Are you looking for the best weekend getaways in Northern California for your next big adventure?
Well, we visited all the top destinations in the state’s northern half, looking for the perfect getaways. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the wine country, this list of the best weekend trips in Northern California will get you on the road to an experience of a lifetime.
These trip ideas cover the best of NorCal with beach towns, outdoor activities, parks, scenic drives, epic views, food tours, and options for wine tasting.
The guide also includes the best places to stay in which region/place, popular activities, and tours. So you can just choose where you want to go, pack your bags, and set for a perfect weekend trip.
It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a romantic Northern California getaway, a family trip idea, or an adventure weekend, we got you covered here!
Weekend Getaways in Northern California
Before we start our guide to the unique places to visit in Northern California, let me tell you that some of these destinations offer different experiences depending on the season.
So don’t forget to take this into consideration when planning your summertime weekend trips or choosing your winter destination. But one thing is for sure, these popular weekend getaways in Northern California just can’t be missed.
Don’t forget your Travel Insurance! You don’t want anything to ruin your trip, right? So don’t take the risk! Reliable travel insurance can help you in case of travel issues, from accidents to health problems, travel delays, and lost luggage.
Best places to visit Northern California on a weekend
1 – Yosemite National Park
For nature lovers, Yosemite National Park offers the perfect destination for a weekend getaway where visitors can immerse themselves in this natural wonderland. In fact, it’s one of the best National Parks on the West Coast and in the US.
Take advantage of this opportunity to get up close to the majestic giant Sequoia trees and Yosemite Falls, which is 2425 feet tall.
One of the biggest draws to this national park is its massive granite monoliths which frame the valley, including El Capitan and the famous Half Dome.
Bring your binoculars, and you may spot some climbers making their way up on one of these massive rock faces.
For adventurous types, the park has over 750 miles of trails that lead to park highlights, including Mirror Lake, or viewpoints like Glacier Point that will take your breath away.
To make a weekend getaway extra special, book a cabin in Yosemite where you can relax by the fireplace or in the hot tub after a day on the trails.
Talking about places to stay, here are our suggestions for hotels near Yosemite National Park that you should check out.
- Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite: beautiful cabins with everything you need for a comfy and stylish stay. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Sierra Meadows: an affordable option with well-equipped tiny cabins for two people, or families. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
Now that you have your accommodation sorted, let’s talk about tours and experiences in Yosemite National Park. Keep in mind that during high season it is advised that you book the tours in advance.
Check out this Yosemite National Park experiences we picked for you:
2 – Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is best known as an epic wintertime ski and snowboard destination but is equally perfect for a summertime weekend getaway.
Located in the Eastern Sierras in Mono County, this small mountain town is a paradise for adventure seekers looking to make some turns at the Mammoth Mountain ski resort.
The skiing and snowboarding paradise sits at just under 8000 feet, meaning they have some of the best snow conditions in California.
This charming ski town also offers plenty of fun adventures during the summer ranging from single-track mountain bike trails to natural hot springs for a good soak.
There are also countless hiking trails perfect for exploring the 100-plus lakes in Mammoth or for a visit to Devil’s Postpile National Monument.
Some of the main lakes offer the opportunity to go for a paddle on a kayak or SUP or a dip in the chilly water.
And if you have time visit June Lake which is only half an hour’s drive from Mammoth Lake. It’s known for its mountain views and it’s a great place to see the Autumn foliage.
For a tranquil weekend getaway, make sure to book a stay near the Village at Mammoth, which is one of the best areas to stay in Mammoth.
Here are the best hotels in Mammoth Lakes:
- Snowcreek Resort Vacation Rentals: nice apartments with kitchen and you get free access to Snowcreek Athletic Club and complimentary greens fees at Snowcreek Golf Course with your booking. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- The Village Lodge: fully furnished apartments, great views, and amenities like a heated outdoor pool, 5 hot tubs, and 3 gyms. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Juniper Springs Resort: perfect for your winter weekend trip as you can ski in and out of the hotel. Comfy apartments with a heated outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a golf course. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
3 – Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe offers the perfect combination of outdoor adventure and stunning natural beauty that draws in millions of visitors annually to experience the lake’s crystal-clear blue water.
During the winter, Lake Tahoe is the state’s top ski and snowboard destination, with 15 ski resorts ranging from small hills to massive facilities with just under 100 runs.
Lake Tahoe is even more of a summer destination, as the lake’s gorgeous beaches are perfect for a day of catching some rays or for a relaxing paddle.
The gorgeous lake’s shores and the surrounding mountains are home to some of the best hiking trails in Northern California, including the Rubicon Trail, which snakes its way along the hidden coves and beaches.
A weekend getaway to Lake Tahoe would be incomplete without a visit to Emerald Bay for a relaxing picnic or on a historic paddleboat ride on the M.S. Dixie II from Zephyr Cove.
You can buy here your Lake Tahoe: Self-Guided Driving Tour to get around easily and even discover some hidden gems.
Lake Tahoe is a popular lake weekend getaway in Northern California also because of its nightlife. Don’t forget to try the local craft breweries like South of North Brewing Company and at the casinos on the strip in South Lake Tahoe.
Of all the best Northern California getaways, Lake Tahoe has the most options for entertainment, from stunning natural attractions to pristine mountain lake beaches and popular hikes.
Here are the best hotels in Lake Tahoe:
- Edgewood Tahoe Resort: one of the resorts on Lake Tahoe. It has a private beach, golf course, heated pool, hot tubs, fine dining, and views to die for. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Sunnyside Resort and Lodge: great location, rooms with balcony and lake views, and all the comforts you need. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Mother Nature’s Inn: cozy and charming hotel with different room sizes, which is a good option for families. Located 200 m from Commons Beach it offers great value for money. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
And here are a few unmissable activities at Lake Tahoe:
4 – Sacramento
Sacramento is often overlooked as a Northern California weekend getaway, but there is plenty of fun to be found in the state’s Capital.
The city’s most popular tourist destination is Old Sacramento, a throwback to the Gold Rush era with its historic storefronts and wooden boardwalks.
For a unique experience here is a downloadable walking tour about the Gold Rush and Ghosts of Sacramento. You can explore the city at your pace while hearing the best stories from its past.
Old Sacramento offers up a chance to explore the unique shops and visit the California State Railroad Museum.
Make sure to grab drinks or dinner on the waterfront at one of the great riverside restaurants or on board the Delta King paddle boat.
There are also cruise tours on the Sacramento River. Have a look at this Historic Gold Rush River Cruise, for a more historic experience, or Rock The Yacht River Cruise if you fancy a drink and party with friends.
For a fun night out, head to Midtown, where you will find some great craft breweries, wine bars, and restaurants for some snacks.
To get some outdoor time, rent some bikes for a ride along the American River Parkway, which stretches 23 miles on picturesque paved trails.
A good way to pair a bike ride around Sacramento and a few drinks is by joining this Cycling Pub Crawl. Don’t worry, it has a designated driver.
For families looking for Sacramento hotel suites, there are several great options near the riverfront with easy access to the city’s top attractions.
Here are a few good hotels for your weekend in Sacramento:
- Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, an IHG Hotel: great central location, stylish rooms, a rooftop pool, and all the amenities you expect from a 4-star hotel. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Arden Star Hotel: a budget-friendly option a bit outside of the downtown. Breakfast is included in the rates and the hotel even offers an outdoor pool and hot tub. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
And more tours in Sacramento for you to have fun!
5 – Napa Valley
Napa Valley is not only the best wine region in the United States, but it also offers up a taste of the good life with luxury and world-class hospitality.
This makes Napa one of the top romantic getaways in Northern California.
From world-class vineyards with opulent facilities to Michelin-star dining, Napa Valley is a destination worthy of any special weekend getaway.
Days can be spent tasting at the beautiful wineries with picnics in the vineyards, or visitors can opt to head to the adorable town of Calistoga for a soak and some pampering at the natural hot springs.
Napa Valley is also a popular destination for hungry gormands looking to sample the valley’s wine-country cuisine at restaurants like the legendary French Laundry.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the Oxbow Market, which is an amazing collection of gourmet shops and small restaurants focused on local products and produce.
For a unique wine country experience, head to Castello di Amorosa to tour a winery built inside a castle.
If you like games, check out this Scavenger Hunt Walking Tour in Napa that you can do using your phone.
To sum up, Napa Valley is one of the best getaways in Northern California for food and wine lovers.
Here are the best hotels for your weekend in Napa Valley:
- Auberge du Soleil, An Auberge Resort: this adults-only resort offers a luxury experience at its best. Impeccable rooms, spa, outdoor pool, gym, and many more. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Milliken Creek Inn: another luxury option, but right in the city center. Rooms with extra large beds, great views, and breakfast is included in the rate. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort: get your own cottage by the banks of the Napa River. The cottages have a small kitchen and the resort offers an outdoor heated pool. All these for friendly prices. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
Here are our top pick of tours in Napa Valley:
6 – San Francisco
San Francisco is a perfect destination for a romantic weekend in Northern California where couples can explore attractions ranging from the Palace of Performing Arts to miles of sandy beaches for watching the sunset.
This Northern California getaway is a great place to treat yourself to a room with a breathtaking view and a dining experience at one of the city’s Michelin Star restaurants.
It doesn’t matter if you are traveling as a couple, solo, with friends or family, don’t forget to head to Golden Gate Park. Take your time to sip some Gen Mai Cha at the Japanese Tea Gardens or have a picnic of local cheeses at Stow Lake while watching the swans.
If there is one thing that is a must for a trip to San Francisco, it is to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the famous Bay Area fog roll into the city.
Touristy fun can be delicious in Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can eat clam chowder and some freshly caught Dungeness crab right from the fisherman.
This romantic weekend break will surely offer up that special spark that makes San Francisco Bay Area the perfect getaway for couples.
Here are 3 ideas of what to do in San Francisco for couples:
Don’t forget to book your activities and stay in advance, San Francisco is always busy.
Here are the top hotels in San Francisco for all budgets:
- Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco: an awesome 5-star hotel in San Francisco. Great rooms, a perfect location, and guests have free access to the adjacent Equinox Sports Club fitness center. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Samesun San Francisco: great value for money, you can choose from a double room with a bathroom or a dorm. Breakfast is included in the price and the location is great. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
And here is the city pass and two other activities you can’t miss in San Francisco
7 – Big Sur
If you are dreaming of taking a road trip down the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, then this stretch of the California Coast will be the highlight of your adventure.
Big Sur is situated between the rocky coast and the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, which offers a combination of ocean and forests to experience.
You can do it in a few hours of drive or in days. The drive time will depend on what you want to do, see, and how many stops you want to make. One thing is for sure, you will have scenic views.
This route along Highway 1 includes countless opportunities to get out and stretch your legs, where you can take in the ocean views.
There are opportunities to check out coves full of turquoise waters and kelp forests, and you might even spot some sea otters snacking on some shellfish.
One of the highlights is a stop to see the McWay Falls, which plummets off a cypress tree-covered cliff with the water crashing onto the sandy beach.
Big Sur also offers a chance to walk amongst the giant Coastal Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
This is an ideal destination for travelers that love the outdoors, coastal views, and a good old-fashioned road trip.
If you are doing this road trip there are plenty of places to stay, before and after the park.
You can book a nice hotel in advance, or just spot at one of the motels on the way. Before the Big Sur, you can find lodging options in Monterey, Carmel Valley, Carmel by the Sea, Cambria, Pacific Grove, Santa Cruz, and Half Moon Bay. (click on the city’s name to see the hotels)
If you decide to pass the central coast and go to Southern California, then check out these popular beach destinations: Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, and Santa Barbara.
Here is a comprehensive guide about things to do in Pismo Beach that includes great tips about accommodation in the region.
To make the most of your trip get one of these self-drive tours:
8 – Monterey
The coastal town of Monterey was a historic part of California’s fishing and canning industry but is now one of the top tourist destinations on the West Coast.
Monterey County offers plenty of fun for the whole family and is equally special for a romantic weekend getaway in Northern California. For a unique experience check out this Walking Guided Tour with Food and Drink tasting.
The top destination in Monterey is Cannery Row which was the center of sardine canning but is now home to kitschy shops, seafood restaurants, and hotels with ocean-view guest rooms.
Cannery Row is also home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which offers a chance to experience sea life up close while learning about the sustainability of our oceans.
The Monterey Bay features 14 straight miles of sandy beaches where you can catch some rays or play in the dunes. If the weather is good you can also join a Surfing Lesson in one of Monterey’s pristine beaches.
Another top attraction is the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can enjoy a seafood feast at one of the restaurants or catch a boat for some whale watching. Here is a well-rated Whale Watching Tour in Monterey.
Your Monterey weekend getaway deserves the perfect accommodation, and here they are:
- InterContinental The Clement Monterey: a luxury stay in the heart of Monterey’s historic Cannery Row. Beautiful rooms with sea view and all amenities like spa, swimming pool, and bar. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Munras Inn: the perfect middle-range hotel in Monterey. Comfy rooms, a good location, and very good reviews. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
9 – Sonoma
Sonoma is a small town and an incredible wine region. Sonoma is full of outdoor adventures like Jack London State Historic Park, where you can see the redwoods and the vineyards in one hike.
The Sonoma Plaza is the center of all the action, with great restaurants featuring locally sourced ingredients, wine-tasting rooms, a cheese shop, and more.
You could spend your day just exploring the plaza and its state historic park, but a trip to Sonoma would only be complete with a few visits to the region’s wineries.
Sonoma is home to some of the country’s top Chardonnay and sparkling wine producers, where you can taste their offerings in their opulent tasting rooms.
Here is a great Sonoma Guided Winery Tour with Picnic Lunch, check it out and book in advance because it usually sells out fast.
Sonoma County stretches from the North Coast near Gualala to San Pablo Bay, so there is plenty to explore.
You can head to the coast to explore destinations like Goat Rock or stay closer to town and enjoy the valley panoramic views from the Sonoma Overlook Trail.
If you are considering visiting the California wine country, consider adding this charming region, especially if you are looking for a Northern California romantic getaway.
Here are the best places to stay in Sonoma for your weekend trip in Northern California:
- Sonoma’s Best Guest Cottages: the perfect cottage for your wine experience in Sonoma. All cottages have a kitchen, rooms and bathroom, and you can choose for 2 up to 4 people. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- An Inn to Remember: lovely rooms in a charming B&B. All rooms have a private bathroom and breakfast is included in the rate. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Sonoma Creek Inn: this motel offers comfy rooms in a great location, and it has good reviews. The best part is the friendly price. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
10 – Lassen Volcanic National Park
The centerpiece of Lassen Volcanic National Park is its plug dome volcano which is the biggest in the world.
A visit to Lassen can be thrilling as the volcano is still considered active, as it last erupted just over 100 years ago, and geothermal activity in the park is easy to spot.
One of the park’s top attractions is Bumpass Hell hydrothermal area, which covers multiple acres with steam vents, boiling springs, and mud pots.
Park visitors can also check out the lava tubes at the Subway Cave and explore the lava cones and fields in the area.
For a more hospitable environment, head to Manzanita Lake for a relaxing stroll along the shore, or you can do some water activities such as swimming or kayaking on the crystal clear water.
As Lassen Volcanic National Parks is around four hours from the nearest big city, the crowds are fairly limited, making this a great summertime destination for a getaway.
About accommodation, you can camp in the park or choose a hotel in one of the nearby towns like these ones:
11 – Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park
These two national parks offer the opportunity to get up close to the largest trees in the world.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are home to many giant Sequoia Groves, with several accessible by taking a short hike.
The biggest trees in the park are General Sherman and General Grant, which are around 270 feet tall and have a massive circumference of over 100 feet.
These giants are not the only thing to see at the park, but many visitors miss out on seeing Zumwalt Meadows, where massive rocky cliffs flank bubbling creeks.
Another must-visit destination in the parks is Moro Rock which offers majestic views of the gorgeous valleys and mountain peaks in the parks.
Here is a Sequoia Park and Kings Canyon Self-Driving Audio Guide that you can download before the trip.
If you are looking for cheap weekend getaways in Northern California, grab your tent for camping or book one of the amazing cabins near the parks.
Another option is to stay in Fresno (Central California) and go on a day trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks which are near to the city. Here is a guide to Freno and the parks near it.
12 – Redwood National & State Parks
If you desperately need some disconnected time while enjoying nature, then the Redwood National Park and State Parks are the medicine you are looking for.
This majestic park is just far enough away from city centers to scare off the crowds, which means that the forests remain a tranquil place to relax even during the busy travel season.
Visitors that drive to the park are treated to old-growth coastal redwood forests, home to the tallest trees in the world.
Make sure to bring your hiking shoes, as those up for a trek will be rewarded with stunning views at every turn on the trails.
The forest is full of trickling waterfall hikes, banana slugs, and ferns that are sheltered by the giant redwoods.
For those that don’t mind roughing it, you can bring your backpacking gear and stay a few nights at one of the rustic campsites in the park that are only reachable by hiking through the majestic redwood forest.
If a hotel bed is a must, then you can choose a hotel in Crescent City (click here to see them). There you can find boutique hotels, properties with private beach access, fantastic vacation homes, and budget-friendly motels.
For those that love the forest, Redwood National & State Parks are a bucket list destination in California worthy of a weekend getaway.
13 – Mendocino
Located on the rugged North Coast of California is the charming town of Mendocino, which offers travelers a chance to decompress and escape the stresses of big city life.
The main part of Mendocino Village is situated above the crashing waves on a rocky peninsula where you will find great cafes to grab a coffee to warm you up as you peruse the small shops and soak up the incredible ocean views.
There are also some great restaurants that take advantage of the ocean’s bounty along with other locally sourced ingredients.
One of the highlights of a trip to Mendocino is hiking along the trails that traverse the headlands, where you will spot battered coves and sea caves.
Just south of town, you will find Van Damme State Beach, where you can do some ocean kayaking or hike back into Fern Canyon to be amongst the redwoods and the banana slugs.
The Russian Gulch State Park is close to Mendocino and is known for beaches, waterfalls, tide pools, and caves. Worth checking out.
And if you plan to go north of the town, then stretch a bit more, and visit Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and the Glass Beach, this north beach is only a 17-minute drive from Mendocino.
Mendocino is a perfect stop for a Northern California road trip and is a great destination to rent a vacation home for some rest and relaxation.
Here are our suggestions for places to stay in Mendocino:
- Brewery Gulch Inn: beachfront 4-star hotel with comfy rooms, and well praised kitchen. Breakfast is cooked to order, and all food prepared uses natural and organic ingredients. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Agate Cove Inn: charming inn located 800 meters from Mendocino Art Center. The rooms are comfy and breakfast is included in the rate. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
14 – Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is a small fishing town that became famous after being featured in the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds.”
The town has since become a must-stop for travelers heading down the coast as part of a road trip or for some coastal camping.
Bodega Bay is also well known for its seafood restaurants and shacks, where you can try out some fresh Dungeness Crab or a bowl of clam chowder.
A trip to Bodega Bay would be incomplete without a stop at one of the 15 beautiful beaches within eight miles of the center of town.
Visitors can drive out to the headlands for a short hike on the Bodega Bay Trail which offers incredible views of the jagged coastline and a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
The Bodega Head is also a great spot for watching gray whales migrating up and down the coast without getting on a boat.
Here are the best hotels in Bodega Bay for you:
- The Lodge at Bodega Bay: stunning rooms and a great location surrounded by nature. Plenty of options for dining in, the hotel also has a spa, outdoor swimming pool, and gym. (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- The Inn at the Tides: located by the sea, the property has amazing views. Rooms are comfortable and breakfast is included in the rate. Outdoor swimming pool and a gym for guests. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Sonoma Coast Villa: the hotel is located at Bodega, 10 minutes drive to the sea. The rooms are comfy, breakfast is included, as well as access to an outdoor swimming pool, poolside hot tube, spa, and 9-hole putting green. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
15 – Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore sits in Marin County, near San Francisco. It is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and is a perfect weekend getaway for some beautiful time away from the city and close to the sea.
Visitors to Point Reyes will be treated to countless trails that range from short hikes to a lighthouse on the point, or a trek through a Tule Elk Preserve.
There are also many incredible beaches where you can spend the day, like Drake’s and Kehoe beaches, where you will easily find an empty stretch for a tranquil visit.
Before heading out to explore, spend some time at Point Reyes Station, a charming town with great bakeries and shops.
You can also visit one of the award-winning cheese producers in the area for a tasting and a picnic at Marin French and Point Reyes Farmstead cheese companies.
Drake’s Bay, just up the road from town, is the epicenter of oyster farming in the state, and you taste these delicious bivalves right from the water.
Don’t miss out on this special destination that might be the most beautiful in the entire state.
Choose one of these hotels in Point Reyes and have a great weekend:
- Nick’s Cove: you can choose from a room with a balcony or a cottage with a sea view. Comfy rooms with a luxury touch in front of the beach. You will love it! (click on the hotel’s name to book it)
- Hotel Petaluma, Ascend Hotel Collection: a historical building turned into a beautiful hotel. A bit far from Point Reyes, but guests’ reviews say it is totally worth it to stay here. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rooms)
- Olema House at Point Reyes: lovely 3-star hotel with bright and comfy rooms. If you like dogs check out the property photos and you will be booking your room here. (click on the hotel’s name to see the rates)
Wrap-Up: Weekend Getaways in Northern California
Now that you have picked out the best weekend getaway in Northern California for your big trip, all you have to do is book your accommodation and pack your bags.
Northern California transportation advice:
The best way to travel in Northern California is by driving. So if you come from a different state or country, you can find the best car rental deals here.
The bigger cities will probably have more offers and shops, check out the airports as well. Just keep in mind that it is cheap if you collect and drop off the car at the same destination.
If you are still planning your trip to California, then you can find the best flight deals here.
For accommodation, check out Booking.com. We usually find the best accommodation deals there.
Traveling beyond Northern California:
If you are planning a trip around California, then read these two articles: costs of traveling to San Diego, and the cool things to do in Malibu.
For those planning to visit many national parks, check out the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass and you might save a few bucks on entrance fees.
Northern California weather advice:
Keep in mind that parks, peaks, and beach towns have different climates. Most of the destinations listed here are perfect for mild weather.
If you are heading to the national parks for hiking or camping, be prepared for cold weather, especially at night.
Check the weather forecast and the national park’s website for weather alerts before the rip.
But it doesn’t matter the season, if it’s raining or you are lucky to get dry weather, the region offers some incredible destinations to explore for well-planned trips or for last-minute Northern California getaways.
And you are certain to have a great time, no matter which getaway you choose.
Now get ready to load up the car and get on your way to experience one of these unique weekend getaways in Northern California.
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Author: Gabriel Glasier
Gabriel is a chef and head writer of Chef Travel Guide. After years of traveling the globe, he now wants to share his passion for his home state of California and all of its natural wonders. From the wild North Coast to the Sequoia groves in the Sierras, Gabriel hopes that you find your own adventure in the “Golden State.”