We’ve put together a guide of our favorite NorCal road trip destinations, with details about where to stay, what to eat, and how to have the best time. These trips are all exceptionally beautiful and under a four-hour drive from San Francisco.Less
Healdsburg: This vibrant Sonoma town is super close to San Francisco, so you can spend less time in the car and more time eating and drinking the best that wine country has to offer. We recommend Hotel Healdsburg, which is right on the square, because of its tranquil and sizable garden pool area and stylish rooms. Once in town (with your car parked for the remainder of the trip), it’s all about eating and drinking, which you’ll definitely want to do on the Bravas Bar de Tapas patio.
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Fun fact: Mount Lassen is the largest lava dome on earth and was thought to be extinct until 1914 when it exploded without warning. More fun facts: It’s also relatively easy to climb, definitely most likely will not explode while you’re doing so, and is open and ready for visitors. Though several of the campsites close after summer, the Manzanita Lake Campground remains open until it snows and the Southwest Campground is open year-round.
Glen Ellen: The charming village of Glen Ellen may be tiny, but it has everything one could possibly need for a pandemic getaway, including luxurious accommodations, delicious food, wine tasting, and outdoor adventures. Regarding the former, you’ll want to book a room at the recently renovated Olea Hotel for a few reasons. The guest rooms are secluded and romantic (if you can afford the splurge, get a garden cottage, but all of the rooms are fantastic).
San Luis Obispo: SLO was once named the happiest city in America (and still ranks in the top 10), and who doesn’t need a little happiness these days? The first place you’ll find it is at the Madonna Inn where you should stay at least once in your life (so, why not now?). It has 110 themed rooms (Love Nest, Golfer’s Room, and Rock Bottom are just three to choose from), world-famous cakes, and a pool with a bar on a stunning hilltop.
Fish Camp: Staying at the Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp is the perfect way to get your California Gold Country and Yosemite National Park fix this fall and winter for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of the campsites in Yosemite still aren’t open (plus, who wants to camp when it’s so chilly out?) and the hotels inside of the park are almost completely booked, so staying inside of the park isn’t a great option. Gook a room, cottage, or cabin at Tenaya Lodge, and hit a ton of the Yosemite highlights.
Gualala, California: Gualala (pronounced “wha-la-la”) is a chill coastal town in Mendocino where people really go to do not a whole hell of a lot. Pack a picnic and float in a kayak down the Gualala River (the weather is oddly sunny there despite its location), take a leisurely whale-watching hike along the oceanfront bluffs of Gualala Point Regional Park, and see the century-old trees with stunted growth in the pygmy forest in Salt Point State Park.
Nevada City: Nevada City is a taste of what it might have been like in the Wild West. Today, many of the 19th-century downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Since there is so much history there, you need to see some of it. A must-do is the Empire Mine, the site of the oldest, largest, and richest gold mine in California. At the Inn Town Campground, which is just a short walk from downtown, you can pitch your own tent or get a glamping tent.
Pescadero: Pescadero is the NorCal version of spending a day by the seaside, which means all of the beauty of the ocean, but with a side of wind and cooler temps. Like most destinations around these parts, the most popular activities are geared towards the outdoors. Butano State Park has 40 miles of hiking trails amongst the redwoods and you can also camp there -- although when it comes to camping in Pescadero, a Costanoa Lodge tent bungalow or cabin are the places to stay.
Williams: You’re going to Williams for one reason and one reason only: the hot springs. Wilbur Hot Springs Resort is the ideal location for getting totally blissed out, an expression you’ll actually be using without a hint of irony by the end of your weekend. The bathing area has natural, mineral hot springs with three different temperatures, a dry sauna, a cold pool, and a multi-tiered redwood deck where you can lounge.
Jenner: Jenner’s rugged cliffs, dramatic ocean views, and isolated beaches are so very quintessential Northern California, as will be your experience when you make your way to this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town on Highway 1. You can make this excursion as relaxing or activity-filled as you want, but no matter what you choose, you’ll definitely be communing with nature in the best way possible. Start your trip by checking in at Timber Cove, a resort hotel with rustic and retro vibes.