Part of the magic of traveling is opening your eyes to another way of living. There’s no better way to fully immerse yourself into a new city or space than with recommendations from the people who know it best—the locals. The California Locals program features an expert panel, including tour guides, restaurant owners, and historians, to weigh in on the best hidden gems and must-see spots.
“It’s such a lovely place to live,” says Scott Gatz, Bay Area local and CEO of the LGBTQ+ media empire, Q.Digital. After living in San Francisco for two-plus decades, he has some well-established favorite spots, such as Anchor Oyster Bar, Che Fico, and the whimsical Pirate Supply Store, where Gatz loves to shop for nautical gifts with his 8-year-old son.
For those with mountains on their mind, Douglas Dale has some in-the-know recommendations for Lake Tahoe. The chef and owner of Wolfdale’s Cuisine says golfers shouldn’t miss a round at Old Brockway, “a historic, 9-hole course where Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack used to play.” Shasta Mountain Guides’ Chris Carr prefers a different sort of alpine adventure. When in Mt. Shasta, he says to trek the 2.2-mile Castle Lake hike: “I’ve been there hundreds of times and it still takes my breath away.”
Head to the foothills to get a taste of the area’s natural abundance. “What sets our region apart is the diversity of agriculture,” says the El Dorado County born-and-bred Paul Bush. When you’re not sipping at one of the two vineyards he and his wife Maggie own and operate—Madroña and Rucksack Cellars—he advises checking out Placerville Hardware, the “oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi,” and Dedrick’s Cheese, “a gem.”
Travel back in time with one of Sacramento’s most prominent historians, Marcia Eymann, who says visitors should explore Sutter’s Fort—“the first settlement within this region”—and an Underground Tour where they’ll explore the original streets before the city was raised. In nearby Woodland, try one of Juan Barajas’ go-to farm-to-fork restaurants: Savory Café (his own), Main Street Lounge for pizza, and tacos from Maria’s Cantina.
In Sonoma County, chef-hotelier Crista Luedtke, who owns three critically acclaimed restaurants and a luxury inn in Guerneville, says there’s a lot to love about her little town: “We’re 20 minutes from the coast, we’re on the river, there are world-class wineries—it all just makes sense.” On her days off Luedtke loves browsing the mid-century modern finds at Rio Rio and Sonoma Nesting Company—or hiking with her wife and dogs through the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
There’s a lot to explore along California’s long and wild North Coast, but if you find yourself in Mendocino, Margaret Lindgren of Unbeaten Path Tours & Yoga says to tuck into an Italian grinder at Twofish Baking Company and to take in an exhibit at Gualala Arts Center. Farther north in Eureka, Barbara Groom, founder of Lost Coast Brewery, loves strolling through the treetops on the Redwood Sky Walk or enjoying peaceful solitude along South Spit Beach. “It’s like paradise for me,” she says.
Dive into even more Northern California recommendations—and learn from resident experts across the state by visiting California Locals.