Northern California Trip

I’m starting to plan a Northern California trip - specifically San Francisco, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and Redwood National Park. Looking to go mid-July next year. I have no idea where to start. If anyone has any suggestions on anything (additional places in the area to visit, can’t miss restaurants or excursions, unique lodging options, etc), I’d appreciate it.

Also if anyone has posted a Northern CA trip report, I’d love to read it.


I’m going to tag along on your thread if you don’t mind! We are flying to Seattle in a few weeks and then driving the Pacific Coast Highway down to San Francisco, probably to Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea. We have a rough itinerary, but I’ve been wondering about Liner knowledge of the area too! Definitely going to Olympic, Crater Lake, and Redwoods.


Absolutely don’t mind!


There is a section of @amvanhoose_701479’s thread that covers the area of Oregon near Crater Lake. If the link doesn’t take you to posts around 1146 of that thread, I think that’s where you’d start. She’s also great about answering questions.

We went to Olympic and Mount Rainier a couple of years ago, but there are people on the forum who are far more expert about the area than I am.


Lassen NP is one of my favorites in Northern CA.

If time is short and you’re after some big trees, Muir Woods, near San Francisco, used to be a quick in and out.

Along the Oregon coast near Florence is Sea Lion Caves that’s been a big hit with kids in our family.

Depending how far north you get - there’s a lot of ground to cover - the Visitor Centers in the area of Mt St Helens have always been a must visit when I’m in the area.

If you’re out on the Washington coast instead, there was a pretty good Lewis and Clark Interpretation center near Ilwaco. And often huge kites on the beaches there.

Some folks like to look for the Goonies house in Astoria, Oregon. :wink:


Your timing is perfect! Lodging reservations for Yosemite open up 366 days ahead of arrival and summer is peak season! Double check reservation window!

Work your trip around when you can get housing reservations for Yosemite! I highly, highly recommend staying in Yosemite Valley. I believe you need a reservation to visit Yosemite these days. Having a lodging reservation, I believe, negates the need to have a park reservation. Having a park reservation also guarantees you a parking space. Yosemite Valley is at least a good hour along mountain roads to lodging outside of the park. Unique lodging in Yosemite would be the Ahwahnee. People love the Ahwahnee for dining. We went there once for lunch and wasn’t impress by the food. Dinner there requires people to dress up. My family loves the Mountain Room. We go there every trip. It is only open for dinner and requires a reservation. And it doesn’t require you to dress up! The pizza window at Curry Village is also good.

If you are not into hiking, you can take one or two of the tours. They can cover the Valley, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, and Mariposa Grove. You can see Yosemite Falls without hiking. But it may or may not have water by the time you go. It does dry out. Tunnel View will give you a lovely view of Bridalveil Falls. If you go to Glacier Point, you will see Vernal and Nevada Falls. They will be tiny but they have water year round. You can also go to these areas on your own.

We are hiking people and we are only 3 1/2 hours, driving, from Yosemite. We’ve been there all seasons and done many adventures! During the warm season, we enjoy kayaking on the Merced River and biking along the Valley. We have hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls but we all agree that it was a one and done. The top, to us, is anticlimactic. It is a very steep hike. If you hike the Yosemite Falls trail and going to the top doesn’t need to be your thing, go pass the view of Yosemite Falls until you get a view of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Behind that, it is steep without much shade! The Yosemite Falls trail is treacherous! I’ve been on it 4 times and every time, someone is hurt! Bring hiking poles.

We enjoy hiking to Vernal Falls and sometimes, we go to Nevada Falls, too. If you don’t want to hike all the way up to Vernal Falls, there is a footbridge where you can see Vernal Falls.

How many days are you traveling? Are you set on going to Sequoia? You have a lot of driving.

Yosemite has the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias, much smaller than Sequoia NP’s but at least you don’t have to drive south and then north to the Redwoods!

If you fly into San Francisco and rent a car, DO NOT leave anything in the car when you leave it, in the cabin and the trunk! Smash and grabs are way too common. Have your valuables next to you at all times in the car. I drive with my purse on my left side. When I leave the car to pump gas, I take my purse and phone with me. I have seen thieves smash and grab while we are stopped at intersections.

In San Francisco, Tony’s Pizza/Slice House for pizza and Sotto Mare for cioppino, Tartine’s for anything!

If you go to Muir Woods, do stop by Fish in Sausalito.

If you go to Redwood National Park, you might consider Lassen NP. We also love Burney Falls!

If you go south from San Francisco, Monterey and Carmel.

Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area is no joke! Allow plenty of time to get around.

Let me know if you have other questions.


We laughed for several years about our trip in 1987 I think it was. We had been near Sacramento for a week and had driven to San Francisco for a long weekend with 2 of DH’s work mates.

We arrived on a drizzly evening and quickly discovered we needed to detail a person to keep a lookout for one way streets. Another one was to keep an eye out for red lights. I tried to get directions to our hotel using the map and a flashlight while DH attempted to navigate narrow congested streets. When we got to our hotel, we parked the car in the garage across the street and took the cable car everywhere for the next 3 days. :grin:


I just went to San Francisco in March this year and highly recommend the city tour with Vantigo. It’s a local guy and one of his 1971 VW vans. You can see reviews on Tripadvisor. My family and I really enjoyed it as we had never been to SF before so it was a great introduction.


We did a similar trip back in 2016 (you don’t mention if you have a travel party but my kids were 7 and 9 at the time so we were planning as a young family). You might be a planner if you email your spouse a 4 page itinerary for a family vacation :rofl: but here’s a cut-and-paste highlight:

2016 Northern California Vacation
General Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive San Francisco
Alcatraz Tour

Day 2: Hop-On/Hop-off tour of San Francisco

Day 3: Drive to Monterey (aprox 2 hrs 30 min)
Winchester Mystery House Tour
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Overnight in Monterey

Day 4: Drive PCH to San Simeon (approx. 2 hrs 30 min w/out stops)
Overnight in San Simeon

Day 5: Tour Hearst Castle
Drive to Sequoia National Park (aprox 4 hrs)
Overnight Sequoia National Park

Day 6: Crystal Cave tour
Overnight Sequoia National Park

Day 7: Drive to Yosemite National Park (aprox 4 hrs 15 min)
Overnight Yosemite National Park

Day 8-9: Miscellaneous Yosemite National Park attractions
Overnight Yosemite National Park

Day 10: Drive to San Francisco for return flight (aprox 4 hrs)

Lodging Details

Hotel Zephyr
Thursday, August 11- Saturday, August 13
250 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 617-6565;
Check-in: 4:00; Check-out: 12:00

Villa Franca Inn
Saturday, August 13-Sunday, August 14
900 Munras Avenue, Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 373-2921;

Best Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
Sunday, August 14- Monday August 15
9415 Hearst Drive, San Simeon, CA 93452
(805) 927-4688;
Check-in: 4:00; Check-out: 12:00

Wuksachi Lodge
Monday, August 15-Wednesday, August 17
Check-in: 4:00; Check-out: 11:00

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls
Wednesday, August 17- Saturday, August 20
Check-in: 5:00; Check-out: 11:00


Also jumping on this threat to follow in case I can pick up any last-minute tips for our epic road trip next month!

We are renting an RV in Seattle and returning it in LA 12 days later, then continuing on by car to Palm Springs/Joshua Tree NP, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley/Antelope Canyon, Zion/Bryce NPs, Death Valley, Yosemite NP and finally Lake Tahoe/Reno. As others have said, many hotel reservations for NPs open up 6-12 months in advance, and it’s important to move quickly on those. I would recommend that you make reservations even if you are not sure yet of exact dates or number of people: you can cancel with no charge up to the week or month before arrival for virtually everywhere I’ve booked. Campsite bookings open up 6 months in advance as well; these were more competitive than hotel bookings in my experience.

I have not been to California for more than 15 years so I don’t have much first-hand information to share yet, but for the nothern California portion I have planned stops in the following locations (to split up driving somewhat evenly across days), here are my notes on things to see around those in case useful:

  • Redwood NP: we are spending one night each in Jedediah Smith campground and Gold Bluff Beach campground. Easy hikes (with a 7 and a 9 year old) that I’ve picked out include Stout Grove loop, Grove of the Titans, Fern Canyon and Lady Bird Johnson Grove. There’s also a canopy walk called Trees of Mystery near Klamath, and some options for white water rafting.
  • We’ll drive south from Redwood NP through Eureka and then the Avenue of the Giants (Richardson Grove State Park and some wineries) to Fort Bragg, where we’ll visit Glass beach.
  • Next days visiting includes Mendocino, Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, lunch on the coast in Jenner, then we overnight in Petaluma (surrounded by vineyards).
  • Moving on we’ll visit Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center/Presidio of San Francisco, have lunch in Half Moon Bay, stop over in Santa Cruz (where you can rent kayaks or go whale/sea lion watching), and overnight in Monterey Bay, where the aquarium is highly recommended. We’ll visit Monterey, Carmel, and then drive along the “most scenic part of the CA coastline” around Big Sur. I’ve noted down some easy/short coastal hikes in Point Lobos SP (Bird Island Trail and Cypress Grove Trail), followed by some walking in Garrapata SP, and scenic/photo stops at Rocky Point, Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls. There’s also Pfeiffer Beach where you can hike/hang out at the beach.
  • One challenge that we’ll be facing this summer is that the US1 will not be fully re-opened following some landslides, so we need to loop back to Carmel before heading further south from Big Sur. While I very much hope these would have re-opened by next summer, I suspect it’s worth keeping an eye on road closures through Caltrans in the run-up to your trip, as landslides and road closures could affect your itinerary.
  • We move further south from Big Sur to Morro Dunes followed by Solvang, Santa Barbara and finally Malibu - and then of course Disneyland before we move over to the car portion of our trip – but this is probably too far south for your question.

I’ve been piecing this itinerary together for over a year (because I love planning), but am not sure which websites or resources to recommend because there are so many that it’s overwhelming. I just dipped into and out of maps, blogs, YouTube videos whenever I could, and structured the trip primarily on the basis of the campsites that I picked out for overnights. For the NPs, I do remember enjoying the YouTube videos from Dirt in My Shoes and We’re In The Rockies. I also recall that @stlouie had great trip reports on Yosemite and other destinations in the area on this forum.

Let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like me to report back on - we can’t wait!



CalTrans is not doing a good job on this. It recently advertised that the southbound section of a freeway was going to be closed over the weekend. In actuality, the northbound section of that freeway was also closed!!! Ask me how I know!!! :rage: :rage: :rage:

Wow! :heart_eyes: How many days are you on the road? I live in CA and it has taken decades to visit for me to visit all the places you will visit on one trip.

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Oh no! Sorry to hear that. Is there a better source of information?

We have 30 days. We live far away (in West Africa) and may not have an opportunity to come back to the US West Coast for quite some time. We know it’s ambitious, but with the advance planning I’ve done it should be doable. There will be driving on most days, but given the scenery I consider that part of the experience - let’s hope the kids agree :slight_smile:


:rofl::rofl::rofl: I live in CA!

That is awesome! Have the best time ever exploring and site seeing!

511 might help you regarding road conditions.

Or simply having a nav-aid going on a device.

Each state’s department of transportation website should be informative for scheduled construction projects and possible delays.

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I hope no one minds, but I am suddenly going to be in Northern CA for work in two weeks and I think I will have two full days to myself! I will be staying in San Mateo so slightly south of San Francisco, near the airport. I looked at a bike tour of Sonoma Valley but it looks like almost a 2 hour drive from where I will be. Is there any other good “wine country” areas further south? I could do the drive if necessary.

How did you all like this? Worth it for a solo adult who loves mysteries? I think it’s near my hotel.

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My sister and niece did this shortly before covid. They talked about it a lot afterwards.

I’ll see if I can get info from them. My sister might not recall well and my niece is on a road trip currently.

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From my sister:

It’s interesting. I was more interested in the house than all the supposed ghost stories.


I loved going through the house, but it wasn’t really about mysteries or ghost stories so much as (spoiler?) manipulation of an heiress at a time in history when spiritualism and the belief in ghosts was really high.

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I did the Winchester House back in the 80’s and then again in 2022. My friend and I really enjoyed it! I would recommend. I don’t know that it’s quite as mysterious as you might think, but definitely the product of an eccentric woman with too much money on her hands! The grounds are beautiful too.


For original poster, I’m assuming you will also go to King’s Canyon? It is a basically a sister park to Sequoia, but I think we actually enjoyed it more! We stayed in the lodge at King’s Canyon back in 2017 or so. In 2019 we stayed in a cabin at Yosemite. Yosemite was so busy (we went in August) and that made it less enjoyable. We visited Sequoia/Kings Canyon in early April and it was amazing! We’ve also driven through the Redwoods and along that coastline. It’s all so gorgeous. I love California! I just wish I could afford to live there.

@janamelia We have never managed to visit Lassen, but not for lack of trying. It’s often closed or restricted access in winter due to heavy snows. (We would often drive down to DLR in early April for spring break and it’s still closed for winter at that time.) And in summer when we were driving through one year, it was closed due to a wildfire. It’s still on my list!