Top 10 Northern California Places to Visit

Southern California draws visitors from all around the world with its many urban attractions (Disneyland, Hollywood, Los Angeles) and its world class beaches. Central California has the giant sequoias and the big granite walls of Yosemite. Northern California brings wild beauty: volcanoes, endless miles of redwood forest, and waterfalls. This is a guide to my ten favorite northern California spots. 

1. McArthur Burney Falls

 McArthur Burney Falls. This photo does not do it justice.

McArthur Burney Falls. This photo does not do it justice.

Consummate outdoor's man Theodore Roosevelt called 129-foot McArthur Burney Falls "the eighth wonder of the world." Located in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau, McArthur Burney Falls is the best waterfall in northern California and flows year round. I visited over Labor Day weekend in 2016 and it was packed. I can't wait to visit in the winter when it is covered in snow. 

2. Mt. Shasta

 Mt. Shasta looms over the land. 

Mt. Shasta looms over the land. 

We jokingly call Mt. Shasta my geological boyfriend; I make constant remarks on how much I want to hug it. Visible from Redding and other northern cities of the central valley, Mt. Shasta is absolutely stunning. Mt. Shasta is a year-round destination for adventurers and explorers. The summer, fall, and spring bring hiking, and winter is great for skiing and ice climbing. Nearby towns of Mt. Shasta and McCloud are adorable and make a great stop for a coffee and a pastry.

3. Fern Canyon

Located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Fern Canyon is eighty-foot canyon walls covered in primordial ferns. An easy one-mile hike into the forest along Home Creek brings you to the canyon. The canyon walls are home to five different kinds of ferns, mosses, and other moisture-loving plants. Do understand that you will get damp on this trail and bring appropriate foot wear. 

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park

 Hat Creek at Lassen Volcanic National Park 

Hat Creek at Lassen Volcanic National Park 

Volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, and peeks into hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an exciting, yet often overlooked, national park. Only an hour from Redding, Lassen has over 150 miles of trails, camping, and is great for exploring in all four seasons. Just pay close attention to the warnings and do not go off the trail when warned; there are dangerous thermal areas. 

5. Pt. Reyes National Seashore

 A beach at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

A beach at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

The closest spot to San Francisco and the surrounding bay area, Pt. Reyes National Seashore is a popular weekend destination for those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Gorgeous blue waters, wildflowers, roaming elk, colonies of elephant seals, and a historic lighthouse make this a truly special place. Don't forget to check out Tomales Bay for bioluminescent kayaking and oysters. 

6. McCloud Falls

 Middle Falls at McCloud Falls near Mt. Shasta

Middle Falls at McCloud Falls near Mt. Shasta

McCloud Falls is actually three separate waterfalls on the McCloud River. Close to Mt. Shasta and the mountain town of McCloud, McCloud Falls is a great place to stop for the day, have a swim, and enjoy a picnic in the cool shade of the towering trees. It's easily accessible from I-5, a fifteen-mile drive east. 

7.  Mendocino Coast and Fort Bragg

 A bank building in Mendocino Village on the northern California coast. 

A bank building in Mendocino Village on the northern California coast. 

The Mendocino Coast is rugged coastline, chic shops, and cute coastal buildings made from old water towers. The Glass Beach is popular with tourists, but I find it overcrowded and a disappointment. People have been going there and stealing sea glass for so many years that there's not much left. Don't believe the hype around this beach or the clearly photoshopped photos showing a beach completely covered in sea glass. Instead, enjoy a beer at North Coast Brewing Company or a Wizard of Oz themed breakfast/lunch at Egghead's. 

8. Trinity River and Forest

 Sun peaking through the forest along the Trinity River

Sun peaking through the forest along the Trinity River

The Trinity River area is wild and navigable by a windy, often shut down highway. Think soaring eagles, steep mountains, and Bigfoot sightings. This is a great place for adventurous folk: rock climbing, river rafting, mountain biking, and hiking are all popular activities in the area. If you're something less death defying, fishing is world class here. 

9. Lake Tahoe

 Crystal clear blue waters at Lake Tahoe. 

Crystal clear blue waters at Lake Tahoe. 

Lake Tahoe is an enormously popular tourist destination in winter and summer. Being the contrary person I am, I've only been in the spring. Spring is a great time to visit Lake Tahoe: snow is still on the ground and the temperatures are mild. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake) and its depths hold something so terrifying that Jacques Costeau made the following remark, "The world isn't ready for what was down there" and refused to release any data or photographs from his dive. 

Enjoy the blue waters, the skiing, and the gambling on the Nevada side. There's great hiking in the summer and it's only a couple hours from the San Francisco Bay area. 

10. Redwood National Park

 Driving through the towering redwoods

Driving through the towering redwoods

Redwood National Park hugs the northwest coast of California. This park protects more than half the world's coastal redwoods, the world's tallest living things. Towering redwood trees are not the only draw: grassy prairies, craggy, remote beaches, and grazing Roosevelt elk stun visitors. Come prepared with rain gear: rainfall averages 60-80 inches from October through April.