Rugged coast, stunning vistas, tallest Redwood trees, rolling vineyards, cozy wood cabins and pristine beaches – Yes this is Northern California. There are so many adventurous things to do and explore along the Pacific Coast, you will always fall short of time to do them all. So I’ve compiled a list of the most unique things to do in Northern California that you cannot miss.
Read along to plan your visit:
1. Visit the Cypress Tree Tunnel
This scenic spot is a tunnel of Monterey cypress trees on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The driveway through the trees leads to an old building that houses the Point Reyes National Seashore radio station.
It’s the ultimate photographer’s paradise and the best time to photograph this place is during sunrise; when the light rays hit between the tree gaps the entire tunnel is illuminated in a beautiful warm light.
I would suggest walking all the way to the end of the tunnel to get some great photos, the views at the starting point will be too contrasted even in the early morning. It is still beautiful but a bit less epic than the “right” side
2. Checkout the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes has a lighthouse on the Gulf of the Farallones which is a popular tourist destination on the Pacific Coast. The trail to the lighthouse is 1.3mi easy to moderate and you hike along the paved road + few stairs down to the lighthouse (check the schedule before going to be sure it is opened).
Stop by the South Beach Overlook (a short walk from the lighthouse parking area) for some spectacular view of Point Reyes Beach + amazing photos.
Other attractions near the Point Reyes National Seashore that you can checkout are:
- Alamere Falls: A stunning waterfall that directly flows to the ocean. Hike: 13.6 miles
- Tomales Bay Shipwreck: A historical landmark perched on a sandbar off the shores of Tomales Bay
3. Take a hike along the Chimney Rock Trail
This trail near Point Reyes National Seashore has panoramic views of the ocean and coast all along and is filled with windflowers during spring. The trail is about 1.9 miles out and back and easy to do with kids and dogs. The highlight of this trail is a lookout point, from where you can spot tons of elephant seals at the isolated colonies below.
4. Take a trip to Sea Ranch
Sea Ranch is another coastal town along the PCH, known for it’s distinctive timber frame structures, stunning beach facing vacation rentals with hot tubs and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
While you are there, checkout the Sea Ranch Chapel. A stunning architectural gem – chapel topped by a winged roof that looks like a mushroom – will amaze you inside and out. Inside the chapel, you’ll see hand-carved redwood benches, free-form structures, a white plaster sculptured ceiling embedded with sea shells and sea urchins, bright-colored stained glass windows, a wrought iron prayer screen and chandelier, and countless artistic touches.
5. Explore the Mendocino Headlands State Park
347 acres of undeveloped seaside bluffs and islets surrounding the town of Mendocino and two beaches, paves way for miles of trails winding along the cliffs and spectacular views of sea arches and hidden grottos.
The trail starts at the Presbyterian church and takes you along the coastline, sprinkled with wildflowers and incredible views.(We found a small patch of Calla Lillie too). The trail is moderately difficult and has some slippery edges, but the views and a blowhole at the end, make it completely worthwhile. You can relax at one of the beaches and have a fun family picnic too, if you’re not in the mood for a hike.
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, I would recommend Kayaking at the Van Dyme State Park in Mendocino. The kayak tour is a guided 2 hours trip and takes to the stunning Mendocino sea caves and gives you an opportunity to meet some marine mammals like Harbor Seals and Shore birds. It is a wonderful experience and don’t need any prior kayaking experience.
6. Explore the town of Mendocino
A coastal town with cliff side trails, Victorian bed & breakfast inns, farm-to table restaurants and quaint gift shops – it is the most picturesque town in the Mendocino County. You can spend a day touring some galleries, dining at some world class restaurants and strolling through some unique gift shops.
Mendocino Cafe: Wonderful patio dining ambiance with a wide menu of local and international food options.
Trillium Cafe: Romantic garden dining with a long wine list + delicious American flavors.
Patterson’s Pub: Great for late night eats and beer on tap.
MacCallum House Restaurant: Fine dining in a restored Victorian House + romantic patio setting
7. Hike along the tallest Redwood trees in the world
Mendocino is home to the tallest Redwood Trees in the world and you can hike one of the many trails that will take you up close to these trees. Some of the options are:
Fern Canyon trail: Beautiful paved trail with redwoods and lush ferns along the creek. It’s moderately challenging and pretty popular for families. | 5.0mi
Russian Gulch Waterfall Loop Trail: A moderately challenging route along the second growth redwoods, ferns and exotic floras. | 3.8mi
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park(Lost Coast Trail): A 60-mile stretch of wilderness comprises of rugged coastline, canyons, tide pools, seasonal wildflowers, waterfalls and dark sand beaches. You can also spot some sea lions and harbor seals hang out in rocky coves.
Montgomery Woods State Reserve: Deep in the heart of the coastal range is this magnificent grove of old growth coast redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) that, for a few years, contained the tallest known tree on the planet. Great to explore mid-day with fewer crowd. | 2 mi
9. Go wine tasting at one of the reputed wineries in Santa Rosa
You cannot go to Santa Rosa without having tasted their fine wine – there are so many wineries and tasting rooms out there, you will definitely sip a glass or two. Some of our favorite ones, worth checking out are:
DeLoach Vineyards – Located in the heart of Russian River, they are the major producers of Pinot Noir in the region and some of the best I’ve had.
Paradise Ridge Winery – Reputed for their sculpture garden with the iconic L-O-V-E sign. They have some great wine too – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
Hanna Winery Russian River Valley – Wine tasting + cheese paring at their VIP tasting room and stunning views of the Bismark Mountain lines from the picnic area overlooking the vines.
9. Visit the Mendocino Presbyterian Church
Found this historic Carpenter Gothic-style Presbyterian church, during our road trip to Mendocino coast. Built of coast redwood, it sits on the Mendocino headlands overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded with beautiful floral gardens and adorned with lancet windows, accent blue doors and stairs, it looks soo aesthetic.
Definitely recommend adding this to your list, for great photo ops in Spring.
10. Take a tour to the B.Bryan Preserve and feed the Giraffes
A 110 acres preserve committed to preserving and breeding African hoof stock is one of the must-visit places on this list (perfect for family and singles). This preserve features narrated tours to meet the endangered Rothschild Giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra along with Kudu, Roan and Sable antelope thriving in large open field.
Towards the end of the safari, you are also given yams to feed the Giraffes, interact with them and take some really cool pictures. It’s such a fun experience I’ll always remember.
You can also stay in one of their cottages for a unique experience to stay in the middle of nature near the lake and wake up to see zebras and giraffes grazing around you.
Thank you for reading along. Hope this helps you to plan your next trip to Northern California and experience the golden state like never before.