Main street of Carmel with luxurious boutiques, Carmel, United States. Editorial credit: oliverdelahaye /

7 Delightful Towns to Visit in Northern California

Northern California is ripe with fascinating destinations overflowing with natural splendor and a rich and exciting history. For any would-be traveler in that part of the United States, dozens of standout small towns should be on your road trip itinerary. Its majestic redwood forest will immediately welcome travelers who find themselves in Northern California, colossal mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and famous national parks. While specific destinations, such as San Francisco, are given, numerous towns in North California are unfairly overlooked.

These delightful towns offer a memorable experience to any tourist who passes by, as while they might seem like your typical sleepy town, some of them are rich in history, culture, and natural landmarks that you will not find anywhere else. If you are looking to make a short list of pit stops on your journey through Northern California, consider planning your route with these seven towns in mind.


Buildings on streets of Historic Calistoga, popular tourist stop in Napa Valley wine country, Calistoga, CA, USA.
Napa Valley wine country, Calistoga, CA, USA. Editorial credit: Dragan Jovanovic /

Calistoga offers a distinct way to relax through hot springs and mud baths with several luxury spas that utilize the town's natural geothermal hot springs. One place that stands out is the Solage Resort and Spa. It offers a complete wellness experience while also treating you to breathtaking views that will refresh both body and mind. Alternatively, consider the Golden Haven Spa and Resort. It is a more affordable option featuring a good range of treatments, like mineral soaks and mud baths.

If you are in Calistoga, you cannot miss the famous Old Faithful Geyser. It is the only geyser in California that erupts regularly and can shoot scorching hot water up to an impressive height of 60 feet! Another incredible natural wonder in Calistoga is the majestic Petrified Forest. It is like stepping into another world with fossilized redwood trees that give the forest an almost alien vibe. Some of the petrified redwood trees tower over hikers at over 30 feet tall, frozen in time from the period of a great volcanic eruption that happened millions of years ago.


Small stores along the sidewalk in Carmel, California, USA.
Small stores along the sidewalk in Carmel, California, USA. Editorial credit: Robert Mullan /

If you search for what a picturesque town looks like, there is a chance that you will come across a picture of Carmel. As you can probably surmise from its moniker, Carmel enjoys a stunning view of the ocean, specifically its iconic Carmel Beach, which stretches for a mile and is the main reason for visiting this quiet coastal town. In addition, Carmel Beach is a dog-friendly spot that welcomes visitors along with their furry friends with open arms.

After sunbathing and swimming at the town's famous beach, head over to the 1797-built Carmel Mission Basilica Museum. Visitors can check out the authentically restored church with its antique artwork and centuries-old religious artifacts—truly a fascinating must-see tour for history buffs. Carmel has also been a favorite hub spot for various artistic minds, and those looking for inspiration can head on to the Carmel Art Association or Zantman Art Galleries for their collection of classic and thought-provoking art pieces on display.

Nevada City

Shops and eateries along Broad Street with rainbow flags during Pride Month, Nevada City, CA, USA.
Broad Street, Nevada City, CA, USA. Editorial credit: Chris Allan /

The brick-lined streets of Nevada City certainly make it feel as if you just stepped into a different time. The Victorian-era buildings that populate Broad Street offer traces of the city’s gold-mining history, wherein you can opt between a walking tour from Scavenger Hunt Walking Tours or bike around the once-busy streets with the Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop. Either way, you will enjoy learning about the rich history of Nevada City during the Gold Rush era. It is also a good idea to check out the collection of eclectic handcrafted items for sale in Kitkitdizzi and the unique, antiquated artifacts in Brothers Art and Antiques. Of course, what is a trip to Nevada City without experiencing the food? In that regard, take your pick from Crazy Horse Saloon & Grill’s pub grub and live music or Lika's Quarter Cafe with its Cajun-Creole options.


Beautiful views of Healdsburg, California.
Beautiful views of Healdsburg, California.

Healdsburg is famous for its delicious and aromatic wines with some top-notch vineyards, such as Seghesio Family Vineyards. They are known for their fantastic Zinfandel grapes, which they use to make their award-winning wines. Another great winery to visit is VML Winery. They do medium-body and brightly acidic Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. But it does not stop here! There is so much more to do in town. How about taking a wine country carriage tour with The Wine Carriage? That is a stylish way to tour the area.

As for those who love the arts, do not miss attending a live performance at the Raven Performing Arts Theater. There is no better place to take in the town’s charisma than the vibrant Healdsburg Plaza. It is where you find some tremendous Michelin-starred restaurants, like SingleThread Farm Restaurant, perfect for fine dining. And if you are in the mood for something more laid-back and indulgent, head over to Healdsburg Bar and Grill. They have a menu chock-full of mouthwatering hamburgers and other beloved American dining staples.


The Old Town of Truckee on Donner Pass Road, known for great restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops.
The Old Town of Truckee on Donner Pass Road. Editorial credit: David A Litman /

The quiet mountain town of Truckee is the epitome of a winter paradise with its fantastic ski resorts like the Northstar California Resort and the nearby Palisades Tahoe, which offer visitors access to two iconic mountains, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Both are highly recommended by experienced skiers and snowboarders due to their amazing views and challenging slopes. Besides the world-class ski resorts, Truckee is also a good spot for outdoor enthusiasts, even if it is not yet the winter season. For example, visitors can explore the Donner Memorial State Park, which details the grim and ill-fated journey of the group the museum is named after.

If you prefer something a little less morbid, why not visit Commercial Row, which offers establishments with architecture from the Wild West era? Dine at the local favorite, Full Belly Deli, which offers a slew of delicious sandwiches, salads, and espresso and is the recommended spot for breakfast and lunch.


Buildings in the historic district, Dunsmuir, California, USA.
Buildings in the historic district, Dunsmuir, California, USA. Editorial credit: davidrh /

Dunsmuir, a town that is steep in natural beauty and equally rich in history and culture, was also crucial during the expansion of railroads in the United States. You can learn more about the important contributions that the town provided to the railroad operations by visiting the Dunsmuir Railroad Depot Historical Society through displays and exhibits. You can also hop on the Amtrak train for a scenic ride around the town.

To get a bead on the town’s lifestyle, you can scoot on over to the establishments in the Dunsmuir Historic District that maintained 19th-century architecture and are now the central commercial hub of the town. You will pass by Hotel California Dunsmuir, built in the 1920s, delivering a historic stay in the now-renovated old hotel. When looking to dine, make your way to the local favorite, The Wheelhouse, a takeout restaurant that offers a menu of seafood, sandwiches, and salad. The YAKS on the 5 is another hotspot of passersby and tourists who are looking for a quick ‘pick me up’ meal.

Fort Bragg

Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California.
Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, California.

Boasting a scenic coastline view and stunning beaches, Fort Bragg should always be on anyone’s stop-over routes while visiting Northern California. One of Fort Bragg’s most iconic landmarks is Glass Beach, known for the smooth and colorful glass that blankets the shoreline and glistens like a sea of stars during the day. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden is another intriguing place to check out, as it has a collection of diverse and exotic plants from around the world.

Fort Bragg also takes pride in its history, which is up for exploration at the Guest House Museum. You can learn about the city’s military past and its Native American heritage, as well as take part in tours that will take you through the historic downtown area. Check out the Skunk Train and Rail Bikes Tour for those interested in getting a train ride through this historic Northern California city. All this walking will surely make you famished. The Wharf is your place for the quintessential Fort Bragg food experience with scrumptious seafood dishes and fan-favorite American delicacies like the good old-fashioned hamburger.

Uncover Northern California’s Hidden Gems

All in all, Northern California is filled with exciting towns, each with its unique stamp from stunning natural beauty and man-made historical landmarks. With so much to do and so much to offer their visitors, some of these towns certainly demand that you revisit them more than once. From Nevada City and its gold-mining history to the winter sports paradise that is Truckee, we highly recommend you include these towns to visit in North California.

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