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Northern California for Families

Photo by Ken Lund

Hiking, beachcombing, and gold panning through the wilds of NorCal

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Young and old delight in the riches of Northern California, giving it many things to do on a family vacation.

Towering redwood trees, sure to humble even the most angst-ridden teen. Treasure-filled beaches. Swimming holes. Caves to explore. Family-focused eateries.

A sojourn to this epic swath of the country should rate high on your family bucket list.


Day 1, Sacramento

Fly into Sacramento and enjoy a day exploring the State Capital’s historic Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the California State Railroad Museum, and ending with dinner at downtown’s Pizza Rock.


Day 2, Gold Country

After breakfast in Midtown, motor over Gold Country to pan for gold in Coloma.

Sample some of the region’s excellent cuisine. Zip-line atop the oaks. Travel deep into the old mining caves to check out the stalactites and stalagmites.

Grab dinner in Placerville, a kid-friendly historic town offering many parks to get out some wiggles.


Day 3, Sierra Foothills

Gear up for a thrilling day-long white water adventure with OARS rafting on the South Fork of the American River.

Grab dinner along the river. After dark, the kids will conk out, allowing the grown ups to sample local vino under the stars.


Day 4, Chico

Travel north to the quirky college town of Chico.

Lunch at the famed Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Let the kids swim at Bidwell Park.

Grab provisions and motor east to Lake Almanor. Adventurous families will appreciate the 300 campsites strung around the 52 miles of coastline.

If you prefer a bed, meander back to Chico for the night.


Day 5, Caves and Waterfalls

Drive north a couple hours to explore the chilly Subway Caves.

Continue on to McArthur Burney Falls State Park to check out the 129-foot falls. If you love the 910 acres of forest and the brand spanking new cabins, opt to stay in the wilderness for a night.

For those looking for posh accommodations, check out the new Highlands Ranch Resort.


Day 6, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Explore the jaw-dropping Lassen Volcanic National Park to teach the kiddos about geothermic activity. Hike through the flower-dotted fields. Trek the forests. Or get up close with bubbling mud pools. This is one of California’s most overlooked gems.

They have a bunch of first-come-first-serve campsites. They also have a couple rustic cabins available, but they sell out well in advance.


Day 7, Redding

Travel east to Redding. This historic stop along Highway 5 invites kiddos to learn about spawning salmon, native plants and Native American history at the Turtle Bay Exploration Center. Don’t miss a wander across the Sundial Bridge to the botanical gardens .

Enjoy dinner at El Rinconcito Restaurant, arguably NorCal’s best taqueria.


Day 8, Bigfoot Country

Grab coffee and waffles at Coffee Bar.

Enjoy a leisurely drive up into the mountains to Whiskeytown State Recreation Area. Hike to waterfalls, search for eagles, and cool off in the water.

When everyone needs a break, hop in the car to travel through Bigfoot’s stomping grounds. Continue west to Eureka’s Best Western Humboldt Bay Inn. This can be your homebase to explore California’s dynamic North Coast.


===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.


Day 9, North Coast

Breakfast at Arcata’s Cafe Brio or Renata’s Creperie.

Let the kids run it out in the Arcata Square. Hire a kayak with to paddle Humboldt Bay.

In the afternoon, head up to the Arcata Community Forest. Play kickball on the lawn. Hike the redwood trails. Picnic by the playground.

Grab dinner at the family-friendly Lost Coast Brewery.


Day 10, Redwoods

Grab picnic fixings at the market, then travel south on US 101 through the Avenue of the Giants. Stop for a jaw-dropping hike and picnic through the Founder’s Grove.

Along the way drive through redwood trees. Check out the One-Log House. Grab eats in Garberville.

In Willits, travel west through the redwoods, searching for the world’s tallest, rumored to exist in this grove.

In Fort Bragg, spend a night at Beachcomber Motel. Sample the Mexican twists on seafood at Mayan Fusion.


Day 11, Mendocino Coast

Eat breakfast at Egghead’s, the wildly popular Wizard of Oz themed eatery.

Cross the highway to explore Glass Beach. Hunt in tidepools, searching for beach treasures.

Next let the kids shop for souvenirs in the sweet town of Mendocino.

Enjoy lunch at Mendocino Cafe. Dare the kiddos to sample candy cap mushroom ice cream at Frankie’s. Run out that sugar high on the bluffs.

Then meander south on Highway 1 to Mar Vista Cottages.


Day 12

Enjoy a farm fresh breakfast at your cottage.

Check the tides before heading over to Schooner Gulch State Beach to hike the short trail to Bowling Ball Beach.

Eat lunch at Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen.

Continue south along Highway 1 through Gualala, Sonoma and Marin County’s coasts, to San Francisco. Play in the City by the Bay for a couple nights before trekking back to Sacramento for your flight home.


At A Glance

Price Range:
budget
midrange
luxury
Most Suited to:
families
Season:
winter
spring
summer
fall
Length:
longer

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