There are many sides to California. Recently I was lucky enough to experience a royal adventure through a Northern California road trip, usually unconsidered by most. For many Brits and world travellers alike the idea of travelling to California is shrouded by the intrigue of Hollywood. The LA hills draw close attention at ones first mention of California to prospective visitors, with its obvious appeal many people can get stuck having the same copy and paste holidays. There is so much more adventure to the Golden State and here’s how you could have the holiday and road trips of a lifetime simply by going a little northward.
Below you’ll find a Northern California road trip itinerary taking you along the Pacific coast highway, from San Francisco Bay to redwoods state park
If you’re looking to travel to California please make sure to offset the carbon released from your flight. Per person, the average person emits 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per return on a transatlantic flight. You can do this directly by clicking here.
Hidden in the vail of rolling fog and ‘almost’ as rapidly changing weather as London our Northern California road trip first brought us to one of my favourite cities, San Francisco. I travelled there last year for the first time experiencing more of what the city had to offer for the first time visitor and solo traveller. This time I returned with a friend to experience more the adventurous side to the city and its surrounding counties.
Your first stop much like ours after landing at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), should be to pick up your car. A definite necessity to the to your Northern California road trip. The States transportation systems are built around having a car, the ease it provides you with getting from one point to another is invaluable. Aside from its general use purpose in transportation, it comes in great use for storage, allowing you to the benefit of leaving excess belongings in the car that you wouldn’t require for the activity you’ll be participating in on that particular day. One benefit we especially made use of was the opportunities to stop the car to take photos of sites you only pass by road. The California landscape is vast and forever changing along with your drives. Some of my favourite spots along our Northern California road trip were random stops in the car, which we would have definitely missed out on had we opted for another form of transportation.
Get To Grips With The Skyline
One of the best ways to see the city is from above. Helicopter rides are up and coming popular things to do in San Fransico as an alternative way to see the city. There is just something about the feeling you get when you’re able to separate yourself from the city below and feel the calm amongst the sky, as you look down on the buildings that tower the bay. Flights run from between 30 to 45 minutes depending on what you want to see, with longer times recommend if you want to go doors off especially to get enough time to get those money shots to show off. I would recommend bundling up regardless of the ground weather as it gets especially chilly up there doors on or off.
Dependent on your chosen the airfield you’d fly into the bay area from different angles, which won’t matter as such as you’ll be getting 360-degree views from the helicopter. Unfortunately, due to new California Law the Golden Gate Bridge area has now been classified under a national park so Helicopters are no longer allowed to fly near the bridge and must stay within a 3 mile limit of the bridge. So unfortunately if this is the only reason you’d want to do the helicopter ride it may not particularly be worth it for you, however, I don’t see why you would miss out on the opportunity to get this unique perspective on the city.
Recharge At Battery Spencer
Opening May 27th, 1937, Golden Gate Bridge was simply built to link the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County. Since it’s opening it’s been described as the “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.” For which one of it’s greatest viewing points comes in the form of Battery Spencer. The Fort Baker sight located just of the left-hand side of the bridge as you enter Marin County boasts no better way to measure the magnitude of this bridge, particularly photographically then from this point. A must see point for all those that decide to visit San Francisco with perfect views to capture both the bridge and the parts of the Northern California coast throughout the day.
Feel The Drama At Point Reyes
Famous amongst locals the Point Reyes National Seashore is lesser known to the wider public both in the states and even internationally. Located in Inverness, Marin County just 30 miles from San Francisco the cape is considered a national park which you easily see why. About a few hours drive (times varying) as you make your way toward the seashore the road leading up to the ‘point’ takes you along a dramatic coastline which I would argue rivals even those seen in Iceland (not that I’ve been).
After a short walk and incline you pass curious mountain deer that fill the fields and bring yourselves to overview the beautiful Point Reyes lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of the most unique and beautifully structured I’ve ever seen, with the view of it changing depending on yearly weather patterns.
The National Sea Shore Is a great place to spot marine wildlife, in particular, Grey Whales! Something I’ve still not had the opportunity to experience but would definitely recommend as an activity to make the day of. Not only is the activity free, whales are known to come particularly close to the shoreline. With the coast on their migration route, there are multiple times of year they can be seen: Southern migration takes place from mid-December through February, with the peak in about mid-January. Northern migration happens from March through May, with the peak watching time in mid-March; late April and early May
There is even a lovely display of the Grey Whale Skull outside the Lighthouse Visitor Centre just to give you a sense of scale and their size.
Settle In At Nick’s Cove
Driving into no signal zones can always be a daunting experience. Although how can you say you’ve truly experienced real northern California until you disconnect. As our Northern California road trip brought us to Tomales bay the thoughts running through my head were “Where is this Nick’s Cove?” “What is Nick’s Cove?”, thoughts which were put to rest immediately on the warm welcome by the hotel staff.
After a long day of activities both in and out of the city the escape is a must do for every traveller, I honestly don’t believe I stayed at a more rustic and beautiful cottage. An experience I would compare to being picked out of a Hollywood dream of a cottage, Nick’s cove hosted cabins looking out over Tomales Bay with wood burning fires to keep you warm at night and a bed made of clouds.
Soar The Alliance Redwoods Treetops
Surely there’s now time to add in a bit of thrill-seeking and adrenaline pumping to the menu, what better place to Zipline then through the oldest and largest trees in the world, the Californian Redwoods! You couldn’t imagine a more unique way to experience Sonoma County, than to zip across 800-foot wires at 25 mph, giving you breathtaking panoramic views of the valleys. Suitable for the whole family the course at Sonoma Canopy Tours consists of 7 zip lines, 2 sky bridges, a stunning spiral staircase that scales one of the largest redwoods.
Get Lost In The Armstrong Redwoods
A perfect way to relax after zipping through the treetops, or as a calmer alternative, is to explore the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Established in 1934 and covering over 752 acres of California Redwoods this self-guided nature trail allows you to chance to really take in the magnitude of the redwoods. A short walk into the park you can come across it’s tallest tree measuring over 300 feet, moving on towards the outdoor amphitheatre and various picnic areas, a great spot for a relaxing lunch.
Take A Break At Farmhouse Inn
Located amongst the fields of green vineyards you can take a break from the adventures of your Northern California road trip and settle down here for an intimate connection with Californias Sonoma wine country. It’s not hard to see why Farmhouse Inn is known as one of the highest rated hotels in the world, containing only 25 rooms, VIP wine experiences and a Michelin Star Restaurant Farmhouse Inn stands out amongst the crowd of chain hotels.
Without a doubt, one of the best hotel rooms I’ve had the privilege to experience the Inn is a luxury escape, a truly rich and immersive affair. Their King Deluxe rooms cover over 600 square feet you almost feel as though you have too much room. Nights could be spent on the private patio balconies being warmed by the double-sided fireplace or relaxing in the jetted jacuzzi tubs that overlook the Sonoma woods.
Wander Around Windsor Town
Many people are familiar with Windsor, England but not many are aware of Windsor, California. This small Sonoma town, with its pastel-coloured buildings, allows you to experience wine country with the locals. With a family-friendly appeal, the local town boasts diverse dining and various events throughout the year from farmers markets to movie nights. Adults can enjoy wine and beer tasting at a variety of establishments whilst children can enjoy the greens and go sugar mad at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe and Gelateria.
Lose Yourself In Yosemite
There is no bad time to plan a visit to Yosemite National Park. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, It’s famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees, and for Tunnel View, the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.
Initially place under protection in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for the reasons above, but being nearly 1,200 square miles a guide around the park is definitely recommend.
For me as I had limited information surrounding the park geographically yet wanting to see the best it had to offer Discover Yosemite provided a vital service in showcasing to us the best the park had to offer. (They also provided us with a pickup service which gave us a bit of a driving break on our Northern California road trip). Even though we had a ‘limited’ (8 Hour) period of time, having a local guide provides invaluable knowledge around the park history and saves you more time. This allowed us to have more time on the ground in the park, rather than in the car.
Feel The Dream At Tenaya Lodge
A Ski lodge plucked out of your dreams bodes the perfect way to engross yourself in what Yosemite has to offer. Located near Yosemite south gate and framed by the Sierra evergreen forest Tenaya Lodge hosts five restaurants, a world-class spa, three pools, a skating rink (winter), horseback riding, mountain biking and more.
Even on first impression I was blown away with the expansive foyer, greeted by a collage of browns from stone and wood walls, their decor of the candle, taxidermy and paintings provided a converse escape from everything we’d experienced in Northern California up to this point.
A handy tip for your Northern California road trip would be to call up some properties you aim to stay at prior to departing your previous accommodation. On our Northern California road trip, google maps took us on the ‘shorter’ route which turned out to be a lot longer and muddier. We definitely would have saved time by calling the hotel and taking the ‘longer’ route.
Roam The Clouds Above Yosemite
There are few things in life that leave you absolutely speechless and the scenic air tour over Yosemite national park is definitely one of them. I am naturally not an early riser but this is one activity I was jumping out of bed for.
As mentioned earlier, known for Tunnel View boasting the cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, there is a common perspective seen by most people even those rare perspectives seen by those that scale the mountains. The scenic air tour provides you with arguably unbeatable panoramic views that will leave you wanting more and stories to tell.
Charter flights depart from the local town of Mariposa and take off at any time of day, although mornings are recommend both by the company and personally for the best light. Piloted by the friendly Tony, we squeezed into the tiny 3 seater plane for our flight. Jackets and even gloves are must if you plan on opening the windows to take photos, which you will 100% want to do. We opted for the one hour flight which is the perfect amount of time to allow you to fly around and above the valley to your content. Sitting next to the pilot, Tony even gave me the opportunity to both pilot and help land the plane. Giving me a quick 101 lesson piloting this small plane which was a huge dream of mine added momentously to the overall experience.
Jump In A Time Machine At Château du Sureau
What better way to end your ultimate Northern California road trip, then to experience the last taste of its pure diversity by staying at the European’esque getaway that is Château du Sureau. Located in the foothills of Yosemite Valley this castle-like estate is surrounded by a stunning landscape reminiscent of the old charm of the French countryside.
Service can be everything and this is one element the staff at Château du Sureau uphold unfaltering. From the moment you arrive you feel as though you not need lift a finger as you walk into Erna’s dream. I would almost describe it as walking back in time with all the amenities of modern day, the welcome staff take you on a story of the property before you settle for your stay. The location of the property truly provides a tranquil escape fit for royalty.
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[Please Note This Is a Sponsored Blog Post – All Opinions Are My Own]
Although all activities and the Northern California road trip was provided and sponsored by VisitCalifornia, all thoughts surrounding each activity and accommodation are my own.