Vacation itinerary: Northern California highlights

By: Lake Tahoe Staff

Provided to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority

San Francisco International Airport is a major gateway with direct flights from all over the world. It is a great starting point to discover the freedom of the open road on a fly-drive road-trip vacation to explore everything Northern California has to offer.

Northern California, or NorCal, is the northern portion of the state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area (including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose), and Sacramento (the state capital) are the main cities. NorCal also contains redwood forests, along with the Sierra Nevada including Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Mount Shasta (the 2nd highest peak in the Cascade Range after Mount Rainier in the state of Washington).

Whether your vacation is for a week, 10 days, 2 weeks or longer, Northern California has something for everybody! Here’s a sample itinerary for a 2 week vacation:

Day 1: San Francisco
Fly to San Francisco and spend two nights in the City by the Bay. This very walk-able city is dotted with landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz and the largest Chinatown in the US. A stroll of the City’s streets can lead from Union Square to North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf, with intriguing neighborhoods to explore at every turn. Stay for 2 nights in San Francisco.

Day 3: Sonoma
Rent a car and drive 45 minutes north of San Francisco to Sonoma County – a land of agricultural bounty and world-class wines, with more than 370 friendly wineries, 40-plus spas, farm-to-table restaurants, art galleries, shops, rivers, redwoods, and trails. Enjoy ancient redwood forests and secluded ocean coves, and genuine small towns populated with independent thinkers.  Stay for 2 nights in Sonoma.

Day 5: Mendocino
Head northwest and out to the dramatic northern coast and the historic town of Mendocino to enjoy the coast with its miles of pristine beaches and scenic bluffs. Mendocino has a multitude of festivals year round including celebrations of their signature local foods, wines and locally brewed beers. Other annual events celebrate whales, music, art, film, vintage locomotives and California’s oldest continuous rodeo. Stay for 2 nights in Mendocino.

Day 7: Redding
Head to Redding to enjoy hiking backwoods trails, kayaking pristine lakes, or skiing some of the most breathtaking terrain in the country – the Shasta Cascade sets the stage for an unforgettable experience. Redding’s Pioneer Days come alive at the Jake Jackson Memorial Museum, while a helicopter tour of the granite peaks, pristine mountain lakes, and cascading waterfalls of the Trinity Alps offer a look at the area from an exhilarating perspective. Stay for 2 nights in Redding.

Day 9: Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe, the Jewel of the Sierra, is rimmed by majestic mountains and touted as a National Treasure for its pristine blue waters. The beautiful lake spans the border between California and Nevada and is a wonderful place to relax by the water, swim, paddle, fish or kayak. There are also many land-based activities such as golf, horse riding, hiking and biking. Stay for 2 nights at Lake Tahoe.

Day 11: Yosemite
Head for Yosemite National Park, and enjoy two nights in this popular National Park. There are some great ranger-led programs, as well as trails and driving loops that allow you to get the most out of your visit.

Day 13: Sacramento
Drive from Yosemite to Sacramento. As “America’s Farm-to-Table Capital”, Sacramento is a cosmopolitan city with plenty to do, from museums, shops and restaurants to outdoor activities, Broadway shows and beautiful parks. It has a rich Gold-Rush history and a historic downtown area. Stay for 2 nights in Sacramento.

Day 15: San Francisco
Return to San Francisco, drop off your rental car and fly home.

You can plan your own adventure or book through a respected tour operator or travel agent in your country. This sample itinerary is available from

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