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A Two-Week Itinerary to Northern California

Exploring California on four wheels comes with some great advantages including unforgettable sunrises
Exploring California on four wheels comes with some great advantages including unforgettable sunrises | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Deanna Morgado
3 September 2021
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Northern California is unlike any other place in the world. With so much coastline, you can enjoy spectacular views, but there are also plenty of forests, national parks like Yosemite, and unforgettable wildlife. For all you adventurers, here is an itinerary for making it up and down Northern California in an epic two-week trip.

Want to visit Northern California without having to plan your own itinerary? Consider joining Culture Trip’s seven-day curated small-group Northern California tour, which includes San Francisco, Yosemite National Park and more.

Day 1: San Francisco

The San Francisco skyline is best seen at sunset | © Michele Falzone / Alamy Stock Photo

Not only should you spend more than a day in San Francisco, you’ll for sure want to. Throw your things in your hotel room and get ready to walk. San Francisco is a very walkable city. Head to hot spots like Fisherman’s Wharf, the Exploratorium, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. Don’t forget to eat out at some of the best restaurants in the world in North Beach, and splurge on the best shopping in Union Square.

Day 3: Monterey

Monterey has its own special charm | © Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo

Head south from San Francisco to Monterey. Here you’ll enjoy some of the best ocean views you’ll ever see. Take your time, drive around town before heading to the infamous Cannery Row. There, hit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ll learn about all kinds of things about the very ocean life that is surrounding you. Make sure to stroll Lover’s Lane and visit the famous painter Thomas Kinkade’s home.

Day 4: Carmel

The 17mi (27km) drive from Monterey to Carmel is one to remember. Between the forest life and the Pacific Ocean right next you, you’re going to want to have your camera ready. Enjoy souvenir shopping in Carmel and some of the cutest coastal homes you’ll ever see before jumping back in the car.

Day 5: Cambria

At Hearst San Simeon State Park you can get up close and personal with elephant seals | © George Ostertag / Alamy Stock Photo

Cambria will be the farthest south your trip will take you. This seaside village located in San Luis Obispo County has a lot of history to share. Get an idea of Cambria’s culture by visiting Hearst San Simeon State Park. Pack a lunch and hike around the trails, soak in all the beauty and nature of Cambria’s natural habitats. Before it gets dark, make sure to check out Friends of the Elephant Seal, an observation spot where elephant seals tend to hang out along the shores.

Day 6: Yosemite

Make the trek northeast to Yosemite National Park. Don’t worry, you’ll be enjoying two awesome nights in this national park. Hike the trails with a knowledgeable ranger leading the way so you get the most out of your stay.

Day 8: Sacramento

The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento has been operating as a restaurant since the 1960s | © Stephen Saks Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Drive from Yosemite to Sacramento, dubbed America’s farm-to-table capital. Visit any number of museums, restaurants, shows, and shops. The must-see, though, is Old Sacramento. This part of the city is rich with Gold Rush-era history and things to do. You can even pan for gold. Sacramento to Sonoma is just over an hour. You can either rest after your day in Sacramento in a hotel or just drive straight to Sonoma before bunking down for the night.

Day 9: Sonoma

You can’t visit Sonoma and not drink wine. With more than 370 wineries and countless spas, it’ll take you two days to get around the whole area. There are also art galleries to enjoy, and indulge in a farm-to-table dining experience.

Day 11: Mendocino

Climb your way north to the dramatic coast of Northern California and historic Mendocino. Timing your stay here should be easy. There are numerous festivals throughout the year in this coastal town, celebrating anything from food, wine, beer, art, and nature.

Day 12: Redding

Mount Shasta volcano sits at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County | © Henk Meijer / Alamy Stock Photo

Dive into your inner nature-lover in Redding. Spend your day here hiking, kayaking, or skiing. Marvel in the beauty of Mount Shasta in the distance. If you’re really adventurous, helicopter tours are held to take you around the granite peaks, waterfalls, and mountain lakes of the Trinity Alps.

Day 13: Lake Tahoe

Head back down great California until you reach Lake Tahoe. The mountains and blue lake here are considered a national treasure – the Jewel of the Sierra. Anything can happen here from hiking, snowboarding, and boating, to gambling, clubbing, and fine dining. Take two days to experience all Lake Tahoe has to offer.

Day 15: San Francisco

Back in good ol’ San Francisco. Take this time to reflect on the majesty of Northern California you just witnessed.

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