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Northern California: An Overview

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Northern California, popularly known as NorCal, spans the 48 counties in the northernmost portion of the state, beginning with Monterey, Kings, Tulare, and Inyo, and going all the way up to Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc.

This vast area encompasses various topographies and microclimates, as well as contrasting urban and rural landscapes and lifestyles. All this makes Northern California not just a single destination but a host of widely varied regions and environments that offer their unique set of experiences.

In exploring NorCal, you will see why it’s one of the most desired areas to live in the entire United States.

Mild climate

As with the rest of the state, the climate in NorCal is mild with warm summers and cool winters. It receives more rainfall than other parts of California and gets snow in the mountains during winter. Mt. Shasta Ski Park is a favorite skiing destination, along with Yosemite’s Badger Pass.

The coasts

Northern California’s coastal areas offer a variety of experiences.

The San Francisco Bay Area is unarguably the most famous. Anchored by one of the world’s most iconic cities, the nine-county Bay Area is an epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship and is also home to one of the best-known wine regions on the planet. Its most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, is an engineering marvel and perfectly encapsulates the region’s pioneering spirit.

Go a little further up and you’ll hit Bodega Bay on the Sonoma coast, the place to go for highly prized Dungeness crab. Drive a few more miles north and you’ll find the famed headlands of Mendocino, which is part of the still mostly rural North Coast.

In contrast to the Bay Area’s urban chic, the coastal areas of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties are rawer, with their dramatic crags and heavy fog that wraps around towering redwoods. This rugged stretch of shore, also known as the Redwood Coast, is full of breathtaking sights and includes the spectacular sweep of untouched wilderness that is the Lost Coast.

Wine country

About an hour north of San Francisco are the rolling hills of Napa and Sonoma, where the world-famous California wine was born. Hundreds of wineries sprawl across the countryside, where the landscape dramatically changes as the vineyards show off the colors of the season.

Grand estates, castles, renovated barns and bucolic towns dot this varied expanse, bringing you to another time and place. The wine regions of Napa, Sonoma,Mendocino and Lake counties are composed of over two dozen distinct AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and also host Michelin-starred restaurants, luxurious spas and elegant hotels.

Sonoma County’s Wine Road takes you on a winding picturesque drive through the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys where you can learn about the region’s history, sample wines from the over 190 participating wineries, and stay in the area’s finest lodgings.

National parks, lakes and forests

Northern California has a rich natural beauty that’s simply unparalleled.

One of its greatest treasures is Yosemite National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is nearly 1,100 square miles of awe-inspiring natural wonders that include roaring-waterfalls, mighty granite cliffs, pristine meadows and alpine lakes.

Lake Tahoe lies at the heart of the High Sierra. With its deep blue waters framed by majestic mountains, this masterpiece of nature attracts visitors from all over the country all year-round.

The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is where you will find giant sequoia trees in 6,400 acres of preserved land. This state-run park features hiking trails, the Stanislaus River, campgrounds, picnic sites and many more.

Among the many other state and national parks, monuments and recreation areas in NorCal are:

  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Lava Beds National Monument
  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Pinnacles National Park
  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Redwood National and State Parks
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Sequoia National Park