Home to the Sierra Nevada mountains, a dramatically rugged coastline, and redwood forests, Northern California offers endless reasons to get outside and explore. You can drive along winding rivers and through beautiful forests on a road trip on The Bigfoot Scenic Byway, discover the countless wonders of San Francisco, or find the hidden gems in Sonoma County and Napa Valley—and there will still be so much more to do. Below are eight outdoor adventures to add to your California must-do list.
Catch Your Limit
Fishing in High Sierra lakes, Mammoth Lakes
Anglers love Mammoth Lakes because its wealth of high-alpine lakes, streams, creeks, and reservoirs have abundant quality spots for trout fishing, as well as fantastic scenery while you’re waiting for a bite. A handful of well-stocked lakes are a short drive from town, and are also accessible via bike path. Twin Lakes is the lowest of the lakes (and are actually three lakes), Lake Mary allows motorboats, Lake Mamie is the smallest, and Lake George is the highest drive-to lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers year-round catch-and-release fishing in both Mono County and Inyo County if winter fishing is on your bucket list.
Wander in an Urban Oasis
The Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco
This 15,000-acre park, an essential part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is also an essential part of the history of San Francisco. With serene open spaces, 24 miles of hiking trails, 25 miles of bike trails, lush forest, and spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge—it’s easy to escape the bustle of the city and breathe deeply. Beaches and coastal space abound from Crissy Field to Baker Beach, the sandy stretch that lures families, kiteboarders, and windsurfers.
Sleep Under the Stars
Mount Diablo State Park, Walnut Creek
On a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles from the summit of Mount Diablo—west to the Farallon Islands beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, east to the Sierra Nevada, south to Mount Loma Prieta, and north to Lassen Peak in the Cascades. Pitch your tent at Live Oak Campground at the base of the mountain for quick access to Rock City, part of an uplifted rock formation that extends along the southern side of the mountain. Or camp at Juniper Campground, closest to the top of Mount Diablo, for the incredible views.
Wheel Your Way to Wine Tasting
Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, Sonoma
Cradled between the Mayacamas and the Sonoma Mountain Range, the 17-mile Sonoma Valley is home to incredible wineries and natural beauty. Why zip past it all in your car when you can take your time pedaling past vineyards on two wheels? Guided bike tours with outfitters like Sonoma Valley Bike Tours are led by local guides who know the best quiet roads, flat terrain, and beautiful wine country views.
Hit the Trail Your Way
Auburn State Recreation Area, Auburn
Deep in California’s legendary Gold Country, the spectacular canyons and clear waters of the American River draw hikers, equestrians, and cyclists to the more than 100 miles of trails that cross the steep canyons and both forks of the river. About 20 miles of the Western States Trail passes through the park, which hosts the 100-mile-long Tevis Cup Western States Trail Ride and the annual Western States 100 Endurance Run. Major trailheads include the Auburn Horse Staging Area, and the multi-use Quarry Trail, Olmstead Loop, and Foresthill Divide Loop Trail.
Witness a Beach Mystery
Schooner Gulch State Beach, Mendocino
Get a little lesson in science while you watch the tide go out at Bowling Ball Beach, revealing almost perfectly spherical stones. This beach has sparked speculation for centuries, yet it’s due to the rare geological phenomena known as “concretions,” formed by a natural process of sedimentary rock binding to minerals or stone. When the outbound tide coincides with a stunning sunset, it’s an unforgettable California moment.
Go Climb a Mountain
Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County
A mighty volcano of the Cascades, Mount Shasta dominates the landscape in Siskiyou County, visible for more than 100 miles from parts of Northern California. When winter hits, take snowshoes out for a challenging 6.6-mile hike on Helen Lake and Mount Shasta Trail or go alpine or Nordic skiing at Mt. Shasta Ski Park. An easy way to get views of the mountain without climbing to the summit is the McCloud River Falls Trail, a 4-mile round trip featuring three spectacular waterfalls and views of Mount Shasta and Castle Crags. The moderate 10-mile round trip to the Deadfall Lakes and Mount Eddy adds views of Lake Siskiyou and Mount Eddy.
Hike to a Secluded Beach
Hidden Beach, Klamath
The northern California beaches of Del Norte County and Crescent City are relaxed, quiet, and magical. This tucked-away cove has a magical and moody feel, with dark-gray sand, great piles of driftwood, and very few people. Choose one of three trails to get there—Hidden Beach Trail, Coastal Trail, and Yurok Loop—and hike in. While you’re here, check out the photogenic, sheer-sided island a short distance out to sea, topped by succulent plants and a few wind-blown trees.