Destination Guides

9 epic things to do in Northern California

Vibrant cities, spectacular national parks, world-class wineries, scenic drives and sun-kissed coastline… Northern California is one of the dreamiest regions in the world. If you’re wondering what to do in this beautiful slice of the USA, we’ve listed 9 of the very best things to do in Northern California. 

Already planning your trip but wondering when to go to Northern California? The region is at its sunny best from late April to early November, but if you’re chasing the magical snowy scenery, the winter months of December, January, and February are best.

GET INSPIRED BY: Northern California

1. Stroll through San Francisco

There’s no better place to kickstart your Northern California adventure than in San Francisco. This vibrant city is brimming with incredible things to do, with all kinds of diverse cultures, cuisines and architecture. Start with the city’s most iconic attraction – the Golden Gate Bridge. Then explore the buzzing Union Square, the beautiful temples of the oldest Chinatown in the country, or take a historic cable car past the colourful Victorian houses.

Wander through the gorgeous gardens of Golden Gate Park, spot sea lions and eat crab rolls at Fisherman’s Wharf, or sail across the bay to the infamous Alcatraz prison. See the world’s most crooked street, sip cocktails in retro bars, dine in the Italian trattorias of North Beach, ride the San Francisco Carousel, or simply kick back and watch the magical San Fran fog roll in… There are endless things to do in this amazing city!

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2. Marvel at Lake Tahoe

One of the very best things to do in Northern California is exploring Lake Tahoe in the scenic Sacramento River Valley. This spectacular alpine lake is famed for its crystal blue waters and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale! With evergreen pines and rocky outcrops surrounding the lake, you’ll have plenty of chances to get that postcard-perfect photo. When you travel Northern California with Trafalgar, we’ll even take you on a tranquil cruise across the lake, so you can soak up Tahoe’s beauty from every angle.

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3. Sip wine in Napa Valley

Napa Valley is undoubtedly one of the best wine regions in the world. It’s a place where the views are just as amazing as the wine itself, and you won’t want to blink as you drive through the gorgeous hillside vineyards and countryside. When you travel Northern California with Trafalgar, we’ll take you to a local winery in Napa Valley where you’ll explore their lush vineyards, learn about the process of winemaking, and of course, enjoy a wine tasting of their finest vino over lunch.

If you just can’t get enough of Napa Valley, one of the most memorable things to do in Northern California is a hot air balloon flight at sunrise over the Upper Napa Valley. You’ll glide peacefully over the stunning fields, vineyards and orchards in the most scenic parts of the valley including Rutherford, Oakville, Calistoga, St. Helena and Capay Valley. It’s sure to be a highlight of your trip.

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4. Drive along the scenic Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass road through lush forest Northern California

Ever dreamed of touching the sky? There’s no better place to do it than on the Tioga Pass, the highest mountain highway pass in California. You’ll drive high into the Sierra Nevada, with breathtaking views of glittering lakes, lush forests and mountain peaks at every turn. It’s one of the most magical things to do in Northern California. Even better, it takes you to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park… 

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5. Explore Yosemite National Park

The UNESCO-listed Yosemite is one of the most incredible national parks in the world. Dubbed the “Incomparable Valley” by naturalist John Muir, you’ll truly understand this nickname when you come face to face with the natural wonders of Yosemite. Marvel at the misty magic of waterfalls like Bridalveil Fall, roam through blooming meadows and lush forests, and watch the sunset over the iconic granite face of El Capitan. When you travel with Trafalgar, we’ll even get to spend the night in Yosemite with our ‘Stays With Stories’ at a cosy lodge just metres away from Yosemite Falls. 

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6. Tempt your tastebuds in the “Salad Bowl of the World”

bright green lettuce crop

Famed as the “Salad Bowl of the World”, the Salinas Valley is one of the biggest agricultural regions in California. With thousands of acres of fruit and vegetable crops, you’ll feel like you’ve, quite literally, jumped into a salad bowl. We’ll meet with a Local Specialist for a private farm tour where you’ll learn all about the advanced farming techniques and food production in the lush Salinas Valley. Discover the incredible history, snap some beautiful photos, and be sure to taste some of the fresh fruits and veggies!

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7. Discover Monterey

There are so many things to do in Northern California’s Monterey. The city is set on the gorgeous central coast and is famous for its fresh local seafood and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you’ll find thousands of marine animals and plants. You also can’t miss Cannery Row, once the centre of the sardine-packing industry that was immortalised by novelist John Steinbeck. Today it’s lined with restaurants, bars and shops and you’ll love soaking up the vibrant atmosphere. You’ll even have the chance to meet the locals when we take you to a farm-to-table ‘Be My Guest’ dinner showcasing the region’s best flavours.

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8. Walk among the giant redwoods

If you’re wondering what to do in Northern California, you can’t miss walking through the Land of the Giants. These mystical trees are a California icon, and we’ll take you to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where you’ll walk among giant redwoods that have stood for over a thousand years. It’s an extraordinary experience to gaze up at the giants soaring up to 86 metres high and four metres wide… And it’s sure to be a highlight of your Northern California adventure.

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9. Cruise along 17-Mile Drive

rock outcrops cyprus trees Pebble Beach 17 mile drive Northern California

You can’t visit Northern California without going on a road trip along the sun-kissed California coast. The scenic 17-Mile Drive is the best place to do it, and you’ll cruise through the Monterey Peninsula, along the Pacific Coastline, passing beaches, forests, golf courses and mansions. Keep your eyes peeled for the Lone Cypress and Bird Rock! 

What are your favourite Northern California attractions? Let us know in the comments below!

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