Here is a fun list of Northern California hidden gems to put on your summer bucket list. Discover some of most interesting places to visit in NorCal, not on the usual tourist itinerary. Natural wonders, secluded parks, historic landmarks, and even an African Wildlife adventure all made it on our list. How many of these hidden gems have you visited?
China Camp State Park has a rich history that began with the indigenous Miwok people who thrived in the area for thousands of years. With the arrival of Europeans, the Miwok population began to decline. In the 1870’s, Chinese fishermen settled in the area and built a small village
Harley Farms produce four types of fresh goat milk cheese. Chevre (the most popular), Fromage blanc, feta, and ricotta. Cheese samples are available at the farm store along with mini, medium and large rounds of cheese for sale. If you just drive to the farm you can browse through the store, view the goats and llamas in the main corral. For a more in-depth farm, tour reservations are required. Pescadero, CA.
Roughly 20 miles north of San Francisco, China Camp State Park rests on the San Pedro Peninsula in San Rafael, California. History buffs will appreciate the historic China Camp Village while mountain bikers and hikers will enjoy exploring more than 1,600 acres parkland.
Locke came to be in 1915. It is a town that was built by Chinese for the Chinese population of workers after many were displaced as a result of a fire in nearby Walnut Grove. The entire town of Locke is a historical site even though it is home to many people. There is a visitor center, some interesting shops, and a couple of good restaurants.
Way off the beaten path at an elevation of 10,000 feet the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest overlooks the Sierra Nevada mountains. The strangely appealing beauty of these trees makes the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest a favorite spot for photographers and painters, but it is equally enjoyed by hikers and campers.
Pinnacles National Park is nation’s newest national park and most often visited during spring and fall because of the abundance of wildflowers and the intense heat during the summer months. The park is divided into the east and west entrances by the rock formations and connected by a system of trails that access both the park’s numerous caves and peaks.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park gardens make a spectacular backdrop for weddings, parties and other special events. The Arboretum extends for 200 acres and links up with the popular Sacramento River Trail in several spots. Designed by the world-famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Sun Dial bridge links the north and south sides of the park.
Safari West African Wildlife Tours guests can take a three-hour tour led by an experienced guide. You climb aboard a Safari truck and head out onto the bumpy roads of the preserve. This trip lets you take an African safari without the danger of being charged by wild animals.
Bryan Preserve, located in Point Arena in Southern Mendocino County, is a wildlife preserve with two kinds of zebra species and several species of antelope. There are over 60 zebras and antelope at the preserve and they are making preparations to bring in giraffe as well. What most people do not know is that the preserve is open to the public for daily tours.
Every thirty minutes or so this geyser shoots a stream of scalding steam up to 75 feet into the air. If you are visiting Napa Valley with kids in tow than a stop at Old Faithful Geyser is almost mandatory. Along with the geyser, there is the small herd of fainting goats, a breed that faints when startled. With so many visitors, the goats have become used to noise and are not easily scared.
The wonderful park covers nearly 20-miles from Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to the banks of the Yuba River. Visitors can enjoy swimming, hiking and exploring the trails leading to historic mining sites, panning for gold and gorgeous wildflowers in the spring.
Opportunities for outdoor activities abound. Hike through the spectacular Armstrong Redwood State Reserve, or kayak down the Russian River as it winds its way through the valley. One summer highlight is the annual Stumptown Daze Parade and Barbeque. This event is the unofficial kick off the summer season along this section of the Russian River.
Laws museum and historical site preserve the Owens Valley railroad town of Laws. The original depot along with other historical buildings are a fascinating look into the history of the Owens Valley. Along with railroad artifacts, there are over 20 buildings plus mining and farming equipment.
Manzanar National Historic Site is a location worthy of your time if you are hungry for mid-century history in California. Manzanar was one of ten internment camps spread throughout the western United States. At the visitor, you get a sense of the overall size of the camp and can view an extensive collection of images, artifacts, and exhibits.
Located in the Owens Valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Alabama Hills’ collection of spectacularly unique sunburned granite rock formations and arches has become known as the quintessential western landscape. The Alabama Hills got its name from prospectors living and mining in the area during the Civil War. When news reached California about the victories won by the Confederates’ warship, the CSS Alabama.
A Sicilian immigrant who was born in 1879, and came to America in the early 1900s to plant a citrus orchard, Forestiere soon discovered the unbearable summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley. So, to stay cool, he spent the next 40 years digging out an underground home in the hardpack and clay, eventually creating his own sub-sand oasis.
Silver City has over 20 historic buildings filled with thousands of treasures from the area’s mining camps and other local frontier settlements. Silver City is located in the small town of Bodfish a few miles from Lake Isabella in Kern County.
Located in Salinas, a part of Monterey County, Vision Quest is part of the Monterey Zoo. Not just any zoo, the facility is actually more of a sanctuary for animals that can no longer work in the entertainment industry. Accommodation at the Vision Quest Ranch is B&B style. Bungalows are spread out around the property to offer peace and quiet. “Tent rooms” can be arranged for those guests who want to stay as close to nature as possible.
This cozy little town is a perfect day trip destination from Sacramento or the Bay Area. Many visitors travel to winters to visit the local wineries. Winters is up-and-coming wine country, not as famous as its Napa neighbor, but connoisseurs will love the range of varietals grown in the valleys of Yolo County.
Benicia has a long and interesting past and has over the years played an important role in California’s history. For a short period in the mid 19th century, the town became the state’s capital. In 1853, the original capitol building was erected in what is now the historical landmark and tourist attraction of Benicia Capitol State Historic Park.
There are four main historic museums at the park. There is the Plaza Hotel, Zannetta House, The Plaza Stables and the Castro-Breen Adobe. Additionally, you can see the historic jail, a blacksmith shop, and an early American settler’s cabin. Adjacent to the State Park is the actual San Juan Bautista Mission.
At an elevation of 6,955 feet, Huntington Lake is a wonderful mountain getaway. The best time to visit is spring or summer, as the winter, although beautiful, can be brutal. Huntington Lake is perfect for those that want an unspoiled and beautiful mountain setting, for camping or renting a cabin. It is the perfect place to recharge and connect with nature. 80 miles northeast from Fresno.
With its unique restaurants and shops set in authentic historic buildings, the downtown district is the heart and soul of Truckee. Once the industrial center of a gritty railroad town, today downtown is an epicenter of activity, where visitors can browse dozens of independently owned and operated shops and dine in delectable eateries.
Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center is a fun place to stop while traveling through California’s Central Valley. Cheese samples, self-guided tours, sandwiches, and cheese products are all available at the center.
An 853-acre state historic park situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains preserved since 1975 and frozen in time for visitors to see and explore. Inside the park is a visitor center along with many of the mine’s original buildings, including the restored gardens and historic home of former mine owner — William Bourn, Jr.
Three hot springs feed the large swimming pool and a smaller hot pool at Keough’s Hot Springs Resort. Over one million gallons a day of hot 127-degree mineral water (cooled to about 90 degrees for the pool) flows through the resort.
Despite its menacing past, however, Lassen Peak remains one of the most accessible volcanoes in the Cascades. The peak also has the distinction of being the world’s biggest plug dome volcano and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range.
One of the large draws of Lava Beds in the opportunity to explore dozens of developed caves. These caves are the remnants of streams of underground lava that pushed through the subsurface. After the lava exited, it left behind long tube-like caves. Lava Beds National Monument actually has the largest concentration of lava tubes in the United States.
Amador Flower Farm has almost endless gardens full of daylilies, a nice picnic area next to a small lake and wonderful little gift shop. With nearly 1,000 floral varieties scattered over 13 walkable acres, visitors have plenty of opportunities to “stop and smell the daylilies.”
There are trails for hikers; there are trails for those on horseback, and an underwater reserve awaits divers ready to take the plunge off this especially special stretch of Sonoma Coast. More than 20 miles of walking trails wind their way through the inland areas of the park, and mountain biking is permitted on fire roads and paved areas.
The museum lets visitors explore in detail the artistic, technological and societal accomplishments of the man who founded the Walt Disney empire, Walt Disney. You will get a chance to understand and assess all aspects of Walt Disney’s work, as well as the history of the man himself.