend-long event that features wine tastings, gourmet food, live music, and a charity auction.
Held every first Friday of the month, the Art Walk is a self-guided tour of galleries and artist studios in downtown Fort Bragg. Visitors can meet local artists and view their work, which includes painting, sculpture, photography, and more.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Noyo Harbor Inn is an elegant inn featuring rooms with ocean views, as well as a restaurant and bar overlooking the Noyo River.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the lesser-visited national parks in Northern California, but it is truly a fantastic place to visit. The park protects the lands around Mount Lassen, an active volcano that last erupted about 100 years ago.
The volcano is still very much alive and the best place to experience volcanic activity is on the Bumpass Hell Trail three-mile, round-trip hike takes visitors to the Bumpass Hell geothermal area. A boardwalk leads you through an area filled with bubbling mud pots and steaming vents.
The park also has several alpine lakes which are just lovely. My favorite is Manzanita Lake which is located near the park’s visitor center. There is an easy, 1.8-mile loop trail takes visitors around Manzanita Lake, and there are places where you can see Lassen Peak reflecting off the lake, making for amazing pictures.
Lake Helen near the Bumpass Hell trailhead is another simply grogeous lake. It is crystal clear (and freezing) and often has snow and ice through mid-summer.
Another great hike inside the park is the 2.6-mile round-trip hike which leads to Kings Creek Falls, a picturesque waterfall that cascades over a 30-foot drop.
Kings Creek Falls is one of our favorite waterfalls in Northern California. See what other special spots made the list.
Peak baggers will want to make the climb to the top of Lassen Peak. This strenuous five-mile, round-trip hike offers wonderful views of the surrounding landscape and requires some scrambling near the top.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins are a nice glamping option within the park. They have beds, a propane heater, and their own fire rings and picnic tables. Shower and bathrooms are in another building.
If you want more traditional lodging, head to the gateway town of Chester and stay at the Best Western Rose Quartz Inn which serves up a complimentary hot breakfast in the morning and coffee and cookies all day!
When I first moved up to Northern California about 25 years ago, Winters was nothing more than a sleepy farm town known for its snow cone stand on the way to Lake Berryessa and steak dinner splurges at The Buckhorn. My how things have changed.
It seems as though the snow cone stand is long gone (thankfully you can still get a great meal at Buckhorn Steakhouse) but in its place wineries, breweries, and even a craft distillery has popped up.
Some of the area wineries include Turkovich Family Wines which is located in downtown Winters and offers a range of wines made from grapes grown on the family’s nearby vineyards that are available for tasting.
Berryessa Gap Vineyards is another family-owned winery located just a few miles from Winters on Highway 128 and offers a range of wines made from grapes grown in the surrounding hills. Visitors can taste wines at the winery’s tasting room and enjoy views of the nearby vineyards and hills. Wine tours are offered on Saturday and Sunday at 12:30pm and 2:30pm and tastings can be reserved at both the winery and the downtown tasting room.
If you prefer beer, check out Berryessa Brewing Company, which offers a farm-to-table food menu featuring ingredients sourced from local farms as well as great brews. Patio 29 is the only craft distillery in the region and they make a variety of whiskeys, vodka, gin, rum, and even grappa. Their tasting room is open Friday through Sunday.
If you are looking for outdoor fun, head to nearby Lake Berryessa whre you can swim, boat, and fish. Fishing can also be found along Putah Creek as it heads out of town.
A unique outdoor experience can be found at Park Winters where you can pay $25 and pick your own bouquet from a wide selection of flowers including cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, dahlia, poppies, snap dragons,ranunculus, and sunflowers.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Abbey House Inn is a charming bed and breakfast built in 1905 that offers a farm-to-table breakfast experience. The innkeepers source many of their ingredients from their own garden and nearby farms, and their breakfast menu features a range of sweet and savory dishes made with fresh and seasonal ingredients.
San Francisco has long been one of the best weekend getaways in Northern California. Its distinctive neighborhoods, natural beauty, cultural diversity, and endless activity dining options keep us coming back again and again.
San Francisco is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the cable cars.
Many of us NorCal folks have never actually tried the touristy stuff but truth be told, there is a reason these attractions are so popular. If you haven’t visited Alacatraz, you should! If you haven’t taken the time to walk across the bridge, what are you waiting for? I recommend starting on the Marin side and walking towards the city to enjoy those epic bay views.
Enjoy the natural beauty of the city by heading to the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, or taking a boat cruise to view this special place from the water.
Experience some of the best museums in the state, including including the de Young Museum, the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Eat your way through San Francisco’s iconic neighborhoods- grab a carnitas burrito from La Taqueria in the Mission District, dim sum at Wing Sing in Chinatown, incredible Burmese food at Burma Superstar in the Richmond District, and pizza worth writing home about at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in Little Italy.
There are more festivals taking place throughout the city than we can count, so you are always sure to stumble upon something special. A few highlights include the Chinese New Year Parade, Bay to Breakers, Outside Lands, and Oktoberfest by the Bay.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Stanyan Park Hotel in the Haigh-Ashbury borders Golden Gate Park and has plenty of luxurious Victorian charm and budget-friendly rates. In addition to an included contintental breakfast, they also offer a complimentary manager’s reception with wine and cheese on weekday evenings and a tea service every evening.
Sacramento has had a bit of a “glow up” this century. It has long sat in the shadow of the Bay Area but these days, there is definitely more of a food and night life scene, making it a great spot for a weekend getaway.
The Midtown and Downtown areas of Sacramento are known for their lively food and bar scenes. The Waterboy is an upscale, farm-to-table restaurant that offers a seasonally inspired menu with a focus on Mediterranean and Northern Italian cuisine.
If you’re in the mood for German food, LowBrau is a popular spot. They specialize in gourmet sausages, including vegan and vegetarian options, along with a variety of craft beers on tap. Mikuni is our favorite sushi spot in the area and their Incredible Roll can’t be missed!
Of course, Sacamento is is rich in history, from the California Gold Rush to the state’s role in the Civil War. Visitors can explore historic sites like Sutter’s Fort and the California State Capitol, and learn about the city’s fascinating past.
Old Sacramento is also a fun place to explore because it feels like you have stepping back in time thanks to the restored buildings and wooden walkways akin to the Gold Rush days. It is filled with interesting shops (we love Evangelines and the candy shops), lots of dining options, and the California Railroad Museum.
Old Sacramento was built on top of the original street level, which is now underground. You can take a cool guided tour via the Sacramento History Museum to explore the hidden underground tunnels and learn about the history of the city.
You can also board a riverboat and cruise the Sacramento River. The dinner cruise is highly recommended.
The rivers also provides great recreational opportunities. Bring your bikes and explore the American River Parkway, a 23-mile stretch of parkland along the American River. Or rent a boat and cruise the Sacramento River for the day.
Sacramento has a thriving craft beer scene, with many excellent breweries and taprooms to choose from. Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse is a popular brewery in downtown Sacramento is known for its high-quality craft beers and delicious smoked meats. The taproom has a spacious outdoor patio, perfect for enjoying a cold beer on a sunny day.
Track 7 Brewing Company is a well-known name in the Sacramento craft beer scene, and for good reason. Their flagship beer, Panic IPA, is a favorite among locals, and their two taprooms (in the Curtis Park and Natomas neighborhoods) is a great spot to hang out and enjoy a pint.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: I love the location of the Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade. It is within walking distance of Old Sacramento and the Sacramento Rivercats’ stadium, an awesome place to catch a minor league baseball game.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Located north of Eureka is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, one of the four state parks that help make up the Redwood National and State Parks complex. It is a great place to spend the weekend because there is plenty to do outdoors and the scenery is spectacular.
Prairie Creek Redwoods made our list of the 30 best California State Parks.
The park is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees on earth, including the famous “Big Tree,” a massive redwood tree that is over 1,500 years old. Many of the redwoods in this park reach dizzying heights of over 300 feet and nine of the trees are over 350 feet tall!
Prairie Creek is a special park not only for its towering trees, but also for its resident population of Roosevelt elk. In 1925, there were as few as 15 of these elk left in the California redwoods. Today, the population has rebounded to 1,000 and they are most often seen at Elk Prairie, along Davidson Road west of Highway 101, and on Gold Bluffs Beach.
Golds Bluff Beach is a special place beyond being a place to spot wild elk on the sand. It is also near the entrance to Fern Canyon, one of the most beautiful places in the state. It is lush and shady, with a creek running through and an easy one mile trail helping you explore this 50-foot fortress of walls, covered in ferns.
The road to Gold Bluff’s Beach is unpaved and there are a couple stream crossings, but it is usually quite easy to manage in the summer and fall, or when there haven’t been any recent rains.
If you are looking for a longer hike that takes you to all of the park’s highlights, check out ther 12-mile route that take you from the visitor center to Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail. The trail takes hikers through some of the most impressive old growth forest in the park.
CTL Tip: This secret is out about this spot and the park now requires Day Use Permits to access Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon from May 1st – September 30th. Permits for the 2023 season can be reserved by the public beginning April 15th.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is a popular spot for tent and rv camping, and sites book up well in advance. There are several neat VRBOs in the area including a vintage farmhouse and homes with waterfront views. The Holiday Inn Express Klamath is highly rated and only eight miles from the park entrance.
The small town of Mount Shasta is a wonderful weekend getaway in Northern California. It acts as gateway to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and is a great destination for enjoying some of the outdoor adventures throughout the area. Mount Shasta is one of our favorite mountain towns in California.
It is home to the headwaters of the Sacramento River which are located in Mount Shasta City Park at Headwaters Spring.
Downtown Mt. Shasta is a charming and walkable area with a few different shops and restaurants. The region is known as a spitirtual destination and there are a few different new age shops selling crystals as well as Berryvale Grocery, a natural foods store with great options for pre-made food to take on a picnic while exploring.
Lake Siskiyou is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and walking or cycling the seven-mile Lake Siskiyou Trail which circumnavigates the lake. In the summer there is a beach with roped-off swim area, hourly SUP board and kayak rentals, and a Splash Zone with inflatable toys to play on in the lake.
Outside of town, the McCloud River Recreation Area has a set of three waterfalls (Lower, Middle, and Upper McCloud Falls) interconnected by a four-mile trail. They are especially popular to visit in the summer when the pools below these waterfalls are fun places to swim.
Castle Lake is another great destination nearby. This lake is filled with pure water and has been studied by UC Davis for decades. I suggest taking the two-mile hike from Castle Lake up to Heart Lake, and enjoying the great views of Mount Shasta.
Finally, just north of town in Dunsmuir is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state. Mosbrae Falls is a lush and elegant waterfall formed when pure spring water pours out of the moss-covered cliffside into the Sacramento River. You have to walk along train tracks to access them, so be safe!
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Mount Shasta Resort is a great year-round destination set on over 125 acres at the base of Mount Shasta. There are one-and-two-bedroom chalets and some are lakeside. There is also a golf course and spa on property.
Many people in Northern California have never ventured over to the eastern side of the Sierras and that is a shame became the eastern side is actually my favorite side! I love that it is less crowded than places like Lake Tahoe, equally as beautiful, and has some of the best hiking and skiing around.
Mammoth Lakes is the big destination town in the eastern Sierra. It is home to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort which often has the longest ski season in the country. This year they have so much snow that it has been extended well into July!
When the snow melts, mountain bikers flock to the resort to take the gondola up to the 11,000-foot summit and ride some of the 80+ miles worth of trails that traverse the mountain. Those newer to the sport will enjoy the Discovery Zone which has easier trails, a skills park, and a lift that is suitable for beginners. A wide range of bike rentals are available, including e-bikes.
If you aren’t a biker you can still take the scenic gondola ride up to the top of the mountain and enjoy the views. Or, try a different type of adventure- via ferrata. It is basically a safer, easier version of rock climbing with safety cables and iron rungs to help you along the way.
One of the main attractions near Mammoth is Devils Postpile National Monument. During the summer, visitors must take a shuttle from the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center to access the monument. The road down to the monument is only open seasonally due to snow pack, so check the park website for opening dates.
From the shuttle stop, it is an easy 1/2 mile hike to Devil’s Postpile. Head two miles further down the trail to 100-foot Rainbow Falls where on sunny days, the mist reflects two rainbows near the base of the falls.
Of course, you can’t visit Mammoth Lakes without spending time at one of the areas many lakes. Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake George, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake are all connected via a paved bike path.
f you are looking for a workout with plenty of views of Mammoth Lakes along the way, take the 1.6-mile trail (gaining 800 feet in elevation) up to Crystal Lake. Or hike see seven lakes in one day on one of my favorite hikes in the state, the eight-mile Little Lakes Trail south of Mammoth Lakes.
Here are all of our favorite Mammoth hikes.
In town, there is still plenty of fun to be had, no matter the season. We love grabbing a drink at Mammoth Brewing Company. Devil’s Creek Distillery makes their own bourbons and rye whiskeys and they are open for tasting Friday and Saturday from 3-6pm. Shelter Distilling in Mammoth Village serves up housemade sprits and beers as well as a great food menu.
If you want to try something different check out Skadi, a Scandinavian-inspired fine dining restaurant that serves creative seasonal dishes like duck breast with lingonberries.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: We usually rent a VRBO vacation home when we visit Mammoth. There are dozens of options.
Read why Mammoth Lakes is one of our favorite California mountain towns and see what other special spots made the list!
Most people know that Lake Tahoe is one of the best weekend getaways in Northern California no matter the season. Those of us who have lived along the Interstate 80 corrider are certainly aware of the Friday night traffic jam created by the masses headed in that direction.
It is no secret that Lake Tahoe is a beautiful destination, with crystal-clear blue waters, breathtaking mountain views, and an abundance of wildlife. In the winter, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and other winter sports. In the summer, there’s boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking.
Thanks to its location on the California/Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is also a big gambling destination with plenty of nightlife in the casinos.
Visiting Emerald Bay State Park, skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort, picnicking at Fallen Leaf Lake, having Rum Runners at Camp Richardson’s Beacon Bar & Grill, and a day cruising on the lake are among our favorite things to do in South Lake Tahoe.
On the north side, popular activities include floating down the Truckee River, beach days at the lake, hiking on trails such as the Tahoe Rim Trail, and rides aboard the Tahoe Gal, a ship that cruises Lake Tahoe from Tahoe City.
There are also a few different ski resorts on this side of the lake. Palisades Tahoe, Alpine Meadows, and Northstar all have varied terrain and offer some of the best sking in the country.
There are special events that take place throughout the year as well. Fourth of July is always a huge deal with fireworks going off from various points on the lake. Known as the “Super Bowl of celebrity golf,” the American Century Championship brings together top celebrity athletes and entertainers for a competitive golf tournament.
In the autumn, North Lake Tahoe hosts the three-day Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival This culinary event celebrates the region’s food and wine scene. It features cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, gourmet dinners, and other food-related activities.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Granlibakken Tahoe is situated on 74 acres in Tahoe City and is filled with onsite activities no matter the season. Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort has a 275-foot private beachfront and each room features a lake view and a full kitchen over in the Tahoe Vista area. On the south side of the lake, Camp Richardson is a beloved historic resort just outside of town with a beach, marina, camping, and lodging.
There is a decent chance you have never heard of Clarksburg. This tiny Yolo County town is off the radar of most, but it is one of the best under-the-radar wine destinations in the state. Clarksburg is located in the California Delta, known for its hot summer days and cool nights, perfect for growing 35 varietals including the Chenin Blancs and Petite Sirahs the region is known for.
You will definitely want to visit the Old Sugar Mill, a renovated sugar beet refinery built in 1934 which has tasting rooms for 14 different wineries. On weekends there are also food trucks which offer a variety of tasty dishes to pair with your wine. You will also want to try Husick’s Taphouse, a local favorite that offers a great selection of craft beers on tap along with a menu of tasty pub food and they often have live music.
One of the best experiences in Clarksburg is Sacramento River Cruise‘s private wine and cheese boating cruises. These two-hour boat cruises feature flights of local wine, craft beer, as well as cheese and charcuterie plates. Private boats can accomodate up to six people so grab some friends and go! There is also an option to upgrade to premium wines on your cruise.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Why not stay on a houseboat on the river? This VRBO option comes with a slide and amazing delta views.
Santa Cruz has been a classic Northern California weekend getaway for generations thanks to its beautiful beaches and beloved boardwalk. There’s a thriving surf culture as well as a definite focus on being environmentally conscious and loving Mother Earth.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a historic California landmark filled with classic amusement park attractions and a large variety of fried foods served on a stick. It was a place to escape the heat of summer inland, enjoy time playing the beach, and attempt to eat half your body weight in hot dogs and funnel cake.
There are over 40 rides and attractions on the Boardwalk, including midway games, an indoor mini-golf course, laser tag, and arcades. We also love the bowling alley nearby which has karaoke and beer- a great Saturday night combo!
If you love to shop, head to Pacific Avenue. You can shop for unique gifts and souvenirs at a variety of little shops. Make time to visit Bookshop Santa Cruz, a large independent bookstore with a 50-year history as well as Comicopolis which has the finest selection of comics around.
Getting outside is an important part of any Santa Cruz getaway and the scenic three-mile walking and biking path on West Cliff Drive has plenty of incredible ocean views to enjoy.
The Santa Cruz Harbor is a popular departure point for exploring Monterey Bay to spot California sea otters, whales, and other marine life. Whether you rent from Kayak Connection, hit up the SUP Shack, or set sail with Chardonnay Sailing Charters, you are sure to have an incredible day.
Santa Cruz is also located near several state parks that feature giant redwood trees, including Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and Portola Redwoods State Park. Big Basin was hit by a major fire and will take generations to recover, but it is still interesting to witness the forest’s rebirth. Henry Cowell and Portola both have thousands of acres of lush forest and plenty of trails to get you out among the tall trees.
See which Santa Cruz area parks made our list of the best California State Parks.
One of the best ways to explore the Santa Cruz Mountains via the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad has two routes to choose from. One heads into Santa Cruz, dropping passengers off at the Boardwalk, and the other travels deeper into the mountains.
If you are looking for something more adventurous to do in the Santa Cruz mountains, Redwood Canopy Tour at Mt. Hermon offers two-hour guided eco-adventures that include six zip lines and two sky bridges at heights of up to 150 feet.
Santa Cruz is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Natural Bridges State Beach is the seasonal home to migrating monarch butterflies and well-known for its heavily photographed sea arch. A half-sunken concrete freighter is visible from the shore at Seacliff State Beach. And Wilder Ranch State Park is a historic ranch along a rugged coastline with some nice tide pools.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Located on legendary Cowell Beach, the Dream Inn Santa Cruz is a short walk from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and great dining on the Santa Cruz Wharf. You can enjoy your own beach house with all of the amenities of a four-star accommodation at the Seascape Resort.
Monterey has long been one of my favorite Northern California weekend getaways for those who love wildlife. It is well-known for being home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium which houses over 35,000 creatures, including sea otters, penguins, and sharks.
But, there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy beyond that marvelous facility. Monterey Bay is a marine sanctuary, and there are many opportunities to view wildlife such as sea otters, sea lions, and whales. Taking a whale watching tour or scenic cruise of the bay almost a requirement, especially for first timer visitors.
Elkhorn Slough is my favorite place to spot sea otters, seals, and sea lions, and it is especially wonderful in the spring when they babies are everywhere! While kayakers are welcome to venture out on their own, I recommend a guided tour with Monterey Bay Kayaks. Passionate and friendly guides educate tourgoers about the animals that call the slough home as well as the history and ecology of this critical environment.
After your paddle, grab a bite to eat at The Haute Enchilada, a funky eatery in nearby Moss Landing. This eclectic café serves up Latin American dishes and has onsite galleries which feature local artists’ work.
The rocky coastline of Monterey affords numerous opportunities to enjoy expansive overlooks on jutting bluffs as well as fantastic rocky tide pools for exploring sea life and ocean critters.
Monterey happens to be one of California’s oldest cities, with Spanish settlement beginning in the early 1600s and the state’s oldest standing public building, the Custom House, built in 1814.
It is also home to many other historic sites such as Cannery Row, which was made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, and the historic Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Speaking of Fisherman’s Wharf, no leave without grabbing a bread bowl filled with clam chowder!
If you want to get active on land, take a stroll or bike ride on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. This 18-mile scenic trail takes you along the coast of Monterey Bay and offers stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Monterey’s romantic coastline features dozens of bed and breakfasts, as well as exclusive boutiques for lovers, but if you are looking for lodging overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf in the heart of the action, look no further than Portola Hotel & Spa. Make time to enjoy the rooftop lounge with panoramic views of the bay.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a great weekend getaway filled with incredible natural beauty. The town is situated along a scenic coastline with beautiful beaches and hiking trails, and it is surrounded by the dramatic coastal hills of the Monterey Peninsula.
It is a charming and picturesque coastal town known for its unique architecture and rich artistic heritage. The town is home to numerous galleries, studios, and museums, as well as historic landmarks like the Tor House and the Carmel Mission.
Carmel-by-the-Sea offers excellent dining and shopping opportunities, with a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and specialty shops. La Bicyclette is a charming French bistro that serves delicious wood-fired pizzas and rustic French cuisine.
Dametra Cafe is popular Mediterranean restaurant that features live music and dancing, along with delicious mezze plates, kebabs, and other Mediterranean dishes. Those looking for a little romance should try Casanova Restaurant, a cozy Italian restaurant with a beautiful garden patio.
Get outside at Point Lobos State Marine Reserve which is just south of town. Deemed “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by Australian landscape artist Francis McComas, Point Lobos is a meeting of turquoise waters, craggy cliffs, and sculptural cypress trees.
Bluefin Cove and Whalers Cove are prime spots for viewing baby seals laying on the tiny beaches below. A hike south to China Cove is a fun option for beachfront rock scrambling and admiration of the aquamarine waters.
You will also want to make time to take a scenic drive on 17-Mile Drive which takes you along the scenic coast of the Monterey Peninsula and offering views of the Pacific Ocean and famous landmarks such as The Lone Cypress and Pebble Beach Golf Course.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: One of my most favorite resort views in all of California is at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands. If you can’t afford the splurge to stay there, at least make time to enjoy a cocktail in their lounge with floor to ceiling windows.
Grass Valley and Nevada City
Grass Valley and Nevada City are neighboring towns located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains with rich histories dating back to the Gold Rush era. Both Grass Valley and Nevada City have charming downtown areas with unique shops, restaurants, and cafes, perfect for strolling and exploring.
Much of Nevada City’s downtown area has been deemed a historic district, with several buildings deemed California Historical Landmarks or on the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to Nevada Theater, California’s oldest theater, as well as the National Hotel which is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in the West.
Nevada City also happens to be the headquarters for the Tahoe National Forest, and there are several great hiking trails in the forest as well as around town. The Independence Trail, a five-mile round-trip trail, is the nation’s first handicapped-accessible wilderness trail which was created by transforming a historic gold mine ditch!
The downtown area of Grass Valley has streets lined with well-preserved historic buildings, many which were built in the mid-1800s, reflecting the town’s boom during the California Gold Rush era. There are a variety of locally-owned shops, boutiques, antique stores, art galleries, and specialty shops. The Grass Valley Museum, located in the old Firehouse No. 1, offers exhibits detailing the town’s history and heritage.
Grass Valley is also home to Empire Mine which was once one of the largest and most prosperous gold mines in California, operating from 1850 to 1956. Today it is a state park and guided tours are available. Visitors can explore the blacksmith shop, the machine shop, and the mine yard, which houses an impressive collection of vintage mining equipment.
In December, both towns come alive with holiday spirit. At Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas celebration you can enjoy wandering carolers dressed in Victorian attire, over 100 artisan vendors, visits with Father Christmas, and fresh roasted chestnuts.
Cornish Christmas is an annual holiday event held in downtown Grass Valley when the area is transformed into a winter wonderland with streets lined with vendors, twinkling lights, and a festive atmosphere. Local merchants and artisans set up booths along the streets, offering a wide array of crafts, handmade goods, art, clothing, jewelry, and holiday treats. There are plenty of holiday-themed activities, and even horse-drawn carriage rides.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: In Nevada City, stay at the National Exchange, a historic hotel built in 1856 which has been recently renovated. In Grass Valley, The Gold Miners Inn is a nice option.
Point Reyes is a great weekend getaway destination if you are looking for a spot with rugged scenery, cool ocean air, and the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, kayaking, and wildlife spotting.
Head to the Elephant Seal Overlook from late December to mid-March to see the always-entertaining seals during the breeding and pupping season.
Drakes Beach is a great place to spot harbor seals and the occasional sea lion. Chimney Rock is the place to spot migrating gray whales from mid-January to mid-May. You may also see seals, sea lions, and a variety of bird species, including pelicans, cormorants, and gulls.
If you are looking to enjoy a wildlife hike, take the Tomales Point Trail which leads you along the coast and offers spectacular views of the ocean and the chance to spot Tule Elk, which are only found in California.
Tomales Bay is an excellent place to enjoy kayaking, and there are even bioluminescence tours which take place during the evening.
In addition to its natural beauty, Point Reyes is also home to several historic sites, including the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which provides a glimpse into the area’s maritime history. Stop by the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company to taste cheese made locally, including the famed Point Reyes blue cheese.
For a unique experience, visit Heidrun Meadery. This unique winery produces sparkling mead using sustainably sourced honey from Northern California.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Nick’s Cove is a historic property is located on Tomales Bay that offers waterfront cottages with fireplaces, a restaurant, and a bar.
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a beautiful coastal town just south of San Francisco but its small town charm makes it feel a world away. This is a great destination if you are looking to be outside but it also has an artsy flair and plenty of great culinary pursuits.
Surfing and fishing are the primary attractions near Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor. The fish markets are frequented by locals and the best surfers from around the world make an annual pilgrimage to ride the massive waves at the Mavericks Invitational.
The harbor has several little shops and eateries, and if you would like to get out on those harbor waters yourself, it is easy to rent a kayak at Half Moon Bay Kayak Co.
The tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve are a great place for checking out all sorts of critters that call these ecosystems home like clams, starfish, and crabs.
Dreaming about a horseback ride on the beach? Sea Horse Ranch offers a ride through meadows filled with colorful patches of wildflowers, a small gorge with water flowing through it, and a slope opening onto a picture-perfect beach.
Head to the California Coastal Trail and check out Devil’s Slide, a once treacherous section of Highway 1, that was plagued by accidents and road closures until a landslide closed the road for good in 1995. There are dedicated lanes for cyclists and pedestrians now to enjoy the views safely.
Half Moon Bay hosts a famous annual pumpkin festival, making it an especially great weekend destination in the autumn. This community produces more than 3,000 tons of pumpkins each year, earning the town the title, “Pumpkin Capital of the World.”
Lemos Farm is popular destination for pumpkin patchers, and there are train rides, hayrides, and plenty of other attractions to enjoy. If you visit outside of pumpkin season than you may want to head to Lemos Farm for some goat yoga!
Half Moon Bay is also home to several world-class golf courses, including the Half Moon Bay Golf Links, which offers incredible ocean views and challenging holes.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Affectionately referred to as the “castle on the coast,” the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is the ultimate place to stay in town if you are craving luxury. Just steps from Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor, the Oceano Hotel and Spa is a centrally located, casual, and comfortable place to stay as well.
Napa is one of the most famous Northern California weekend getaways thanks to its world famous wineries. Napa is home to some of the world’s best wineries and many of them offer unique tasting experiences.
Taking a tour which visits several wineries is a great way to explore the area and there are various tour options in all sorts of modes of transportation. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a unique and luxurious way to explore the vineyards of Napa. You’ll board a beautifully restored vintage train and travel through the valley while sipping on local wines and dining on gourmet food.
For a more active experience, you can bike through Napa’s vineyards with a guided tour with Napa Valley Bike Tours. You’ll stop at multiple wineries along the way and enjoy tastings.
Platypus Tours offers small group tours of Napa’s best wineries, with knowledgeable guides and comfortable transportation. Tours include visits to three different wineries (whch rotate daily) and a picnic lunch.
Beyond wine, offers a wide variety of outdoor adventures including hot air balloon rides, hiking, cycling, and golfing. The region is also home to several art galleries, museums, and cultural events throughout the year.
One of my favorites is the annual Mustard Celebration which takes place January through March. This is a celebration of art, wine, and the wild mustard that covers the hillsides in the spring. There are lots of booths and food options to enjoy (including plenty of types of mustard).
If you visit outside of the festival season make time to visit the Jessel Gallery which features many of the artists who produce the gorgeous posters and artwork for the fest each year.
Food is a big part of the Napa Valley experience and Thomas Keller is the most famed chef in the area. His most renowed (and expensive) restaurant is French Laundry, but he also has Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bistro which are also fabulous.
La Toque by chef Ken Frank is known for its dynamic menu highlighting seasonal and locally sourced ingredients to make inventive dishes. Oenotri celebrates the flavors of Southern Italy and sources many of its ingredients from its garden to create wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas, and authentic Italian dishes. If you want sushi you will never forget, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Napa has several innovative sushi, sashimi, and robata grill dishes.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Setting Inn Napa Valley is a 100-year- old bed and breakfast situated in between Napa and Yountville. The one-acre property features fruit trees, an old English rose garden and herb garden. Rooms are spacious and contemporary and many have balcony views of the surrounding vineyards.
Bodega Bay is located along the rugged Sonoma Coast, a scenic and relaxing destination. This is a place to enjoy hiking, beachcombing, and kayaking in the harbor. Bodega Bay is known for its fresh seafood, including Dungeness crab and oysters, which are harvested locally and can be enjoyed at many of the town’s restaurants.
The Bodega Head Trail is a popular coastal hike that offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay. The trail is relatively easy and is a fantastic spot for whale watching during the migration season.
Sonoma Coast State Park has a network of hiking trails that wind through rugged coastline, including the Kortum Trail which is well known for its ocean vistas. Also in the park, Bodega Dunes Trail takes you through coastal dunes and lush forested areas.
Bodega Bay is also known for being the filming location of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The Bodega Bay Visitor Center has a display showcasing the making of the film, and visitors can take a self-guided tour to see the sites where the movie was filmed.
If you are hungry, head to a waterfront restaurant like The Boat House, which is a great spot for Dungeness crab, clam chowder, and fish and chips. The Tides Wharf & Restaurant also offers seafood dishes and waterfront views. Spud Point Crab Company is a family-owned establishment is known for its award-winning clam chowder and fresh crab sandwiches.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Inn at the Tides is known for its rustic elegance and quiet serenity. The location is primo and you get a free bottle of wine upon check in. Bodega Harbor Inn has cottages along the bay that are surrounded by nature as well as classic inn rooms. Their lawn chairs are perfect for watching the sun set while sipping on wine.
Sonora and Jamestown
Sonora is a historic Gold Rush town in the Sierra Nevada foothills that has a charming and well-preserved downtown area with Victorian architecture, unique shops, and plenty of restaurants and cafes. Not too far from Yosemite, the surrounding area has plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and exploring nearby parks and forests.
The Columbia State Historic Park is a living museum that recreates a Gold Rush town. Visitors can take a guided tour or explore on their own, and can even try their hand at gold panning. Between the 1850s and 1870s over one billion dollars in gold was mined around Columbia and at that time it was the second largest city in California!
Nearby Jamestown is another great place to visit during your wekeend in the Sonora area. It is home to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, which features a historic railroad roundhouse and steam train rides. Visitors can take a train ride through the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and learn about the history of railroads in California.
One of my favorite places to visit when staying in Sonora during the summer is Lake Don Pedro. It is a reservoir that is a fun place to enjoy boating and other watersports like jetskiing waterskiing. In the winter, head up to Dodge Ridge, a small ski resort that is perfect for beginners.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Sonora Inn is a historic hotel in downtown Sonora which was built in 1896 with nice accommodations.
Located in Humboldt County, Ferndale is known for its charming Victorian architecture and small-town atmosphere. As a matter of fact, it is one of the best-preserved Victorian towns in California, with many of its buildings dating back to the late 1800s.
There are several state parks and forests located near Ferndale, including Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, and Avenue of the Giants. These parks offer hiking, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities surrounded by the tallest trees on the planet.
The Lost Coast is a remote, rugged coastline located north of Ferndale. It is a truly wild place, a far cry from the masses in the Bay Area. It is a good place to go hiking and wildlife viewing.
Ferndale hosts several festivals and events throughout the year. The Kinetic Grand Championship is held in Ferndale every year and it is basically a triathlon of art. Kinetic Sculptures, which are basically all-terrain human-powered art vehicles, race over road, water, mud and sand over 50 miles. It is a crazy spectacle you won’t want to miss!
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Stay in one of the Victorian bed and breakfasts like Gingerbread Mansion where buttermilk waffles, savory sausage quiche and stuffed French toast await.
Mariposa serves as a gateway to Yosemite National Park, but it is also a charming historic town with lots of interesting architecture and cultural attractions, including museums, art galleries, and theaters. Getting outside to hike and explore are some of the best reasons to visit.
Mariposa Grove, a grove of giant sequoias inside Yosemite not far from town, has some great hiking trails featuring the massive trees including the Grizzly Giant Loop and the Mariposa Grove Trail.
Yosemite Valley is only an hour away and features some of the most famous hikes and landmarks in the world, including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. Here is our guide to the best easy hikes in Yosemite.
Finally, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous, with rolling hills, lush forests, and winding rivers offering plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and horseback riding.
The Merced River Trail outside of town is a four-mile trail that follows the Merced River and offers beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the river itself. It is a nice place to picnic alongside the river.
Back in town, the Mariposa Museum & History Center is small but wonderful museum with exhibits concentrating on the Gold Rush and late 19th century. There are exhibits recreating rooms from that era, showcasing mining equipment, and even blacksmithing.
There are several fun little shops in town that sell antiques, crystals, souvenirs, and even a haberdashery where men can experience an old-time shave.
If you are hungry head to 1850 Restaurant and Brewery which is located in the historic courthouse to enjoy local brews and a variety of creative burger options. High Country Health Foods & Cafe is a good place to pack up some vegetarian and gluten free options to take on your daily explorations.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Mariposa Lodge is located in the heart of downtown Mariposa and offers comfortable rooms with rustic decor. There is also a lovely garden area where you can relax.
Sutter Creek is known as the “Jewel of the Motherlode” and one of the most popular detinations in Gold Country. Main Street is lined with 19th-century buildings and boutique shops which are fun to explore, but the surrounding Sierra foothills lined with vineyards are the main draw.
There are several wineries and tasting rooms in and around Sutter Creek. Bella Grace Vineyards,Baiocchi Wines, Le Mulet Rouge, Miller Wine Works, Uphill Vineyards, and Scott Harvey Winery all have tasting rooms on Main Street.
Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark is located nearby in tiny Volcano, California. This cave gained its “National Natural Landmark” status from the National Park Service due, in part, to its large display of rare helictite formations. You can take 50-minute, guided walking tours which visit three different chambers of the cave and as you descend about 100 feet.
Read about more amazing caves in California.
Roaring Camp was a former gold mining camp during the oroginal gold rush which was very difficult to reach, so most of the gold still remains. Today, visitors can see our operating gold mine as well as pan for their own gold in the Mokelumne River Canyon. It is also a great place for fishing and swimming in brilliantly clear waters.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: The Hanford House Inn is an elegant and historic inn features nine guest rooms and suites, each with a unique decor and charm. Hotel Sutter is another historic hotel features 21 rooms and suites, each with modern amenities and classic decor.
Placerville is a Gold Rush town east of Sacramento that serves as a gateway to the Tahoe wilderness, El Dorado Wine Country, as well as Gold Country. It was once known as Hang Town due to the fact that five men were once hung on the same day from the same tree.
Historic dowtown Placerville is home to the Fountain-Tallman Museum, where you can learn more about the town’s Wild West history. You will also want to stop in Placerville Hardware Store, “the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi” as well as the towns many antique shops. If you plan well, you can even take advantage of the free stagecoach rides offered once a month.
If you want to dive deeper into the town’s mining history, head to Gold Bug Park and Mine which offers tours and has a museum, historic stamp mill, blacksmith shop, and gem panning trough.
During the fall and holiday seasons, head up Highway 50 a few miles to Apple Hill, a community of farmers that grow Christmas trees, pumpkins, and plenty of apples. During this time of year the region is bustling with tourists visit the farms to enjoy festivals, food, apple picking, and plenty of fun.
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Embrace Placerville’s history by staying at the Historic Cary House Hotel. The property has plenty of antiques, some dating back to the 1850s, and is a short walk to all that Placerville’s Main Street has to offer.
Tucked up in to the northwestern corner of the state is Crescent City, a coastal town with plenty of history which serves as an excellent home base for exploring the redwoods.
One of my favorite parks in the area is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located just nine miles east of town. It is home to a lush rainforest and the crystal clear Smith River, the longest major free-flowing river in California. Some of the trees have been growing in this park for over 1,000 years!
Crescent City is located on the Pacific Ocean, providing visitors with stunning views of rugged coastlines, sea stacks, and beaches. On March 27, 1964 a tsunami triggered by the Great Alaska Earthquake (amginitude 9.2!) hit the town, damaging the harbor area, destroying buildings, and resulted in the loss of several lives. In all 30 city blocks were destroyed but thankfully the town rebuilt and has today been deemed “tsunami ready”.
The Battery Point Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located on a small island just off the coast of Crescent City. You can actually walk across to the lighthouse during low tide when the water receeds which is pretty fun to do! Visitors can take a tour and learn about the history of the lighthouse and the area.
Crescent City is a great whale watching destination from December through April, during the gray whale migration. You can try to spot whales from the Battery Point Lighthouse, Pebble Beach, and Point St. George but your best bet is to book a whale watching excursion out of Crescent City Harbor.
If you are looking for a more active experience out on the water, Redwood Rides offer guided sea kayaking trips where you paddle a 1/2 mile out to Castle Rock, a protected National Wildlife Refuge.
Crescent City has a variety of dining options to choose from. Some of the best places to eat in Crescent City include:
Where to stay on your Northern California weekend getaway: Oceanview Inn and Suites is just steps from the beach and a short drive to Redwood National Park. Cheerful model sailboats line the lobby and breakfast is included.