From breathtaking ocean vistas to world-class wineries; Michelin-starred restaurants to beloved seafood shanties, Northern California is home to an incredible array of destinations primed for culture, cuisine and adventure. Here’s our pick of four not-to-be missed day trips in NorCal.
NAPA VALLEY – Just 45 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, this iconic destination is home to Michelin-starred restaurants, lust-worthy landscapes, and of course, some of the best wine in the world. A visit to Thomas Keller’s three Michelin-starred The French Laundry is a worthy destination in and of itself, but if you can’t score a reservation, there are plenty of tasting rooms and farm-to-table restaurants to keep you busy for days, let alone an afternoon. Spend the morning exploring the breathtaking grounds and big reds at Quintessa or Corison, and if you’re feeling fancy, stop by the ultra-exclusive Opus One, known for delicious vintages that are among the most expensive on the market. Stop by Hog Island Oyster Co. at Oxbow Public Market for a light afternoon snack before enjoying a nine-course tasting menu at La Toque or Michelin-starred Meadowood—the latter happens to be situated inside one of Napa’s most luxurious hotels… if you happen to indulge in a few too many glasses.
BODEGA BAY – Though probably most famous as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, this charming seaside town has a far sunnier disposition than the classic film suggests. A 90-minute drive up Highway 1 from San Francisco, the sleepy town boasts miles of scenic trails and a perfect, ever-so-slightly stuck in time vibe. The journey along Highway 1, past breathtaking ocean vistas, green meadows and world-class oyster farms (with plenty of picnic tables and a casual shuck-your-own vibe) is an experience in itself. Once in Bodega, drop by The Boathouse for some fish ‘n’ chips or fresh seafood at the slightly more upscale Tides Wharf, then rent a kayak and cruise the bay, take a stroll to nearby Doran Regional Park, or visit Chanslor Stables for guided horseback trail rides to breathtaking ocean vistas. No trip to Bodega is complete without grabbing a bag of saltwater taffy from a shop along the wharf to bring back home and, of course, paying a visit to Potter Schoolhouse, made famous in the Hitchcock thriller.
SAUSALITO – This seaside town across the SF Bay—and the inspiration for the iconic Otis Redding song—is no longer just a sleepy tourist destination. A short ferry ride (or 15 minute drive) from the city, the waterfront village is home to high-end restaurants, world-class galleries, waterfront bars and endless ocean views. If you’re a morning person, start the day with a hike up Hawk Hill and enjoy some of the best sunrise vistas in the Bay Area. If you prefer a later start, settle in for brunch at beloved Mexican spot Copita and people watch along the water before perusing local Sausalito shops, including the original Heath Ceramics factory store. If you’re up for an adventure, explore the charming, floating homes on kayak or paddleboard before settling into the swank Bar Bocce for a cocktail and leisurely game of bocce ball, Napa Valley’s Madrigal Family Winery for some tasting, or the sleek Barrel House Tavern for a midday snack.
MONTEREY – California’s central coast is home to some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery, and Monterey is no exception. Deep sea lovers will delight in Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the world’s best facilities, with nearly 200 galleries and exhibits devoted to diverse ocean habitats and creatures—from neon-hued jellyfish to playful sea otters. For culture enthusiasts, a visit to Monterey Museum of Art is a must, featuring eight galleries devoted to American and early California painting, photography and contemporary art. If you’ve craving some time outdoors, head to Lovers Point Park, a spectacular, 4.4-acre marine reserve where you can while away an afternoon rock climbing, swimming, kayaking and more, all set against sweeping views of the Monterey Bay coastline. End your day with a stop at Cannery Row, a historic waterfront street lined with charming antique shops and restaurants, made famous by John Steinbeck’s classic novel of the same name.