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Top 10 Things to Do on a Northern California Road Trip

By Kayla Anderson and Stuart Thornton, authors of Moon Northern California Road Trips

NorCal is California at its wildest: From cosmopolitan San Francisco, north through the famous Wine Country, to the coast and up to Oregon, where the trees become taller and the crowds become smaller. Whether you’re hitting the road for the sparkling blue waters of Tahoe, the snowcapped volcanic peaks of Mounts Shasta and Lassen, the high Sierra of Yosemite, or the low desert valleys, here are the top ten experiences you can’t miss on a Northern California road trip.

View of Carmel beach with clear blue sky and water
View of Carmel Bay and Lone Cyprus at Pebble Beach. Photo © Toms Auzins/Dreamstime.com.

Wander Along the Beach: Windy, rocky, and elemental, northern beaches expose the power of the sea along a majestic coastline.

Feast on Seafood: The fish and shellfish of the Northern California coast are some of the freshest and tastiest food you’ll find.

Photo under the redwoods trees looking up.
Redwoods National and State Parks California. Photo © Stephen Moehle/Dreamstime.com.

Hike Amid Redwoods: Crane your neck at the skyscraping redwoods in the Redwood State and National Parks.

Circle the Rim Drive: Circumnavigate the rim of a sunken caldera in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.

Explore a Volcanic Landscape: Boardwalk paths lead past boiling mud pots and steaming streams in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Picture of Emarald bay featuring Fannette Island with clear blue water
Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe with Fannette Island. Photo© Donyanedomam/Dreamstime.com.

Paddle Tahoe’s Waters: Kayak the lake’s cobalt-blue waters to the granite rocks on Fannette Island, perched in the middle of Emerald Bay.

Admire Fall Foliage: Walk through Lundy Canyon in the Eastern Sierra as the quaking aspens turn from leafy green to brilliant gold.

Cross the High Sierra: Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road passes through an alpine landscape, with stops at Tuolumne Meadows.

Picture of Tioga Pass road with the view of mountains
Tioga Pass Road.Photo © Davide Guidolin/Dreamstime.com.

Cruise the Big Sur Coast Highway: This twisty, two-lane highway follows one of the world’s most dramatic coastlines and makes for a picture-perfect photo-op.

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About the Authors

Stuart Thornton fell in love with California while working the Big Sur Ranger Station after college. At work, he provided visitors with all sorts of information about the region, from the best places to camp to the best meal in the area. On his days off, he took his own advice and regularly sought out the top spots for hiking, backpacking, surfing, and snorkeling along that striking coastal region.

Stuart later moved to nearby Monterey to become a staff writer for the Monterey County Weekly, where he is still a contributor. He is the proud author of Moon Coastal California, Moon Santa Barbara & the Central Coast, and Moon California Road Trip. In addition, Stuart has contributed to National Geographic Education, and Relix Magazine.

Stuart spends his time off searching for the next secluded beach, uncrowded wave, or mountaintop vista. Learn more about his adventures and projects by visiting stuartthornton.com.

Kayla Anderson is a freelance writer based in Northern California. She grew up in Redding, received a journalism degree from California State University-Chico, and now lives in North Lake Tahoe. For the last 10 years, she has been writing press kits for ski resorts and golf courses as well as articles about businesses, people, and places in Lake Tahoe and Northern California.

Currently, she contributes to Enjoy Northern California Living magazine, Tahoe Weekly, the Sparks Tribune, and the Nevada Travel Network. She continues to be impressed by what she discovers in Redding, Humboldt County, Yosemite, Sacramento, and the lesser-known places like Weaverville and Mono Lake. You can find her work at www.kaylaanderson.org/writing.


Photo of a pinterest graphic that reads: Things to do on a Northern CA Road trip with a background view of carmel's blue sky and water.