The North Coast & Mountains
California’s North Coast is a rugged and mostly untouched expanse of pure natural magic.
The area hugs along the Pacific Ocean, stretching from north of the San Francisco Bay, through Humboldt County, and up to the Oregon border.
Without a doubt, this area is one of the must see places in Northern California. And right next to it is another phenomenal area — the Mt. Shasta and Lake Shasta region.
In whole, the Northern Coast and Mt. Shasta areas are characterized by rugged mountains, famous Redwood trees, numerous rivers, and surrounding canyons, hills and forests.
The terrain is sure to leave you inspired and refreshed.
Winter can bring snow to some of the higher altitudes in the area, while dousing lower terrains in pretty constant rainfall. Summer brings the crowds.
For the perfect road trip, visit in the fall or spring. During the fall, you’ll see some remarkable color change while avoiding the summer crowds. In the spring, you’ll see wonderful poppy blooms and enjoy mild temperatures.
Now let’s dig in on where to go.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Established in 1962, Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre preserve, separated almost entirely from the rest of the continental United States by a rift zone on the San Andreas fault.
From witnessing big waves crashing against rocky headlands, to walking down sprawling sandy beaches, through open plains to forested hills and forest chains — at Point Reyes National Seashore, you’ll discover more than enough natural wonders to fill an adventure-packed day.
Point Reyes offers many gorgeous beaches (frequently named as some of the cleanest in California), with a few of our favorites including Drake’s Beach, Sculptured Beach, and Point Reyes Beach.
The northernmost section of the preserve even boasts some interesting wildlife, like tule elk, raptors, and shorebirds.
- South Beach Overlook
- Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Point Reyes Shipwreck
- Cypress Tree Tunnel
- Drake’s Beach
- Point Reyes Beach
Mendocino is a charming little town on the North Coast.
The town rests on a point carved by waves, and lies nestled between lush forests and a restless sea. The area most closely resembles a New England town wrapped in California culture.
Mendocino’s natural beauty serves as a magnet for artists and creatives, and you can often see them capturing the beautiful scenery on their canvases throughout town.
The area is made for walking, so be sure to stroll the streets, peruse shops selling local art, and enjoy a coffee while chatting with some of the locals.
For folks looking for something even more outdoorsy, be sure to hike the cliffs, especially on fog-free evenings. Sunsets from the cliffs offer picture perfect views for any occasion.
Mendocino also knows how to throw a great party. It hosts an assortment of annual festivals celebrating everything from mushrooms, to wine, and crab.
One of the premier Mendocino festivals pays note to the migration of the region’s nautical neighbors, the gray whales, as they swim north for richer feeding grounds.
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park
- Mendocino Coast
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
Redwood State + National Parks
California offers a few different places to find gigantic trees.
One of the best ways to experience the magnitude of these organisms is visit the many different state and national parks featuring Redwoods.
A great way to do so is to drive through the Avenue of the Giants.
The 30-mile road narrowly cuts through one of California’s most beautiful greenbelts, a prehistoric forest displaying more than 2,000-year-old trees.
Kids love squeezing through the trees at the privately-owned Shrinine Drive-Thru Tree, and many short walks are perfect for little legs.
A little farther north lies Redwood National Park and State Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that protects nearly half of the tallest trees in the world.
This spectacular network of national and state parks has dozens of trails that allow you to traverse massive redwoods that grow to be 350 feet tall.
- Fern Canyon
- Tall Trees Grove
- Battery Point Lighthouse & Museum
- Klamath River Overlook
- Drive-thru Tree Park
Sea Ranch is 10 miles of pristine coastline with modernist architecture and design.
The community was created in the 1960s — born out of a partnership between architecture faculty at UC Berkeley and a developer, Al Boeke, who owned the land that would become Sea Ranch.
To this day, the area is still a privately owned community.
The idea was to create an ecology friendly and planned community, one that would be in sync with nature, both aesthetically and environmentally.
Visit this area to see stunning architecture, sweeping coastal views, and to gain a sense of ’60s idealism and optimism.
If you’re into design, this is without a doubt a must see area in Northern California.
Mt. Shasta & Lake Shasta
While you’re in Northern California, you might as well carve out a few hours to drive east and visit Mt. Shasta and Lake Shasta. These two natural landmarks offer a change of pace from the coastal elements in this article.
Mt. Shasta is a potentially active volcano (last erupted in 1786) that rises steeply from the area surrounding it.
It’s also disconnected from other peaks in the range and reaches a total height of 14,180 feet.
Due to this imposing stature, Mt. Shasta has attracted the attention of poets, authors, and even presidents.
Former US president, Theodore Roosevelt, said, “I consider the evening twilight on Mount Shasta to have been one of the greatest visions I have ever witnessed.”
That’s better than a five-star Yelp review.
Heading downstream from Mt. Shasta will lead you right into Lake Shasta, an aptly titled lake fed by the massive snowmelt from Mt. Shasta and the surrounding terrain.
Like any large lake, you’ll be able to find an endless supply of boating activities here — one favorite of which is to simply rent a house boat and drink the day away with gorgeous views.
But if you’re looking for something a bit more active, you can always hike around the lake, pitch a campsite, or visit some of these ideal areas:
Let’s Hit The Road
That wraps up our list of must see places in Northern California. If you’re looking for some more California inspiration, be sure to check out some more of our recommendations here.
Did we miss a spot? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.