Northern California starts at the border between Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties less than three hours south of San Francisco, runs up through the Bay Area and Sacramento at the latitudinal mid-point of the State, and ends at the Oregon border 6.5 hours north in Del Norte County. (See Bay Area Sightseeing for activities in the nine counties directly surrounding the San Francisco Bay.) The 39 counties outside of the Bay Area run the gamut demographically and climatically: rapidly growing Sacramento and Fresno Counties in the Central Valley, Trinity County in the Klamath Mountains with no incorporated cities, tourist and tech in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties with their relatively sunnier beaches, Placer and El Dorado Counties claiming the California portion of Lake Tahoe, and sparsely populated Inyo County in the Sierras with Mount Whitney on its western border and Death Valley in its eastern portion.
SP = State Park, CSPF = California State Parks Foundation; NPS = National Park Service; PCH = Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, Hwy 1;
Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties
Eight Central Coast State Parks with stunning landscapes.
Henry Cowell Redwoods SP – On the self-guided walking tour of the Redwood Grove in Henry Cowell Redwoods SP in the Santa Cruz Mountains you’ll see not only spectacular Coast Redwoods (also the featured tree in Muir Woods) but also a ghost redwood (an albino redwood!), a Dawn Redwood (native to China), and a Giant Sequoia. The ghost redwood is Stop 14 on the easy walking loop (audio tour). There’s a funky gift shop. CSPF membership includes free parking passes. No reservations required. Next door to the Park is the (private) Roaring Camp Railroads (steam train).
The scenic drive down to the redwoods on PCH (Hwy 1) through Half Moon Bay is about 2 hours. See the San Mateo County section of the Bay Area Sightseeing post for stops including the James Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Moss Beach (only a 38 minute drive from Fisherman’s Wharf).
An hour south of the redwoods is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (in Carmel-by-the-Sea) with its lovely seascapes, tidepools, cypresses, and sea mammals – seals and sea otters can usually be seen in the Reserve’s shallow coves.
The Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo (in Carmel)
Santa Cruz Mission Adobe
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Bryne-Milliron Forest – a 400-acre park on the outskirts of Corralitos with 10 miles of trails dotted with art and nature.
17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula – stop to see the Lone Cypress
Elkhorn Slough http://www.elkhornslough.org/
Monterey Bay Aquarium, www.mbayaq.org; Point Lobos; Ag Venture Tours, 888-643-WINE, www.whps.com/agtours
Monterey Bay Kayaks http://www.montereybaykayaks.com/
Cooper Museum Store, 525 Polk St, Old Monterey, 831-649-7118
Stokes Restaurant & Bar (Brandon Miller), 500 Hartnell St, Old Monterey, www.stokesrestaurant.com
Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St, Old Monterey, goldenstatetheatre.com, 1926 building showing classics
Gilroy Garlic Festival
Hwy 1 beaches
Pescadero, Duarte’s cream of artichoke soup, Arcangeli Grocery Co
Ano Nuevo State Reserve
http://www.webdzine.com/inns/reserve.html (includes Centrella and Cypress which are listed separately below)
Davis – www.explorit.org
(see CA Trains)
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area
Dinner on the Delta King riverboat
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Yosemite – Buffalo Soldiers
Wuksachi Village – Sequoia National Park, 888-252-5757; Kings Canyon National Park, 209-565-3341
Sierra Hot Springs, Sierraville, CA, 530-994-3773, www.sierrahotsprings.org, 25 miles north of Truckee near Hwy 49. 30 day membership is $5.
Steamboat Hot Springs, Reno, NV, 775-853-6600
Moody’s Bistro & Lounge (Truckee), Sierra Valley Farms
California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, csrmf.org
Niles Canyon Railway, Sunol, ncry.org
Redwood Valley Railway, Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley, redwoodvalleyrailway.com
Skunk Train, SkunkTrain.com
Sierra Railroad, SierraRailroad.com
Amtrak to Yosemite or Hearst Castle
Claremont Resort, www.claremontresort.com; Ritz-Carlton, www.ritzcarlton.com; Sonoma Mission Inn, www.sonomamissioninn.com; Kenwood Inn & Spa, 707-833-1293; Auberge du Soleil, www.aubergedusoleil.com; Meadowood, www.meadowood.com; Villagio Inn and Spa, 800-351-1133; Purple Orchid Resort and Spa, www.purpleorchid.com; Ventana Inn and Spa, www.wentanainn.com; Sonoma Coast Villa, www.scvilla.com; Resort at Squaw Creek; Calistoga, www.napavalley.com/calistoga; White Sulphur Springs, www.whitesulphursprings.com; Vichy Springs Resort, Ukiah, www.vichysprings.com; big Monterey hotels