Northern California is one of the most beautiful regions of the United States. It's home to one of the most impressive national parks, not to mention the many other state parks and natural spaces to explore.
You'll also get to visit one of America's most unique and exciting cities, and be surrounded by some of the best wineries in the world.
So if you've never been to northern California before, now is your chance to plan an epic road trip and add a little adventure to your summer.
Mendocino is located along the coast about three hours north of San Francisco. The area is known for its beautiful coastline, giant redwood forests, and farm to table cuisine.
For first time visitors I recommend visiting Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park, Mendocino Bay Viewpoint, and Point Cabrillo Light Station.
When you get hungry, head into downtown Mendocino. Here you'll find dozens of fresh farm to table restaurants serving various forms of California cuisine.
If planning to spend the night in Mendocino, plan to stay at a local bed and breakfast. Be sure to book this in advance as many locations sell out during the busy summer months.
2. Napa Valley
Napa Valley is located about an hour and 15 minutes north of San Francisco.
If you're a wine lover (who isn't?) you must make a stop in Napa Valley to go wine tasting. Napa Valley is just beautiful and you'll find over 300 wineries to choose from. With that amount, you're bound to find something you like.
In addition to being home to some of the best wineries on the planet, Napa is also known for its many highly rated restaurants. Bottega Napa Valley and Goose and Gander are both excellent choices. Be sure to book restaurant reservations early to avoid disappointment.
3. San Francisco
San Francisco is one of those cities you must visit at least once in your lifetime. While the city is known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there's so much more to see and do in San Francisco.
A few of my favorite stops in San Francisco include a visit to the Buena Vista for Irish coffees, getting pictures of the Golden Gate near the Presidio, visiting all the musuems and attractions in Golden Gate Park, and getting dinner and drinks in the Mission.
In the evenings, take advantage of all the live events that take place across the city (hopefully these return soon). You can see everything from major touring bands to stand up comedy to world class opera.
4. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park has been one of my favorite places to visit in California since I moved to the state 20 years ago.
If you've never been to Yosemite before, you must include a stop here on your road trip, I promise you won't regret it.
First time visitors will want to see all the park's main attractions including the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Tunnel View, Bridal Veil Falls, the Merced River, Mirror Lake, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Glacier Point.
If you're in good shape and love a challenging hike, be sure to hike the Mist Trail. This hike will lead you up to the top of both Vernal and Nevada Falls. If you keep going, it will also take you to the top of Half Dome, though you do need a permit for that.
I also recommend taking a drive out to the eastern side of the park along the Tioga Pass, otherwise known as Tioga Road. This drive will take you out to Tuolumne Meadows and past some incredible lookouts over the High Sierras.
I hope you've enjoyed this guide to 4 places to stop on a northern California road trip and that I've inspired you to plan a visit of your own. If you liked this article please consider giving me a follow for more local travel guides such as this one. As always, thanks for reading.
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