20 Best Towns and Cities in Northern California to Visit

Northern California is a wonderful place that has a lot to offer — from its rolling hills, redwoods, and stunning coastlines, to its growing urban cities and opportunities for adventurers of all kinds. With the amazing and picturesque cities in Northern California — from the Bay Area to Sacramento and Lake Tahoe — there is no shortage of things to do in Northern California! 

So come along and let us show you around the amazing towns of Sausalito, Sonora, Eureka, and others. There’s plenty to see and do on your vacation across Northern California cities, including hotel deals, cruises, wine tastings, whale watching tours, sports events such as baseball games and football matches. We’ll share all our best spots with you so you can have an amazing trip.


Gualala is one of the most popular towns in Mendocino County. A major draw for tourists is Gualala’s access to the coastline and the ocean and its proximity to hiking trails. 

Gualala is an unincorporated community of 400 people on the Pacific coast in Mendocino County, California. It is located mainly on the east bank of the Gualala River and on a hill about 200 ft (61 m) above the river at an elevation of 56 feet (17 m). 

Due to its location as a stop between Fort Bragg and Point Arena, it has been known variously as Langdon’s, Popcorn’s, and Semple’s until 1874 when the name was changed to Gualala, derived from the neighboring native village name. 

Gualala Vista.jpg
By Bob Betzen, CC BY 2.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/74hzeC5QmFTS9hD87  


Sausalito is a beautifully small and picturesque town in Marin County, California. It is known for being home to the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a cute shopping district with many small boutique shops and restaurants. Sausalito has the best weather and views during the summer months compared with the surrounding towns. The architecture of homes and businesses is beautiful and unique and adds to its charm. 

This unincorporated community offers a great selection of restaurants, waterfront views, and plenty to see and do. It is just across the bay from San Francisco (about a 15-minute ferry ride) are its world-famous boatsheds in a spectacular setting. Lying at the end of the San Francisco region, with a population of 4,000 people, this small city offers a surprising array of attractions. 

Sausalito California.jpg
By Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/Q1r5ro36cBaNcnHk6 


Monterey is located on the central coast of California, just north of Big Sur. It’s about 90 minutes south of San Jose and slightly longer depending on where in San Jose you live. Leisure travelers are often drawn to Monterey for its stunning coastline, great restaurants, and stunning location between the Santa Lucia mountains and the beckoning Pacific Ocean.  

Tourists flock to Monterey California to check out the amazing Aquarium, see the Outdoor Recreation Activities and enjoy the delectable food. For both residents of California and visitors, it is a popular destination for both a short, day trip or a long weekend getaway. Monterey is set on a small peninsula that juts out in the Pacific Ocean. 

Most of the downtown part of the city sits behind one of the largest saltwater lakes in California known as ‘Lake Del Toro’. 

Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA (cropped).jpg
By Catalinaschool, CC BY 4.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/FLGHu6K2a5Zwwe5v7   

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the headlands of the California coast. Its ocean side setting is exquisite but it has never been sought out for tourism. Bodega Bay is not a typical California beach town that is filled with surfers, tourists, and sunbathers. The people who live here like it that way. There are only about 3,000 residents in Bodega Bay and 60% of them are over age 62. 

Bodega Bay is located on California’s gorgeous beachline, just north of San Francisco. Ample accommodations provide something for everyone, from ocean view cottages to tranquil vacation rentals and private beach access. This beautiful town makes the perfect destination for a weekend beach getaway or full-on vacay by the side of the beach. 

Bodega Bay CA - waterfront.jpg
By Rojer Wisner, CC BY 2.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/JXx7cMDTDN1sjc5z9   


If you’re looking for places in California that have a special charm about them or are just far enough removed from a major city to make you feel away, Calistoga is just the spot. Calistoga, the city of natural hot springs that sits in the Napa Valley region of Northern California, is a remarkable tourist destination. The hot springs are the centerpiece of this city, even though there are many attractions for visitors.  

Calistoga, a quiet town full of wine and relaxation, is also home to some amazing restaurants and hotels. The location is just right with the Napa County Fairgrounds, which hosts the Napa County Fair held in the last week of July. Be sure to check out the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, a branch of the famous culinary institute. 

Calistoga, California.jpeg
By JayWalsh, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/ezBbgfQgnxiBUZCp9   

Tahoe City

Tahoe City is a vacation destination with easy access from Sacramento, San Francisco, and other parts of Nor Cal. This mountain village in the heart of Lake Tahoe boasts unbeatable views and colorful landmarks. Whether you’re planning on hitting the slopes at Heavenly or renting a lake house for your family getaway, there’s something for all your vacation plans. 

Tahoe City maybe a little town, but it has big things to do and see. It is located on the west shore of Lake Tahoe and has a small, charming atmosphere. It is the hub for outdoor adventure, sporting events, and music in the Sierra Nevada mountains. From hitting the links to cycling in the wonderful countryside, this small town is home to wonderful lifetime memories. 

Tahoe City - panoramio.jpg
By Bohao Zhao, CC BY 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/DjPTouqTpYzUd1hcA   

Half Moon Bay 

Half Moon Bay, CA is an iconic coastal town, located approximately 20 miles south of San Francisco. It attracts both locals and visitors alike, and with all that the area has to offer, it’s easy to see why. It is a great town and one of the best places to visit if you’re looking for somewhere quiet, safe, and joyous. 

It’s also quite ample on the tastes for food lovers because there are so many great restaurants here, even for fine diners. Tucked away in San Mateo County with a population under 10,000, it has been called an “endless sunset” by LTTraveler and one of the most wonderful places in America by CNN. 

Known for fishing and surfing as well as being a highly desirable tourist destination for its rugged cliffs and white sand beaches, this place is a top spot for visitors of all kinds.  

Half Moon Bay California Main Street.jpg
By Tomwsulcer, CC0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/N8n361xtCTrK1n4h9 

Santa Cruz 

Santa Cruz is a natural treasure found at the tip of the San Lorenzo Valley, less than a stone’s throw from the Santa Clara Valley of California. It is situated on the shores of Monterey Bay, an ocean-side that signifies its connection to the Largest Marine Sanctuary in the world. 

This amazing California city, with an estimated population of 60,526 people and covering 48 square miles of land (as of 2008), is situated in the extremely beautiful Monterey Bay on its side to the Pacific Ocean. It is totally worth a visit with so much on offer.  

Don’t miss the Yosemite National Park, which is just 40 miles northeast, and San Francisco, only 35 miles northeast of Santa Cruz. Even if you simply stay in the city itself for a night or two while you are in California, you will find that it is quite nice and very historic. 

Santa Cruz, CA (51)

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/18uxeygqoXXKKHKg8   


Eureka is full of quaint shops, delicious restaurants, and fantastic little independent stores. It’s no wonder that so many visitors and locals love this coastal community. Eureka is known for its seaside location, redwood trees, and vast Californian countryside. It’s also known as the official northern gateway to Redwood State and National Parks and a great starting point for exploring this wonderful spot. 

Eureka was founded on mining and agriculture and is home to the renowned redwoods. After visiting Eureka, you may want to tour some nearby small towns in Northern California including Arcata, Fortuna, Rio Dell, and Ferndale. If you’re looking for things to do in Eureka, check out the Mad River Museum, The Railroad & Transit Museum, visit The Breaker, enjoy a picnic in nearby Carter Park, or even check into one of its many condos.  

Eureka, California - Carson Mansion 03.jpg
By Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/3buQdrNqhdCvtVuV7  


Sonora is the county seat of Tuolumne County, California. It is surrounded by rolling hills and the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. Native Americans used to roam over these hills before the Spanish came and settled here. 

You can still see evidence of their presence incorporated into the city’s layout of wide, tree-lined streets that curve around open spaces. Sonora’s picturesque location attracts a diverse group of residents eager to live in such a lovely spot. 

If you’re looking for a small town in California that is surrounded by forests, mountains, and rivers then Sonora could be the spot for you. 

Sonora CA USA.jpg
By Vayne, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/Xp6s2wCc4rXZu1p49  


Lakeport on Clear Lake is located in California’s Lake County. The small city was founded in 1850 by Captain John Stone. The 2010 census population was 10,941, down from 11,153 at the 2000 census. 

In 1859, gold was discovered at Poverty Bar and other spots in the foothills of the Coast Range mountains south of Lakeport, leading to the large-scale immigration of prospectors and businessmen. 

Two block-long fireproof brick buildings were erected in 1852 to house the Commercial Bank and the Union Trust Company in Downtown Lakeport, the center of all activities. These buildings are still standing in today. 

Lakeport California

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/YT3eGtzJm3aBPzBx5   


If you were to pick just one town in Northern California that did it all, had it all, and made all the right choices throughout its history, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Murphys. This gem of a town has managed to balance local history with innovative new approaches to dining, entertainment, and lodging. The people are friendly and extremely welcoming.  

If you’re looking for a small, casual vibe, Murphys might be the spot for you. It may be just a little south of Yosemite, but is still in reach of everything beautiful and relaxing about the state.  

Old house in Murphys, CA.jpg
By PDTillman, CC BY 2.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/kFhXMjPCyRz3wgEz7   


Positioned right on the Little Sur River, Aptos is a real estate haven. Tucked away for decades into dense forest lands and undersea canyons, Aptos is only an hour away from the bustling city. 

Aptos has many advantages. The ocean, the rain forests, the mountains, the golf courses and fishing spots, all are a short distance away from Aptos. Even closer is a gorgeous canyon that draws thousands of visitors annually with its beauty. 

Small towns in Northern California aren’t all about a chance to win some of the largest corporations on the West Coast. For starters, there are plenty of cost-effective choices that provide just as much appeal as their larger-than-life counterparts. 

Bayview Hotel, Aptos, California.jpg
By W Nowicki, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/5niBSTq1Z3unqUYGA   

St. Helena 

St. Helena is one of those small towns in Northern California that will surprise you. Nestled between Napa Valley and Sonoma, St. Helena blends the best of both. A low-key wine town in the heart of an area known for lavish spas and high-end dining, you’ll quickly fall in love with it. 

St. Helena is a small city located in Calistoga, just north of Napa Valley. It does not have a huge population, consisting of only 10,484 residents at the last census. St. Helena has some cool features to offer tourists such as great wine and verdant views. 

If you’re planning on taking a trip to Calistoga and need somewhere to stay, you’ll want to look into St. Helena real estate listings. From cheap hotels to spacious estates — the many realtors in St. Helena have everything in their kitty. 

St. Helena Commercial Historic District, Hotel St. Helena, 1309 Main St., St. Helena, CA 10-9-2011 6-38-09 PM.JPG
By Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/LdSVM1wXCn4t5ija7   

Sutter Creek 

Welcome to Sutter Creek in California. It is a small gold rush-era town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains on the banks of the Mokelumne River. It is home to people who have a love of the outdoors and rural living, traditional values, quirky customs, and history. This is a little taste of what life is like here. 

Sutter Creek was established in 1850 and was originally named North Bloomfield. But since there already was a populated spot with this name, it later became Sutter Creek. The present town’s location lies near what had been the North Bloomfield Township. At its greatest size, back in the 1870s, it had a population of over 5,000 people. 

Sutter Creek Main Street.jpg
By Ramkumar Menon, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/xFHsvNdbHi2LpEiP6   


Mendocino, California is a wonderful spot to visit. Situated on the Mendocino Coast of California, most people know it as a vacation spot where you can get lost in the dramatic beauty of the towering coastal redwoods and still have time left to sit on a beach with your feet buried in sand at the beach. 

Mendocino is located in between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Yet, it has an entirely different vibe than either of those cities in Northern California. It’s closer to Big Sur than San Francisco and has similarities more with Santa Cruz (but more on the outskirts). 

Mendocino, California

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/rLgqoJRj9fnqebCR7   


Jackson is the county seat of Amador County, which was a Gold Rush city that later became a supply point for miners heading to the Mother Lode. Built around a square with two streets parallel to each other and two perpendiculars, Jackson has an impressive downtown with historic buildings from the late 19th century. 

Jackson is in the heart of Amador County, nestled on Highway 49, known as the “Mother Lode” because it was one of the most productive gold mining areas in California. Jackson can boast a strong patriotic history, a variety of attractive trails, and an excellent choice of amenities. The region is truly a spot where you can come to be outdoors in true style. 

Historic Downtown Jackson, California.JPG
By EPoelzl, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/gAmNCnDV5J8LFhLv6 

Glen Ellen 

Glen Ellen, California is a charming community in the Sonoma Valley AVA wine region. Glen Ellen itself is not a city but rather a census-designated spot and unincorporated area. This little municipality in the heart of Sonoma Valley offers an antidote to some of the more bustling and touristy portions of Northern California. 

Glen Ellen is known as the ‘Grape Capital of Sonoma County,’ but it is also a wonderful little town to enjoy a meal or stay overnight. Although Glen Ellen has been known for its wine production, tourism is quickly taking over as a major source of revenue for the small town, with the Jack London State Historic Park and the surrounding wineries counting as two of its main attractions. 

TripAdvisor lists almost 80 restaurants and 20 hotels within Glen Ellen, making it easy to find an interesting spot to enjoy a meal or spend the night, whether you arrive by car or choose to explore on foot. 

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/A1RWjJ9TDmzw3qUr6  


Located north of Los Angeles nestled in the hills of Sonoma County, you’ll find the small town of Occidental, California. This lakeside town has a quaint commercial district, friendly locals, and wonderful outdoor venues for swimming, boating, and fishing. The weather is extremely mild especially considering its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and it makes for perfect year-round weather. There are many different things to do and see in Occidental, so it’s no wonder people from all over Northern California visit here regularly. 

Although you’ll never see a sign for this small town on any highway, Occidental is a charming little spot. It’s an old logging town that houses a population of around 1,800 people in Sonoma County. Occidental is known for its natural beauty, being near the Russian River and San Pablo Bay. This is why so many Sonoma visitors flock to Occidental. It also has one of the most historic downtown areas in all of Sonoma with old storefronts and wonderful Victorian homes that give residents a true sense of history. 

Occidental, California

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/pRJYWYLQYrsFseBA8   


Fortuna is located in the Fortuna Union district of Humboldt County. This makes it a part of the greater Eureka area. It is located near Caudecus Ranch Park on the shores of Humboldt Bay and sits at an elevation of 131 feet above sea level. 

Fortuna is a census-designated place (CDP). It is located on the west coast of the United States, about 140 air miles north of San Francisco and about 85 miles south of the Oregon border at the head of navigation on the Klamath River. The population was 13,583 at the 2010 census, up from 11,157 at the 2000 census.  

Fortuna, located on the Eel River, is a quiet country town that caters to fishermen all year long. This town has several options of things to do such as attending community events, great restaurants, and so much more. 

FortunaTheater Main Street.JPG
By Ellin Beltz, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Google Maps Location: https://goo.gl/maps/gHCa1mAwcPM1Eg8i6   

Northern California is a wonderful place, and there is a lot to do and see. There is an abundance of natural beauty that will create an everlasting impact on any visitor. There are many towns and cities in Northern California that make up this region. According to Wikipedia, a large portion of it sits on the San Andreas Fault, which separates the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate. 

It would be hard to find a more wonderful place than Northern California with scenic views that will leave you feeling just as peaceful and relaxed as the landscape you’re looking at. This guide will give you a taste of what it’s like here in the Bay Area.