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A hiker standing on top of a mountain peak overlooking the gorgeous redwood draped Big Basin Redwoods State Park

15 Places to See in Northern California

Northern California is the perfect destination for travelers looking for beautiful scenery, incredible food and not-so-typical attractions. If you’re planning a trip to Northern California, make the most of your visit and add these popular destinations to your itinerary.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

For a day full of fun and discovery, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or a grownup, visitors of all ages love to see the diverse marine life, including sea otters, penguins and the world’s largest octopus.

The Mystery Spot

Located just outside of Santa Cruz, the Mystery Spot is a gravitational anomaly that attracts visitors from across the country. Come witness this strange attraction for yourself, then take a fun photo to show your friends. This mysterious spot will amaze you!

Stanford Gates


Located in Salinas (the setting for many Steinbeck novels), the National Steinbeck Center honors Nobel prize winning author John Steinbeck. The museum houses a variety of artifacts, first-edition Steinbeck books, newspapers and interviews pertaining to John Steinbeck and its archives.

Livermore Vineyards

Livermore Valley Wine Country

45 minutes east of San Jose, Livermore Valley Wine Country welcomes visitors with over 40 wineries open for tastings and tours of the vineyards. Amid picturesque canyons, ridges and outposts of suburbia, the lush vines and convivial tasting rooms define the quality of life in the Livermore Valley. Welcoming tasting rooms showcase wine varietals and offer year-round activities.

McWay Falls

Big Sur and Bixby Bridge

Big Sur is part of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. It has numerous state parks with breathtaking, unmatched coastal views, making it a must-visit area for outdoor enthusiasts. The area is a favorite among campers, hikers, bikers and backpackers. A must-see location is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to McWay Falls, so gorgeous that it appears untouched. The area is home to one of California's most picturesque attractions, the Bixby Bridge. Dare to cross, but before you do, pull off and take it all in - a true bucket-list moment!

Sequoia National Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods is California’s oldest state park and is home to ancient coast redwoods that are more than 50 feet around and stand as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The magnificent redwood groves are an amazing sight, but if that’s not enough, the park also offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad

Travel over trestles, through towering redwood groves and up a winding narrow-gauge grade as conductors narrate the history of Roaring Camp depot, the railroad and the forest. These railways are among the oldest and most historic lines in California. This route, which previously carried lumber, now takes passengers through the redwoods and drops you off along the Pacific Coast, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic tourist destination and known as the best seaside park in the world. Check out the amusement park for fun rides such as the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster - a local favorite, a pirate-themed indoor two-story miniature golf course surrounded by dozens of arcade games, and fun food options like giant corn dogs (a secret family recipe). If you have time to spare, step down into the sand for sunbathing or sign up for a beginners’ surf lesson at Cowell Beach.

The Tech Interactive

Visitors of the The Tech Interactive in San Jose will discover why this city is considered the capital of Silicon Valley. Get hands-on with fun experiments and learn about the latest breakthroughs in technology.

Cupid Fountain at the Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

Few experiences can compare to what you’ll encounter at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Built to confuse the ghosts that haunted the conscience of the famous Winchester heiress, the house is made up of twisting and turning halls, staircases to nowhere and doors with no room on the other side. This is a top destination for fans of the paranormal; many visitors say they experience chills upon entering the house.

Yosemite Park Half-Dome

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is considered one of the most picturesque destinations in the country, and a must-see location for Northern California travelers. Plan a day trip to hike beautiful trails and bring binoculars to spot wildlife. For the adventurous hiker, plan ahead to gain trail access to hike the famous Half Dome.

Lovely View

17 Mile Drive

This popular scenic road will take you on a 17-mile journey through some of the most beautiful views along California’s coast. The famous coastal drive runs through Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, taking you on a journey from the dramatic Pacific coastline to the majestic forest. Many tourists take bus tours through this route, while more adventurous types tour the route by bike. Landmarks along the route include The Lone Cypress, the Spanish Bay and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Sequoia National Park

Located just a few hours from the coast, Sequoia National Park is a destination that should be on every adventurer’s bucket list. Prepare to feel in awe as you walk among this massive national forest, filled with the world’s largest trees.

Gilroy Premium Outlets

For shoppers, Gilroy Premium Outlets is a must-stop. Located just south of San Jose, you’ll find over 145 stores. While you’re in Gilroy, take the family out for a day of fun at the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, which sprawls over 536 acres. 

  • Giant, towering redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountain

    Santa Cruz Day Trip

    The gorgeous and towering redwoods are the only thing separating San Jose from the beach, so this day trip provides an unforgettable journey over the hill to surf city, Santa Cruz.

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