Carmel, California: shopping on main street of carmel with luxurious expensive boutiques all around

8 of the Most Welcoming Towns in Northern California

California has some of the most striking topography in the United States. Everything from beaches to mountain ranges to wide open spaces can be found here. The state is so large that it is spoken of as two different areas-Northern California and Southern California, each with its own atmosphere and scenery. Northern California is a gorgeous place to visit year-round, where visitors are made to feel welcomed.


Mainstreet in the historic town of Placerville
Mainstreet in the historic town of Placerville, via Laurens Hoddenbagh /

Placerville, in the heart of the Golden State, is a quaint town with a history stretching back to the Gold Rush. Whitewater rafting is common down the American River, and the downtown area has shopping and dining options as well. Among the many shops is the Placerville Hardware Store, the "oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi."

A popular attraction is the Gold Bug Park and Mine. A self-guided tour takes visitors 352 feet inside an actual gold mine. The park boasts 60 acres with a working blacksmith shop, hiking trails, and picnic areas. This is a beautiful place to visit in any season, and there are ranches like Apple Hill that offer self-picking fruit and pumpkin patches.

Carmel By The Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California- Image Credit oliverdelahaye via Shutterstock

Carmel By The Sea is a small beach community on the Monterrey Peninsula. Known for the Carmel Mission, museums, and library, this is a gorgeous and walkable town brimming with beauty. Carmel Beach is a haven for surfers, while the Carmel River State Park attracts bird watchers and nature lovers from all around.

The Carmel Beach along Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The Carmel Beach along Carmel-by-the-Sea. Editorial credit: David A Litman /

The Village is a wonderful spot to discover. The European-style village has shops and dining tucked away in its nooks and crannies, charming courtyards, and hidden passageways. Local artisans, chefs, and merchants love to mingle with visitors, and, fun fact: you will not find any mailboxes, street lights, or street addresses here. This charming village by the sea uses the solitary post office for its mail delivery service. 

Pacific Grove

Old style building in Pacific Grove, Monterey, California
Old style building in Pacific Grove, Monterey, California

Pacific Grove is a coastal city between Monterrey and Point Pinos. The town is known for its Victorian homes, many of which have been converted to romantic bed and breakfasts. There is a lot to discover here, including Cannery Row, the Monterrey Aquarium, and the Point Pinos Lighthouse.

Street in Pacific Grove, Monterey, California
Street in Pacific Grove, Monterey, California,

The Monarch Grove Sanctuary is pure bliss for butterfly lovers. This is also an ideal place to visit for serenity and relaxation. The panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean call beachgoers and sundowners to visit. The lighthouse is one of the oldest continuously running lighthouses in the country and one of the main reasons people visit the beach.

Nevada City

Main street in Nevada City, California
Main street in Nevada City, California

Nevada City, just north of Sacramento, is one of the prettiest towns in Gold Country, with a deep history dating back to the Gold Rush. The charming downtown, centered around Broad Street, is one of the first places to visit. There are vintage buildings lining both sides of the street, hosting restaurants, boutiques, and the historic National Exchange Hotel, a town landmark since the 1800s.

The Nevada Theatre, erected in 1865, is also a must-see attraction while walking through historic downtown. To catch a glimpse of the mining history that developed this town, check out the Empire Mine State Historic Park. Other places to visit are the Holbrooke Hotel, South Yuba River State Park, or wine tasting at either Nevada City Winery or Luchhessi Street Mill Tasting Room. 


Aerial view of Healdsburg, California
 Aerial view of Healdsburg, California

Healdsburg is located in Sonoma County and is centered around the town plaza. The 19th-century plaza invokes romance and wistful getaways, one of the many reasons this town has been voted among the six most romantic towns in the US. The tree-lined downtown area offers soft-colored shops, boutiques, and eateries.

The town is also a wine lover's dream. There are three wine valleys near the town, and there is an abundance of wineries to explore and indulge in your favorite California Red. Healdsburg also has world-class restaurants, including the one Michelin star, Barndiva, to wrap up a romantic getaway.


Street in Ferndale, California
Street in Ferndale, California. Image credit mikluha_maklai via Shutterstock

Ferndale is a gorgeous town with dozens of Victorian houses and store fronts. The charming town has an old-fashioned feel, and there are miles of forests and coastal wilderness, scenic drives, and historic walking tours. It is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit in the summer or fall because the temperatures are cool enough year-round for a leisurely stroll through town.

The Golden Gate Mercantile is an authentic general store downtown that must be seen to appreciate its vintage atmosphere. Downtown is also home to the Victorian Inn, a corner Victorian Hotel replete with 16-foot ceilings and redwood accents that sum up what this town represents. There are also scenic beaches to visit as this part of the California coast. 

Half Moon Bay

Street view in Half Moon Bay, California
Street view in Half Moon Bay, California

Located just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a quiet beach town and home to the world-famous Mavericks. Mavericks boast some of the biggest waves on the planet, and surfers flock here routinely to try their luck. Along with the breezy beaches, there is a thriving art community, and the town has over six art galleries.

There are biking and hiking trails, including one that winds up San Pedro Mountain, providing scenic views. This is a beautiful coastline, one that begs to be explored by kayak, hiking, or biking, especially the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail. The trail provides 11.5 miles of pristine coastal forest, and this makes for a great family excursion.

Bodega Bay

People eating at Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay, California
People eating at Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay, California, via Brycia James /

Bodega Bay, a scenic coastal town just north of San Francisco, is a hidden treasure along the California coastline. Known for its serene atmosphere and stunning natural beauty, it's a paradise for those seeking a peaceful escape. The heart of Bodega Bay is its charming harbor, where local fishermen bring in their daily catch, offering a glimpse into the town's maritime heritage.

The main street of Bodega Bay is a picturesque array of quaint shops, seafood restaurants, and cozy cafes, each offering a unique taste of coastal life. Among these, the Spud Point Crab Company and the Tides Wharf Restaurant are must-visits for their fresh, locally sourced seafood.

For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery is essential. It provides a deep dive into the town's past, showcasing its connection to the sea. The surrounding area, with its rolling hills and rugged coastline, is perfect for nature walks, bird watching, and whale watching during migration seasons.

Northern California stands as a jewel in the crown of American topography. Its diverse landscapes, ranging from serene beaches to majestic mountain ranges and expansive open spaces, offer a unique blend of natural beauty and welcoming charm. Whether you're a visitor seeking adventure or relaxation, Northern California's varied scenery and hospitable atmosphere provide a year-round haven. 

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 8 of the Most Welcoming Towns in Northern California

More in Places