Is there anything better than a day spent exploring a new place?
Whether you’re in search of great food, beautiful scenery, or interesting history, Northern California has it all.
From the towering Sierra Nevada mountains to the rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage of breathtaking places to explore in this region.
Northern California is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States.
If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, there are plenty of great day trips to take in Northern California.
Here are 17 of our favorite day trips in Northern California.
1. Explore the Muir Woods
Just a short drive away from the bustling city of San Francisco lies the Muir Woods National Monument.
This scenic park is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, and it’s a popular spot for hiking, picnicking, and wildlife watching.
The best way to explore Muir Woods is on foot, following one of the many well-marked trails that wind through the park.
Along the way, you’ll get up close to towering redwoods, babbling brooks, and shady woodlands.
Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including deer, squirrels, and birds.
And be sure to bring your camera—the Muir Woods is a truly magical place, and it’s impossible to leave without taking some amazing photos.
2. Go Whale Watching Off the Coast of Monterey
Monterey is a beautiful coastal town in northern California that is well-known for its stunning views and rich history.
One of the best ways to experience all that Monterey has to offer is by going whale watching.
Every year, hundreds of whales migrate along the coast, and many of them can be spotted just offshore from Monterey.
Whale-watching trips are offered year-round, but the best time to see whales is during the spring and summer months.
On a whale-watching trip, you may have the opportunity to see majestic creatures like blue whales, humpback whales, and orcas.
You will also get to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Monterey coastline.
So, whether you are a nature lover or simply looking for a fun activity, whale watching is definitely worth checking out on your next visit to Monterey.
3. Take a Scenic Drive on Highway 1
California’s Highway 1 is one of the most scenic drives in the world.
The winding road hugs the coastline, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way, there are plenty of places to stop and explore. California’s state parks are some of the best in the country, and there are plenty of beach towns to visit.
The best time to take a drive on Highway 1 is during the week when traffic is lighter. However, even on a busy weekend, the drive is worth it.
There is nothing quite like a drive through California’s Highway 1.
4. Pay a Visit to the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of Northern California’s most iconic landmarks.
The bridge spans nearly two miles across the Golden Gate Strait, connecting the city of San Francisco to Marin County.
You can enjoy sweeping views of the bay area from the bridge, and there is also a pedestrian walkway where visitors can get up close to the massive red steel structure.
Whether you’re looking for a photo op or just want to experience one of America’s most famous bridges, a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge is sure to be a memorable experience.
5. Stroll Around in San Francisco’s Chinatown
A day trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown is a fun and educational experience for the whole family.
Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinatown in the United States, and it is filled with history and culture.
Start your day by exploring Grant Avenue, the main street of Chinatown. Here you will find many shops and restaurants, as well as the Chinatown Heritage Center.
Then, head to Portsmouth Square, which is at the heart of Chinatown. This is a great place to people-watch and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the neighborhood.
Be sure to visit some of the temples and museums, such as the Chinese Temple and Museum, before heading home.
A day trip to Chinatown is a great way to learn about another culture and experience something truly unique.
6. Check Out Folsom City
If you’re looking for a fun place to visit in northern California, be sure to check out Folsom City.
This charming town is located just a short drive from Sacramento and is renowned for its beautiful parks, vibrant downtown area, and rich history.
You can enjoy a variety of activities in Folsom City, from hiking and biking in the many parks to exploring the local shops and restaurants.
There’s also a lively arts scene, with a number of galleries and performance venues.
And don’t forget to visit the famous Folsom Prison! Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, Folsom City is sure to please.
7. Go Hiking in Yosemite National Park
If you’re looking for a breathtaking hiking destination, look no further than Yosemite National Park in northern California.
From glittering waterfalls to soaring mountains, there’s something for everyone in this famous park.
And with over 800 miles of trails to explore, you could easily spend days hiking through Yosemite.
Whether you’re tackling Half Dome or just taking a leisurely walk through the woods, you’re sure to be impressed by the natural beauty of this place.
So if you’re looking for an unforgettable hiking experience, pack your bags and head to Yosemite National Park.
8. Take a Scenic Train Ride Through the Sierra Nevada
One of the best ways to see the stunning scenery of Northern California is to take a scenic train ride through the Sierra Nevada.
The Sierra Nevada is home to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, and the views from the train are simply breathtaking.
The ride takes you through dozens of tunnels and past countless waterfalls, giving you a front-row seat to one of nature’s most incredible wonders.
Best of all, the trip can easily be done in a day, making it the perfect getaway for busy families or couples looking for a romantic escape.
So if you’re ever in Northern California, be sure to take advantage of this unique opportunity and hop aboard a Sierra Nevada scenic train.
9. Picnic at the Breathtaking Lake Tahoe
A day trip to Lake Tahoe is the perfect way to get away from it all and enjoy some time in nature.
The lake is surrounded by towering mountains, and the clear blue water is inviting.
There are plenty of picnic spots to choose from, and the scenery is simply breathtaking.
You can enjoy hiking, biking, and picnicking in the summer months, and in the winter, you can hit the slopes at one of the nearby ski resorts.
No matter how you spend your day, a day trip to Lake Tahoe is sure to be an adventure.
10. Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States.
Located in Northern California, the park is home to several volcanoes, including the world’s largest active volcano, Lassen Peak.
You can explore the park’s many hiking trails, go rafting or kayaking on one of its lakes, or take a scenic drive through the park.
In addition, the park offers a variety of educational programs about its volcanic history.
Whether you’re looking for an adventure or just want to learn more about volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic National Park is definitely worth a visit.
11. Tour the Leland Stanford Historic Mansion
The Leland Stanford Mansion is a great day trip for history buffs and architecture lovers alike.
The mansion was built in 1856 by railroad magnate Leland Stanford, and it is a prime example of Second Empire architecture.
The mansion was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and it is now open to the public for tours.
You can explore the grounds, which include lush gardens, and take a tour of the interior of the mansion, which features period furnishings and original works of art.
The Leland Stanford Mansion is a must-see for anyone interested in California history or architecture.
12. Check Out the California State Capitol in Sacramento
If you’re ever in northern California, be sure to check out the state capitol in Sacramento.
The building is an impressive sight, and it’s surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Inside, you can take a tour and learn all about the history of California.
There are also several museums on the grounds, including a museum of art and a museum of natural history.
Even if you’re not a history buff, the Capitol is definitely worth a visit.
13. Visit the Shasta Dam
The Shasta Dam is a great day trip for those looking to learn more about the history of California’s water infrastructure.
The dam, which was completed in 1945, is the fifth tallest in the United States and provides vital water storage for the state.
You can take a tour of the dam, learn about its construction, and even get a chance to see inside one of the enormous hydroelectric turbines.
The dam is also a beautiful spot for hiking and picnicking, with stunning views of Shasta Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Whether you’re interested in history or just looking for a nice place to spend a day outdoors, the Shasta Dam is definitely worth a visit.
14. See the Waterfalls at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park
McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern California.
The park is home to a large number of waterfalls, including the massive Burney Falls.
you can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and camping in the park, as well as swimming in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Britton.
The falls are best seen from the viewpoint at the top of the trail, but there are also a number of other trails that offer up-close views of the waterfalls.
Whether you’re looking for a short day trip or a longer camping adventure, McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is definitely worth a visit.
15. Drive Through the Redwood Forest
A day trip through the Redwood Forest is a great way to see some of the most majestic trees in the world.
The forest is home to some of the tallest trees on Earth, and driving through it is an awe-inspiring experience.
The best time to drive through the Redwood forest is in the spring or early summer when the trees are in whole leaf and the weather is warm.
Be sure to bring a camera, as there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a deer or two!
16. Stop by the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
If you find yourself in northern California, be sure to make a stop at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.
Set on 47 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the gardens feature more than 85,000 plants and flowers.
Highlights include a Rhododendron Dell with over 500 varieties of rhododendron, as well as a Fern Canyon, where you can stroll along a boardwalk through a 30-foot-tall canyon of ferns.
There’s also a native plant garden, an herb garden, and even a succulent garden—something for everyone!
In addition to the gardens themselves, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens also offer classes and workshops on gardening, cooking, and art.
So whether you’re a green thumb or just looking to learn more about plants and nature, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are definitely worth a visit.
17. Take a Walk at the Humboldt Lagoons State Park
Looking for a day trip that will take you on a walk on the wild side? Look no further than Humboldt Lagoons State Park.
Located along the stunning Northern California coast, this state park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, and pelicans.
And with 10 miles of hiking trails winding through forests and along the shoreline, there are plenty of opportunities to spot some of these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
So pack your daypack with snacks and water, and head out for an adventure at Humboldt Lagoons State Park.