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Things to do in Northern California

Updated on May 28, 2013

California Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Source

Places in California to Visit

One of the major benefits to living in Northern California, besides our weather, is the incredible availability to so many different and wonderful recreational offerings. In just a couple of hours you can drive to the ocean, the mountains and popular destinations from foreign travelers or even breathtaking parks. This wide variety of leisure options makes Northern California a very worthwhile destination for travelers.

I have lived most of my life in the central valley of Northern California. I grew up about an hour south of Sacramento, the state capital, and now reside about thirty minutes south of where I grew up. I love the flexibility my family has when it comes to getting out of town and doing something. It is also great to know that so many people travel to your area of the state to have an adventure or visit one of our beautiful cities.

Best California Beach

For those who aren’t fans of being so cold the Pacific Ocean is about the same time drive, just in the opposite direction. Northern California has the luxury of having some truly inspiring beaches and access points to the ocean. You don’t have to be a surfer, even though the conception is all Californian’s can surf (we can’t), but you can roll up your pants and wade into the waters of the ocean.

Of course you don’t have to get wet if you don’t want to. You can go deep sea fishing, whale watching or just jump on a tour boat to see the area.

The San Francisco bay area has quite a few marinas that take tourists out; you just need to decide what you are interested in doing. I have done a deep sea fishing trip before and it was fun. Being my first time out in the bay I took some motion sickness pills, which I strongly recommend for first timers, and we headed out. Just about everyone knows about the Golden Gate Bridge but how many people can say that they have been under it? Most of the captains will take you under the bridge to see if the water is calm enough to fish or not; for my trip it wasn’t but fishing next to Alcatraz was just as cool.

San Francisco itself is a huge tourist destination for domestic and international vacationers. For proof of this go to the Golden Gate Bridge lookout point and just take a look around the parking lot. You will see many different countries represented and probably more than one tour bus parked. We had an exchange student from Japan one year and her parents actually came to San Francisco for their honeymoon. Living so close to these international travel destinations we sometimes take them for granted but it is really gratifying to know that these areas are so popular in the traveling community.

Monterey is a tourist hotspot because of its ocean related activities as well as it’s wineries and a little golf course known as Pebble Beach. My wife and I have spent more than one anniversary in the Monterey area and it really is a beautiful place to see the ocean or grab a fresh seafood dinner right on the water. If you are planning a trip to Monterey don’t overlook the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This aquarium is huge and features some beautiful sea creatures. Give yourself a few hours here; it will take you that long to get through the whole thing.

Redwoods National Park

Yosemite Falls

One of the breathtaking falls in Yosemite National Park
One of the breathtaking falls in Yosemite National Park | Source

Yosemite CA

If you are seeking adventure, but snow and the ocean aren’t really aren’t your thing, take a look at Yosemite National Park. This park offers tons of rock climbing and hiking trails through some of Northern California’s most beautiful landscape. I remember going there when I was a kid and hiking up to one of the waterfalls. Standing near the top of the waterfall and watching it shoot over the cliff is something that I still remember, and it was probably twenty plus years ago.

Camping is also available in Yosemite but reservations are a must, especially in the busy summer months. If you aren’t a big tent and sleeping bag person look into getting a cabin but their availability goes quickly so plan ahead.

Map of Northern California

Ski Lifts

Skiing at June Mountain in Northern California
Skiing at June Mountain in Northern California | Source

Best Ski Areas

I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried skiing because I am afraid I will find the nearest tree and wrap myself around it; I have done the tubing thing though and that is fun so I will stick to it. With that being said I know a ton of people that live for the winter so they can go hit the ski slopes. Not only does Northern California showcase some world class skiing opportunities some of the most recognizable snow athletes train and/or reside here too. Current and past Olympic athletes, and the younger generation favorites seen on the X-Games, have chosen to call the Northern California mountains their home.

Lake Tahoe Skiing

Alpine Meadows:
Alpine Meadows Rd, Tahoe National Forest, Squaw Valley, CA 96146, USA

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Alpine Meadows

Boreal Mountain Resort:
19659 Boreal Ridge Rd, Tahoe National Forest, Soda Springs, CA 95728, USA

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Boreal Mountain Resort

Donner Ski Ranch:
Donner Pass Rd, Tahoe National Forest, Norden, CA 95724, USA

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Donner Ski Ranch

3860 Saddle Rd, Eldorado National Forest, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

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Homewood Mountain Ski Resort:
5145 W Lake Blvd, Tahoe National Forest, Homewood, CA 96141, USA

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Homewood Mountain Ski Resort

Northstar California:
Hwy 267 & Northstar Dr, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee, CA 96161, USA

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Northstar California

Soda Springs:
Soda Springs Winter Resort, Tahoe National Forest, 10244 Soda Springs Rd, Soda Springs, CA 96161, US

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Soda Springs

Squaw Valley:
1960 Squaw Valley Rd, Tahoe National Forest, Squaw Valley, CA 96146, USA

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Squaw Valley

Sugar Bowl:
629 Sugar Bowl Rd, Tahoe National Forest, Norden, CA 95724, USA

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Sugar Bowl

Tahoe Donner:
11603 Snowpeak Way, Truckee, CA 96161, USA

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Tahoe Donner

Ski California

Badger Pass Ski Area:

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Badger Pass Ski Area

Bear Valley Ski and Snowboard Resort:
Rte 207, Stanislaus National Forest, Bear Valley, CA 95223, USA

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Bear Valley Ski and Snowboard Resort

China Peak:
59265 Hwy 168, Sierra National Forest, Lakeshore, CA 93634, USA

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China Peak

Dodge Ridge:
Dodge Ridge Rd, Stanislaus National Forest, Pinecrest, CA 95364, USA

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Dodge Ridge

June Mountain:
1 Boulder Dr, Inyo National Forest, June Lake, CA 93529, USA

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June Mountain

1501 Kirkwood Meadows Dr, Eldorado National Forest, Kirkwood, CA 95646, USA

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Mammoth Mountain Ski Area:
1 Minaret Rd, Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, USA

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Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

Sierra at Tahoe:
Sierra Pines Rd, Eldorado National Forest, CA, USA

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Sierra at Tahoe

Kirkwood Ski Resort

California Vineyard

Some of the vineyards at Sterling Vineyards and Winery in the Napa Valley of Northern California.
Some of the vineyards at Sterling Vineyards and Winery in the Napa Valley of Northern California. | Source

California Wineries

Since the Northern California area has such good weather year round it has become a major player in the wine market. Many people are familiar with the Napa Valley for producing high quality wines but there are other, lesser known areas, which have established themselves as solid winery options as well.

Both Livermore and Lodi have multiple winery options for anyone looking at tasting the fruits of their labor. Both cities aren’t as widely recognized as the more veteran producers in the Napa Valley but both are very respected in the industry.

California Wine Country

Livermore, CA, USA

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Lodi, CA, USA

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Napa, CA, USA

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Napa Valley Wine Train

Northern California Attractions

For those out there interested in a family oriented day on a roller coaster or seeing a professional sporting event, Northern California certainly won't disappoint.

Two large theme parks are available in Northern California; Great America and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

Sports nuts can get their fix in Northern California by attending professional baseball (Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants), football (Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers), basketball (Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings) or hockey games (San Jose Sharks). In addition to these professional options numerous minor league baseball teams call the area home as well, if you are more interested in seeing a game at a smaller venue.

California Theme Parks and Sporting Events

AT&T Park:
24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA

get directions

AT&T Park - Home of The San Francisco Giants baseball team.

California's Great America:
4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054, USA

get directions

California's Great America amusement park

Candlestick Park:
602 Jamestown Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124, USA

get directions

Candlestick Park - Home of the San Francisco 49ers football team.

HP Pavilion at San Jose:
525 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113, USA

get directions

HP Pavilion at San Jose - Home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team.

Oracle Arena:
7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621, USA

get directions

Oracle Arena - Home of the Golden State Warriors basketball team.

Power Balance Pavilion:
1 Sports Pkwy, Sacramento, CA 95834, USA

get directions

Power Balance Pavilion - Home of the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom:
1001 Fairgrounds Dr, Vallejo, CA 94589, USA

get directions

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park

The Coliseum:
7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621, USA

get directions

The Coliseum - Home of the Oakland Athletics baseball team and the Oakland Raiders football team.

California Fun Places

Given all that can be seen and done in Northern California hopefully you have enough time to do everything that you want to. Another advantage to these recreational options is that they are all doable in a day. For travelers you can fly into one of the big airports like San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose; if a smaller airport is desired try Sacramento.

With so many choices, the biggest problem might be deciding what to do first.


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