Northern California is a great place to live in or visit. Just about everyone knows about NorCal’s major attractions. Yosemite National Park, Fishermans Wharf, and Monterey Bay. This list highlights lesser-known travel destinations in Northern California. If you are looking for fun things that are not tourist stops. We have 25 unique destinations waiting to be discovered.
San Francisco – Lands End Park is situated at the entrance to the San Francisco’s Bay. The Labyrinth is one of the many interesting points of interest located in the park. The maze was created by a local artist that offers great views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Lands End is located at 680 Point Lobos Ave San Francisco, CA. The Visitor Center is open 9:00 a.m.to 5:00 p.m
Bay Model Sausalito
Sausalito California -A huge working model of the San Francisco Bay and a section of the Sacramento River Delta. The lower floor is almost completely covered with a hydraulic scale model of the San Francisco Bay. The upper floor features exhibits about tides and currents in the bay and the delta. The Bay Model is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Admission is free.
Calistoga – California’s Old Faithful Geyser may not be as famous as the one in Yellowstone National Park. But it is a lot easier to get to. Located in the upper Napa Valley Old Faithful shoots a stream of steam up to 75 feet into the air about every 30 minutes. While you are hanging around for the geyser to go off you can check out an assortment of farm animals. The most popular being the fainting goats. The goats have become accustomed to all the people. So chances are slim they will faint. But it’s all part of the fun of visiting Northern California’s Old Faithful Geyser.
Wave Organ San Francisco
San Francisco – The Wave Organ is situated at the end of a jetty near Fort Mason on the San Francisco Bay. This unusual musical instrument was originally part of the Exploratorium. The organ is made out of cement blocks and PVC pipe. The end of the pipes are embedded underwater and emit different sounds depending on the tide and the size of the waves. While the sounds may not be too impressive the view of the San Francisco Bay is amazing.
San Francisco – 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. The Walt Disney Family Museum is situated at Presidio in San Francisco The museum is not owned by Disney, but is run by a group of Walt Disney’s heirs and family members.
Woodside California – Filoli Estate & Gardens is just 25 miles south of San Francisco. Filoli was built 10 years after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was seen at the time of its building as a symbol of hope amid the ruin. Guided tours, self-guided walking tour maps, information about the history of the estate can be found at the visitors’ center at the front of the garden.
San Benito County – Pinnacles National Park is the nation’s newest national park and the least visited. Pinnacles National Park is home to unique rock formations and hidden caves created by an extinct volcano. The park is an exceptional place to observe wildlife and is the nation’s foremost spot to view the rare California condor. Pinnacles National Park is about a 2.5-hour drive from San Francisco.
Nevada County – Bridgeport Covered Bridge is situated in South Yuba River State Park. The bridge dates back to the 1860s and is thought to be the longest existing single-span covered bridge in the United States. Visitors to South Yuba River State Park enjoy swimming, hiking and exploring the trails. The park is home to historic mining sites, swimming holes, and gorgeous wildflowers in the spring. The park is open for day use from sunrise to sunset. Visitors are welcome to pan for gold at the park however, only pans and hands can be used.
Stockton California – Buddhist Temple complex with over colorful, jewel-colored and jewel-encrusted statues, some of which are 50 feet high. The statues are all handmade at the temple. Each figure has a donation box to help with the upkeep of the complex. Any time of the year is good for a peaceful visit. During the Cambodia, New Year celebration thousand of people visit the temple. Admission and parking are free. 3732 E Carpenter Rd Stockton, CA 95215.
Walnut California – 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 due to a fire in nearby Walnut Grove. Like any other town, Locke had, in addition to homes, a school, several restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, a fish market, hotels a brothel and gambling hall. Some of these businesses still exist today (not the brothel) and can be visited. The entire town of Locke is a historical site even though it is home to many people. Please keep this in mind as you wander the town.
Santa Rosa CA – Safari West Tours take guests on a trip through a 400-acre wildlife preserve. You will get a chance to spot wild animals including cheetahs, zebra, and giraffe. Guests can stay overnight at the wildlife preserve in an authentic safari tent. This is not like staying in a hotel room, the walls are made of canvas and there is no television or internet. Day tours are also offered, with plenty of overnight accommodations available in nearby Santa Rosa.
Salinas CA – Vision Quest is a sanctuary for animals that can no longer work in the entertainment industry. The zoo adopts exotic animals (even reptiles) and incorporates them into their tours and educational programs. Vision Quest visitors can book a day tour or stay overnight. Accommodation at the Vision Quest Ranch is B&B style. Bungalows are spread out around the property to offer peace. “Tent rooms” can be arranged for those guests who want to stay as close to nature as possible.
Bakersfield California – Both a zoo and a botanical garden, the California Living Museum is an ideal place for a family outing. All of the animals and plants are native California’s species and the museum has been set up to educate the public. As well as the zoo, there is a wildlife rehabilitation center, which cares for between 300 and 500 animals per year.
San Benito County – San Juan Bautista is a nice day trip if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are not from the Bay Area, you would be well served to make time for your travel itinerary to enjoy a refreshing switch to a simpler time. There are four main historical museums in 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.
Nevada City California – Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is the site of the largest hydraulic mine in California. It is located about 26 miles northeast of Nevada City. This area is now marked as a historical site and you can see the beauty and destruction of it all when you visit Malakoff Diggins State Park. The ghost town of North Bloomfield is located near Malakoff Diggins. Some of the buildings have been restored others are not much more than a pile of lumber.
Sonoma County – The landscape is dramatic and varied. Rocky promontories rise along the more than six miles of rugged shoreline while sheltered coves provide quiet retreats from the roar of the surf. 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. Salt Point State Park is 97 miles north of San Francisco along Highway 1.
Mineral California – The entire area around Lassen Peak, including multiple points in the park itself, is still an active volcanic spot. Geothermal mud pots, steam vents, and bubbling hot springs. Bumpass Hell Trail is six miles from the southwest entrance of the park. This three-mile round-trip hike takes visitors through the largest hydrothermal area in the park. A raised boardwalk lets hikers get an up-close look at steaming pools, and boiling mud pots.
Suisun City – Ride historic streetcars and interurban electric trains from all over California and other western states. Railway. The museum is operated by the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, a non-profit organization started in 1946. Visitors can ride a streetcar or Interurban, picnic and view small exhibits in the main building.
Fish Camp California – Where mighty lumberjacks felled the timber and flumes carried lumber to the distant valley below. The Sierra National Forest’s majestic woods provide the backdrop for the narrow gauge journey back in time. Sugar Pine Railroad operated two steam train locomotives along the historic route of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad is about a one hour drive from Fresno, California.
Benton California – A former stagecoach stop is home to the Benton Springs Inn. At one time, Benton had a population of around 5,000 and was a stop on the Carson and Colorado Railroad. Today the town only has a few residents, but visitors still come to this remote town to soak in the hot mineral water tubs. The Inn at Benton Hot Springs features 10 Camping Sites with hot tubs. The Inn also offers rooms and a two-bedroom cottage for guests. All tubs are clothing optional.
Fresno County – Mercey Hot Springs was originally a sheep ranch along the stagecoach route to New Idria. In the early 1900s, the property was sold to San Francisco real estate developer. A hotel and cabins were built. And soaking tubs were added so guests could relax in the hot mineral water.
Owens Valley California – Throughout much of the 1800s, Cerro Gordo (or the “Fat Hill”) was pumping out thousands of tons of high-grade silver, lead, and other metals. Today a few buildings still stand a reminder of towns once vibrant past. The town of Cerro Gordo is on private property. You need permission to enter the buildings. You can drive up to the town and wander around. Keep in mind that the town is at an elevation of more than 8000 feet. A 4WD is recommended to safely get in and out of the town. For even more adventure you can drive a very narrow and steep road to the ruins of a Saline Valley Salt Tramway crossover station. 4WD only!
Lake Isabella Ca – Silver City is easy to get to. This ghost town is a collection of historic buildings from various mining camps in and around the Kern River Valley. While the town itself is not original, nearly all of the structures, along with their creepy mannequin displays, are authentic. Many people believe that spirits roam these buildings. For antique lovers, Silver City is a diamond in the rough, and there are thousands of artifacts on display throughout the property. Some of them for sale in the town’s main building.
Inyo National Forest – At an elevation of 10,000, the forest boasts incredible views of the Sierra Nevada’s and the surrounding area. But perhaps even more breathtaking are the Bristlecone pines – the oldest trees in the world. 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 looking to explore a unique, off-the-beaten-track destination.
Jenner California – Situated along a pristine section of Northern California coastline, Fort Ross was once a Russian settlement. The fort is comprised of several buildings, six of which are open for visitors to explore both inside and out. There are several cannons scattered around the grounds and gardens, as well as a Russian Orthodox Cemetery, the Old Russian Orchard, and even a research library.