The Ultimate Northern California Bucket List

Nov 7, 2023Things to Do

Southern California might be more well known due to the beautiful beaches and celebrity sightings, but Northern California is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural gems, and unforgettable experiences. If you’re an adventurer at heart, don’t sleep on the beauty that is ‘NorCal’ and consider this your roadmap to the ultimate Northern California bucket list. 

Explore the Coastal Majesty of Big Sur

Venture south along the Pacific Coast Highway to experience the rugged beauty of Big Sur. Hike through redwood groves in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, drive along the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, and savor breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean meeting the towering cliffs.

Interesting Fact: The Bixby Bridge in Big Sur was built by prisoners to earn “good time” off their prison sentences.

Sip Your Way Through Napa Valley

Wine enthusiasts, rejoice! Napa Valley, with its rolling vineyards and world-class wineries, is a “must” on your Northern California bucket list. Take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards, indulge in wine tastings, and pair your favorite vintage with a gourmet meal at one of the valley’s renowned restaurants.

A few of our favorite wineries: 

  • Covert Estate: Tucked inside a cave, this family run winery uses traditional Bordeaux winemaking techniques with a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Hess Persson Estate: High-elevation wines and an art gallery are just part of the experience at Hess Persson. The 1,000-acre property also offers ATV rides throughout the grounds so you can experience the vines up close and personal and take in the stunning panoramic views of Napa Valley. 
  • Pine Ridge Vineyards: Voted the top-rated Napa Valley experience, Pine Ridge is a beautiful property with much to see. With intimate cave tastings and incredible views, this is a must-do on your next trip to the valley. 

Marvel at the Mystique of Lake Tahoe

In both summer and winter, Lake Tahoe beckons travelers with its crystal-clear waters and surrounding snow-capped peaks. Whether you’re kayaking on the lake or hitting the slopes, this alpine paradise promises a breathtaking backdrop for your Northern California adventure.

Interesting Fact: Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States at 1,645 feet. Crater Lake in Oregon is the first! 

Giants in the Mist at Redwood National and State Parks

Journey to the far north of the state to encounter the tallest trees on Earth in Redwood National and State Parks. Wander through ancient groves where sunlight filters through towering redwoods, creating an enchanting play of light and shadow.

Fun activities to put on your list:

  • Take a scenic drive: If you have young kids or older members of your family with you, take in the beauty of the Redwoods with a scenic drive. Our favorite is Howland Hill Road. It is a 10-mile drive (around 45 minutes), one way, through towering redwoods and various viewpoints.
  • Big Tree Wayside Trail: This easy trail is perfect for all ages and brings you to stunning old-growth redwoods. The walk is about 200 yards from the parking area and there is no fee required.

Soak Up History in San Francisco

From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the historic Alcatraz Island, San Francisco is a city with a rich tapestry of history and culture. Explore the diverse neighborhoods, ride a cable car up and down the city’s hills, and savor the culinary delights of Fisherman’s Wharf.

Interesting Fact: The infamous San Francisco fog has a name known by the locals – Karl the Fog. 

Embrace the Quirky Charm of Mendocino

Tucked away on the rugged Northern California coast, Mendocino is a haven of artistic expression and natural beauty. Explore the quaint village, visit art galleries, and take in the breathtaking coastal views from Mendocino Headlands State Park.

What to do in Mendocino:

  • Skunk Train: A family friendly experience that is also a fun adventure for adults, the Skunk Train is a historic train that brings travelers on a scenic journey through redwood forests and along the Noyo River. They also offer a unique Railbike experience with an electric two-person car that takes you along the Redwood Route.
  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: Known as a jewel of the Pacific Coast, these gardens are one of only public gardens that front an ocean shore. Stop by to see manicured gardens, a dense coastal pine forest, and flower bluffs overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean.

Hike the Majestic Trinity Alps

For the avid hiker seeking solitude and breathtaking panoramas, the Trinity Alps beckon. With alpine lakes, meadows, and rugged peaks, this lesser-known gem is a hiker’s paradise.

Interesting Fact: The Trinity Alps offer more than 600 miles of trails within 500,000+ acres of land.

A Yosemite Symphony of Granite and Water

Your Northern California adventure wouldn’t be complete without a pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park. Stand beneath the towering cliffs of El Capitan, witness the awe-inspiring power of Yosemite Falls, and stroll through the ancient giant sequoia groves of Mariposa Grove. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a leisurely stroller, Yosemite offers trails for every level.

The best spots to visit:

  • Petrified Forest: The Petrified Forest is a collection of fossilized redwood trees that have been excavated after laying beneath volcanic ash for millions of years. The trails are easy and can be completed in less than an hour. This is an experience you cannot pass up as people travel from all over the world to see these majestic trees!
  • Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs: An iconic wine country bathhouse, this property has been in service for more than 60 years. Here visitors embrace the healing properties of mineral waters and volcanic ash with three hot spring swimming pools.
  • Visit a Geyser: Proven to be a good predictor of earthquakes, the Old Faithful Geyser of California is a must-see for those interested in nature’s wonders. It is also one of only three geysers in the world coined with the name, ”Old Faithful.”

Unwind in the Hot Springs of Calistoga

Cap off your Northern California adventure with a visit to Calistoga, where hot springs and mud baths provide the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate. After all your explorations, you’ve earned a bit of pampering.

Interesting fact: Yosemite was the first park to be protected by the federal government, and is said to fuel the idea of the National Parks concept.

Ready to Explore?

Embark on this Northern California bucket list journey, and you’ll discover why this region is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those who appreciate the finer things in life. So, pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready to embark on a journey that promises awe-inspiring vistas, culinary delights, and moments of serenity. 

Looking for spots to rest your head on your Northern California adventure? We’ve got your time in Yosemite time covered! With multiple properties located on the edge of the west area of Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Resorts is your destination for crafting memories in nature.