With summer on its way, there has never been a better time to visit the Northern California Coast. There is almost a reversed effect with the weather, as the valley gets hot and the coast cools off. Growing up in Northern California, when the sun would be in full force, we made our way to the coastline.
Over the past years, I’ve worked my way up from San Francisco, popping into each of the towns all the way up the Highway 1 to Fort Bragg. There is so much to love — each town and city is unique in its own way and of course that wild coastline is hard to beat. There is always a ton to do in the summer in the Bay Area (see this post for things to do in Northern California) and can’t wait for the adventures to begin.
Read this ultimate Northern California Coast road trip itinerary to help plan your trip.
Here’s a look at where to visit along the Northern California Coast
Northern California Coast Weather
I will be honest that the weather on the coast is always hit or miss. If you’re looking for guaranteed sunny days, then I would say it’s not here. The weather in the summer months can often be the coldest, especially in San Francisco. So I would be sure to pack a few layers and prepare for some variant temperatures. On Highway One, the weather can be clear and then suddenly foggy.
Personally, I enjoy the colder days as it’s a reprieve from the hot sun. When you get up north, closer to Sonoma County, the summer months are often in the mid-sixties to seventies for temperature. The light breeze often will cool off as well at night.
For more information on the best time to visit Northern California, read this full guide.
Northern California Map & Overview
The areas I will be talking about will be from San Francisco up to Mendocino County. There is so much more to see past Mendocino, however, I have not been yet so I will add those areas into the guide once I do!
Destinations along the Northern California Coast
(all north from San Francisco)
Point Reyes & Marshall
If you’re looking to discover one of the best gems on the coast’s highway, start with a trip to Point Reyes. There is so much love here like the Point Reyes National Seashore area. The town of Point Reyes Station is incredibly quaint and has a few local restaurants and a market to check out on the weekend.
In this area, you’ll find Tomales Bay which is really popular for hiking and grabbing fresh oysters for lunch at places like Nick’s Cove or Hog Island.
For more outdoor adventures, you can also rent some kayaks in Marshall and explore the area that way.
As you make your way up the coast, the next biggest town is Bodega Bay on the coast. Known for its beaches, it makes for a great family-friendly destination. You can make your way to Bodega Head and try your luck with whale watching here or head into Doran Regional Park for their public beach.
This is also another great spot to go sea kayaking, be sure to visit Bodega Bay Kayak to get your rentals this summer. There is a ton of fresh seafood here, so if you want to try the local catch, my favorite spots are Spud Point Crab Company and Terrapin Creek Cafe.
Jenner, Timber Cove, & Sea Ranch
One of the most iconic and scenic parts of the Northern California Coast is the section between Jenner and Sea Ranch. It’s wildly beautiful, with curvy roads that hug the cliff’s edge. Along the way, there is not a whole lot but an open landscape that is amazing for outdoor adventure.
Jenner is one of the smaller towns and near it is Goat Rock Beach, Fort Ross State Historic Park, and a lot of wildlife. You’ll often spot seals and sea lions basking in the sun off the coast. Nearby is Fort Ross Vineyard, which you could pop in for a wine tasting.
Further north up the coast, you will make your way to Timber Cove which is anchored by the stunning Timber Cove Hotel. I’d make this a destination for lunch or dinner and even consider staying overnight here.
The final spot is Sea Ranch, famous for its sprawling headlands and architecture. Take a look at Pebble Beach, the iconic Sea Ranch Chapel, hike the Gualala Point Regional Park, and walk on Stengel Beach.
Mendocino & Fort Bragg
The final destination up the Northern California Coast is the town of Mendocino. It’s one of my favorites to visit because of its outdoor beauty, charming town, and incredible food scene. We always go for at least two nights and make our way around our favorites. One of my top activities to do there is to rent an outrigger with Catch-A-Canoe to explore up the river, where you can see river otters and harbor seals.
We often grab a few picnic items and eat out on the outrigger. Russian State Gulch Park is also a beautiful area to explore and has a great walk along the cliff’s edge and its own beach. Some restaurants to check out in the area include Little River Inn, Trillium Cafe, Wild Fish, and Patterson’s Pub. (here’s my full guide)
The last spot just a bit more north of Mendocino is Fort Bragg. We grew up going here for soccer tournaments and always loved taking the Skunk Train for a scenic ride and then heading down to Glass Beach.
Head here for my recommended one-week itinerary for Northern California.
Northern California Beaches
We do have some incredible beaches in Northern California. Most are destined for surfers or those willing to brave the cold Pacific Ocean waters. On the clear and sunny days, they make for a great afternoon excursion or part of a road trip north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Here are a few of the top ones I personally love:
- Stinson Beach (45 minutes north of San Francisco)
- Rodeo Beach in Marin County (30 minutes north of San Francisco)
- Bodega Bay (1 hour 30 minutes north of San Francisco)
- Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino (3 hours 15 minutes north of San Francisco)
- Glass Beach in Fort Bragg (3 hours 30 minutes north of San Francisco)
Where to Stay on the Northern California Coastline
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Where you want to stay is completely up to the experience you’d like to have. I’d recommend staying somewhere in the middle like Bodega or Jenner. Here are my top picks of hotels on the Northern California Coastline or read my full list of best hotels on the Northern coast of California:
There are also some incredible Airbnbs in the area:
+ Check out this post for incredible Airbnbs in Sonoma County.
+ Check out this post for some great Airbnbs in Northern California.