If you can’t decide between the beach, the mountains, quaint historical towns, and sleeping in luxury or roughing it, then Northern California is your ultimate destination. Northern California is a largely untouched outdoor playground. This One Week in Northern California Itinerary has a bit of everything, soaring peaks, vast coastline and the tallest trees in the world.
Yosemite and San Francisco are technically considered part of Northern California. But for the purposes of our suggested attractions we will skip these two attractions as they are covered in depth in other itineraries on this site.
This One Week Itinerary in Northern California highlights all the unique beauty of northern California. You begin and end this trip in San Francisco. Along the way you enjoy the beautiful California coast at places such as Point Reyes National Seashore and Mendocino. You will also enjoy stops at the majestic mountains of Northern California like Mt Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Day 1 – Point Reyes National Seashore
Take the short drive from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore. This remarkable peninsula at the northern end of Marin County is located approximately thirty miles north of San Francisco off of Highway 1. Jutting dozens of miles out into the sea, this extraordinary peninsula is loaded with amazing discoveries. It features remarkable wildlife, deep forests, dramatic sea cliffs and remote beaches. Start your visit by visiting the outstanding Bear Valley Nature Centre. The Center provides an orientation to the park’s roads, trails and general history. Nearby is the fairly flat Bear Valley Trail which is a popular walk or bike ride, with some outstanding coastal views.
The Cypress Tree Tunnel is one of the most iconic spots in Point Reyes. The tunnel is right along Sir Francis Drake Blvd, so you can find parking along the street to take advantage of this gorgeous tunnel of trees.
If you drive all the way to the Point Reyes lighthouse, the views are breathtaking. If you head straight towards the lighthouse, there’s a small detour you can take to walk down and get a wonderful view of the National Seashore overlook. The ocean view here looks like it goes on for miles.
The Point Reyes beach is also a great place to visit. The sunsets are spectacular here and it’s definitely worth staying late. This water isn’t great for swimming since the waves can be pretty strong, but the views are totally worth it.
Day 2 – Bodega Bay and Mendocino
On day 2 we’ll head up the coast to one of the most beautiful towns on the Northern California coast, Mendocino. On the way to Mendocino, make a stop at Bodega Bay. Nestled into a particularly beautiful stretch of Sonoma County’s 55-mile Pacific Coastline, Bodega Bay is a favorite destination for travelers and local residents alike.
Bodega Bay is jammed with hiking and biking trails that offer magnificent Pacific Ocean views. Nearby beaches are great places to picnic, gaze seaward, or experience ocean kayaking.
Continue another 2.5 hours up the coast to Mendocino. With fewer than 1,000 year-round residents and a remote location, Mendocino offers tranquility in a spectacular North Coast setting. Mendocino’s dramatic location is a natural magnet for artists. You can often see them, easels propped and paint palettes out, capturing the scene on their canvases.
Day 3 – Humboldt Redwoods State Park
On day 3 we’ll head away from the coast, inland to one of the real treasures of One Week in Northern California. A 2 hour drive will bring you to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Here you can walk through the world’s largest stand of old-growth redwoods. Once you’ve seen the towering trees lining Avenue of the Giants, take some time to learn more about these remarkable giants of the plant world, and explore the emerald green habitat where they live. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy strolls in this 53,000 acre park, ask for suggestions with a visit to the excellent park headquarters in Weott. Avenue of the Giants (Highway 101) runs right through the park, so you can easily turn off to explore on an assortment of trails.
A great trail to follow is the Bull Creek Loop. The first mile or so takes in impressive trees, including Founders Grove. This grove honors the people behind the formation of the Save the Redwoods League in 1918. This organisation played a critical role in the permanent protection of these remarkable trees. If you are feeling ambitious, complete the entire 7.5 mile loop. The full loop lets you experience the remarkable Rockefeller Forest, home to the world’s 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th tallest trees.
Day 4 – Mt Shasta
From Humboldt the drive to Mt Shasta takes about 4 hours. Topping out at 14,179 feet/4,322 meters high, this magnificent volcano seems to scrape the turquoise-blue sky. Luckily, you don’t have to climb to the peak to enjoy this alpine paradise. Easy hiking paths loop through wildflower-filled meadows and into cool forests. An easy two-mile path along the McCloud River on the south side is of the best trails. The trail leads to a trio of waterfalls—all beautiful, though Middle Falls is the real head-turner.
Day 5 – Lassen Volcanic National Park
From Mt Shasta it’s a quick 1.5 hours drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park features steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots, and boiling springs. These lively features show that the earth is not quiet in this fascinating park in the state’s wild northeast corner. Tour the park on the first day, and on the second day visit the spectacular Burney Falls at the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park (45 minute drive)
Day 6 – Visit Gold Country
Our last stop during One Week in Northern California features a tour of California’s Gold Country. From Lassen head to Auburn, an ideal place to discover California’s Gold Rush district. The drive from Lassen takes about 3 hours. This is the area that is responsible for the ‘making’ of California. If it wasn’t for the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills, California wouldn’t be what we know today.
From Auburn, cruise south 18 miles to Coloma, where the South Fork of the American River runs through Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. In 1848 at Sutter’s Mill James Marshall spotted glittering flecks in the ground that changed the course of California’s history. Here you can try your hand at gold panning on the river’s east bank. Next you can hike up the monument trail past antique mining equipment.
Back on the road for 10 curving miles, you’ll come to Placerville, affectionately called “Old Hangtown” for its Wild West–style of justice. Main Street is well preserved and boasts the town’s oldest building, the rustic stone Fountain & Tallman Soda Works. This building, built in 1852, features two-foot-thick walls and underground rooms insulated the ice used for bottling soda water, which quenched the thirst of local miners. Now a museum run by the El Dorado County Historical Society, the building houses artifacts from Placerville’s colorful past. A highlight is the original Soda Works carbonation machine.
Day 7 – Back to San Francisco
Head back to San Francisco and see some of the sites if you have time before catching your flight back home!