California is home to more than just laid-back surfers and Hollywood starlets.
There’s a quiet side to the Sunshine State, full of ancient trees and sun-kissed wineries, just waiting for the right kind of traveller. If you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, one filled with stunning nature, world-class dining, and a lot more wine, take a look at these hidden gems of Northern California.
5 Reasons To Explore Northern California’s Hidden Gems
Muir Woods National Monument
This old-growth forest is home to some of the largest trees in the world: the majestic redwoods.
Just north of San Francisco, it’s the perfect day trip for anyone wanting to get out and enjoy some of the Bay area’s unspoiled nature.
Feel like hiking? Grab some runners and head for this fresh air forest to stroll among trees taller than the Statue of Liberty. Find peace as you relax next to moss-lined creeks surrounded by some of California’s most beautiful wildlife. Blue jays and other birds are frequent sights, and it’s not uncommon for patient visitors to spot passing deer.
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Rows of perfect vineyards line the rolling hills of Napa Valley. Napa is known for producing some of the world’s finest wines, and they bottle everything from dark Merlot to crisp Pinot Grigio.
When winery staff aren’t bottling their harvest, they take visitors on tours of the picture-perfect vineyards. The kitchen staff stays busy preparing mouth-watering meals of savoury meats and sharp cheeses, marinated shrimp, and fruit-focused desserts to go with your Moscato.
Almost as beautiful as the rolling seas of green are the castle-like estates that spot the land. In these enchanted buildings, you can take part in tasting tours, learn how wine is made, or just enjoy a glass of wine over lunch while gazing off into a sunset you’ll never forget.
The Madonna Estate is one of Napa Valley’s oldest operating wineries, with over 80 years of producing quality wines. This estate, just 40 miles from San Francisco, takes a holistic approach to its winemaking, using zero chemicals on its organic grapes and focusing on maintaining healthy soil. That’s just one of the methods helping them to make some of the smoothest, richest wines in the region.
Their wine-tasting room buzzes with the excitement of uncorked treasures paired with gourmet chocolates and is open from 10am to 5pm.
Sonoma Valley might not have the same fame as Napa, but that’s the way they like it. A focus on quality wine and a more rustic experience make Sonoma Valley a must for any wine enthusiast.
The town of Sonoma is known for its laid-back feel. Rent a bicycle to go from estate to estate, sampling different wines along the way, all while working to keep your wheels on the trail. If you’re looking to lose yourself on the back roads of wine country, this is the place.
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Sitting on decades of family secrets that help farmers tease magic from the Sonoma soil and turn it into full-bodied wines is the Cline Cellars Winery.
Cline Cellar’s farming system focuses on enhancing biodiversity and keeping its soil healthy, so it continues to sprout sturdy vines and flavorful grapes year after year. Their gorgeous estate is the perfect place to taste wines privately or with a group or to host an event at their refreshing outdoor venue.
Yosemite National Park
There’s a reason Yosemite Park, just a few hours east of San Francisco, is one of the best-known parks in America. Most visitors who witness its dramatic landscape of sharp mountains and deep valleys go home and tell everyone they know.
World-class hiking trails are plentiful, and the diverse climbing routes make Yosemite a rock climber’s dream. If you prefer taking things slow, you can relax by a crystal clear lake or listen to the soothing sound of rushing waterfalls. The park provides ample opportunities to push yourself physically or just kick back and soak in Yosemite’s epic beauty.
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While not exactly hidden, San Francisco is nonetheless a gem and will likely be your base for exploring the nearby sites.
If you do stay in town, no trip into the city is complete without a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We recommend going early to beat the clouds, which like to cover the bridge for most of the afternoon and get in the way of the beautiful view.
After that, you can get locked up in the island prison at Alcatraz, a short boat trip away and an intriguing trip into America’s past.
Find world-class Mexican food in the Mission District. Take your burrito to one of the city’s many relaxing but lively parks, where you can picnic next to the city’s famous painted houses. Top the experience off with a traditional streetcar ride up and down San Francisco’s undulating streets.
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All of these incredible destinations are just a bus trip away from downtown San Francisco. Head out on your own with a map and a camera, or choose a tour company to help make the perfect California trip that much easier. Any way you do it, you won’t regret finding Northern California’s hidden gems.