Santa Cruz
Photo: Jiawangkun/Fotolia

Northern California refers to the 48 counties in the northernmost region of the state, including San Francisco Bay, Greater Sacramento, and the Metropolitan Fresno area. It is home to redwood forests, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley, parts of Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta, and the northern part of Central Valley. The land is rich and natural, with varied landscapes that include mountains, sea, lakes, rivers, beaches, and agricultural regions like the Wine Country. Its boom began in 1848 with the California Gold Rush, and since then it has been the cradle for economic, scientific, technological and cultural advancements.

»Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Seymour Marine Discovery Center


Located in the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz, California, is a marine research and education facility which aims to promote the understanding and conservation of the world’s oceans, and to demonstrate the role that scientific research plays in that objective.

Featuring a 20,000-square-foot visitor center, you are welcome to attend the aquarium, where you can touch sharks, sea stars, urchins, crabs and anemones, see Ms. Blue –an 87-foot-long and 18-foot-high whale skeleton- and get closer to the magnificent sea life of Monterey Bay, which is a year-round home year for seals, otters, dolphins, sea lions, whales, a multitude of invertebrates and algae, as well as seabirds and fish.

100 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, website, Phone: 831-459-3800 Photo: Seymour Marine Discovery Center

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»Alcatraz

Alcatraz


One of the most intriguing things to do in Northern California is exploring Alcatraz. This world-renowned, former maximum security federal prison is located on an island in San Francisco Bay, California. Also named “the Rock”, it was first a military fort, then a military prison and, until 1963, a federal prison. Today, it is a national park and has been designated a National History Landmark.

In its time, it held prisoners such as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, Machine Gun Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, and many more. Come to experience breathing the cold, chilling air that gives even the bravest of men goose bumps.

Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, B201 Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-981-7625 Photo: ThoPics/Fotolia

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»Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Founded in 1984, this non-profit public aquarium located in Monterey, California, features more than 600 species of plants and animals and is acknowledged as one of the best aquariums in the United States. The aquarium was built on the site of a former sardine cannery and receives more than 2 million visitors each year.

Known for circulating fresh ocean water through pipes from Monterrey Bay, some of its most prominent attractions include the Ocean Edge Wing, a three-story tank home to the first Giant Kelp forest exhibit in the world, the Open Sea exhibit (formerly the Outer Bay), which has the largest marine observation window in the world, a million-gallon shark tank, and the jewel jellyfish tank. More California getaways

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-648-4800 Photo: fannyes/Fotolia

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»San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), is a modern art museum and monument of the city of San Francisco, California. It was the first West Coast museum to display only 20th-century art and its collection holds 33,000 objects, including sections on photography, sculpture, architecture, painting, and media arts.

It is one of the largest museums in the United States, offering 45,000 square feet of art-filled public spaces. In May 2016 it was expanded to include an outstanding piece of architectural work by Snøhetta which is perfectly integrated with the existing Mario Botta design. Another distinguished area is the rooftop garden, which includes two open-air spaces and a glass pavilion where a rotating selection of indoor and outdoor sculpture is on display.

151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103, Phone: 415-357-4000 Photo: Henrik Kam/SFMOMA

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»Presidio of San Francisco

Presidio of San Francisco

The Presidio of San Francisco is a former military base located in San Francisco, California, which is now a national park. In 1776, it was built to defend the New Spain colony and to serve as a base to expand their domain. This beautiful area showcases many woods, hills, and excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

There are a number of places to visit, including the Batterly Chamberlin museum, an artillery battery built in 1904, Fort Point, a 1861 fortification under the Bridge and Crissy Field Center, a former airfield that is now a recreational area, the Walt Disney family museum as well as 800 other historical buildings.

Fort Mason, Bldg. 201, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-561-4323 Photo: mizzick/Fotolia

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»California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum


Named as one of the best railway expositions of the country, the California State Railroad Museum presents 21 restored Iron Horse trains that date as far back as the 1860s. The museum is a reminder of the important role that these trains played in American society in relation to the development of the Golden State and in providing the connection between California and the rest of the country.

One of the main attractions is the Sacramento Southern Railroad journey, which operates between April and October and takes passengers back through time during a 40-minute roundtrip on an old restored locomotive. Other highlights include a reconstructed 1870 station, photography materials, and a wealth of old equipment. More California vacations.

125 I St, Sacramento, CA 95814, website, Phone: 916-445-7387 Photo: California State Railroad Museum

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»Sutter's Fort

Sutter's Fort


Built in 1839, Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento was originally called New Helvetia (New Switzerland) by its founder, John Sutter. It was the first non-Indian community in the California Central Valley and Sacramento’s first settlement, receiving many immigrants. The site provided a refuge for travelers, and Sutter became famous for his hospitality.

He intended to develop his diverse crops and cattle into an agricultural empire, but in 1849 one of his staff discovered gold. The news spread quickly and soon Sutter’s workers left the fort and the property was overrun by gold seekers. Later on, the fort was restored and donated to the state. It has recently been reconstructed to resemble its 1840s appearance.

2701 L St, Sacramento, CA 95816, Phone: 916-445-4422 Photo: James/Fotolia

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»Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting Room

Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting Room


Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting Room offers elegant hospitality with its distinguished architecture and natural landscapes, combining art and wine for an out-of-this-world experience.

The estate wine is one of the finest in the region and its tastings are memorable. The famous tasting room is open daily from 10:30 to 5pm, offering you the opportunity to spend the day exploring the heritage garden, the caves dug into the volcanic knoll, and the estate vineyards and grounds.

1060 Dunaweal Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515, Phone: 707-942-4981 Photo: Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting Room

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»Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park


Also known as the Jack London Home and Ranch, this historic park is located in the Sonoma Mountains close to Glen Ellen, California. It was the home of the famous writer Jack London from 1905 until his death in 1916. His wife, Charmian, inherited the property and upon her death in 1955 it became a museum, finally opening to the public in 1959.

Some of the park’s features include the Winery Cottage where London wrote many of his stories, the House of Happy Walls that was constructed by his wife in memory of him, the Wolf House, which is a 15,000-square-foot house that burnt down just before the Londons moved in, and the couple’s grave.

2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, website, Phone: 707-938-5216 Photo: Jack London State Historic Park

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»Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts


One of the ten palaces in the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina district of San Francisco, California, is one of the few such buildings still standing today. Its architect, Bernard R. Maybeck, designed it to reflect a Roman ruin, and while most of the other buildings were torn down, this one was considered too beautiful, and so it was restored in 1965.

Now a museum and theatre, it hosts numerous art exhibits, is a popular sightseeing spot for tourists and locals, and has been used for wedding parties and photograph sessions.

3301 n St, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-563-6504 Photo: marcorubino/Fotolia

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»Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family Museum


Located in the above-mentioned Presidio of San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum pays tribute to the story, legacy, and life of Walt Disney. Guests can enter this genius’ mind while traversing the interactive galleries that feature music, films, cartoons, and early drawings, all narrated in Walt’s own voice. Inspiration, innovation, and animation come together in this fantastic place, where Walt still lives and his achievements come to life, taking you on a journey not only back in time, but also within yourself, allowing you to experience our inner child, the one that grew with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto on the screen.

104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94129, website, Phone: 415-345-6800 Photo: Walt Disney Family Museum

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»California State Capitol Museum

California State Capitol Museum


Surrounded by 40 acres of gardens, the California State Capitol Museum building has also been home to the California State Legislature since 1869. In 1982, it underwent a major renovation process to restore its beauty and make it earthquake proof. It features a theater which shows films about the Capitol’s story, a gift shop, and the Arthur Mathews mural called “The History of California” on the basement and first floor.

The main attraction are the guided tours which cover the legislative chambers, historic offices, and art work and include information regarding the Capitol’s history and architecture. Park tours are also available, or visitors can take their own self-guided tours.

1315 h St, Sacramento, CA 95814, website, Phone: 916-324-0333 Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia

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»Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Nothing beats a zoo for spending the day under the sun, learning new things, sharing with your family, and coming face-to-face with these amazing creatures in a showcase of the wonders and diversity of the world. The Happy Hollow Park and Zoo invites you to partake in an enlightening experience while having fun with the people you love and connecting with nature’s creations.

Some if its famous areas include the Puppet Theatre, the Doc’s Critter Care –an animal hospital- and the Double H Ranch Exhibit, which offers close contact with some domestic species, the Lemur Woods Exhibit, and the Fossa Exhibit. Of course, the main attractions are the over 140 animals, some of which you can even meet up-close! Read more

1300 ter Rd, San Jose, CA 95112, Phone: 408-794-6400 Photo: Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

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»Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Previously known as Bonfante Gardens after its founders, Michael and Claudia Bonfante, the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is a horticulturally themed amusement park in Gilroy, California, which aims to educate and inspire visitors regarding the importance of trees.

It features 19 rides, 27 attractions, and six gardens, including the famous 24 Circus Trees garden, which has trees grown and shaped in astonishing patterns. One of its newest additions is the Splash Garden, a water play area aimed at small children that includes the Bonfante Falls, paddle boats and boat rides. These beautiful gardens are quite a sight, and fun activities for kids and grownups alike await!

3050 ker Pass Hwy, Gilroy, CA 95020, website, Phone: 408-840-7100 Photo: Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

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»Ocean World

Ocean World

Ocean World in Crescent City, California, is an aquarium filled with fun and exciting activities for the whole family. Its fully-guided tours start with the Touch and Feel Tide Pool, where you can to see and touch many species of sea creatures.

Next, try the 500,000-gallon aquarium tank where you can see sharks, seals, wolf eels, and sea lions. Take advantage of one of their best exhibits and touch a real life shark, a memory you will treasure for a lifetime! Be wowed as you take in one of the amazing shows at the Sea Lion and Seal Performance. Don’t forget to visit their famous gift shop on the way out.

304 ghway 101 South, Crescent City, CA 95531, website, Phone: 707-464-4900 Photo: Ocean World

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»San Francisco Zoo

San Francisco Zoo

Originally named Fleishhacker Zoo after its founder, Herbert Fleishhacker, the San Francisco Zoo is home to 1,000 animals from 250 species, which include many endangered species, as well as rescued animals. Its 100-acre area features Hearst Grizzly Gulch, the home of Kachina and Kiona the rescued grizzly bear sisters, Lipman Lemur Forest, the largest lemur habitat in the country, Penguin Island, the largest non-wild colony of Magellanic penguins in the world, the Jones Family Gorilla Preserve, and the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo, where there are animal feeding and petting activities available.

Other well-known areas include the Little Puffer Steam Train, Dentzel Carousel, Elinor Friend Playground, and the Rockin’ Ropes adventure.

Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94132, website, Phone: 415-753-7080 Photo: Oksana Ariskina/Fotolia

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»Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House


The residence of Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, is a Victorian mansion located in San Jose, California. Even though the property once covered 162 acres, it has now been reduced to 4 ½ acres, just enough to contain the house and its outbuildings.

Since its construction in 1884, it is said to be haunted by the ghosts of people killed with Winchester rifles. Although the house was once seven stories high, an earthquake in 1906 reduced it to four. The house boasts some amazing numbers, including 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements and three elevators. Read more

525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128, Phone: 408-247-2101 Photo: Winchester Mystery House

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»Platypus Wine Tours

Platypus Wine Tours

Platypus Wine Tours, Ltd. is a transportation and touring company that specializes in wine tours in the Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Calistoga, St. Helena, North Sonoma County, Russian River, Carneros, West Side, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley as well as other spots in the famous Wine Country.

They offer private tours for up to 8 people, whereby you can select the wineries you want to visit and create a customized tour experience. As there are more than 450 wineries in the Napa Valley alone, it is important to have some guidance. This way, you can avoid the crowds and have a far more intimate experience in getting to know the landscapes, vineyards, and hills that characterize this perfect wine-making region.

101 Coombs St Napa, CA 94559,website, Phone: 707-253-2723 Photo: mofupic/Fotolia

You are reading "What to Do in Northern California this Weekend" Back to Top or More Family Vacations

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»AT&T Park

AT&T Park


Home to the San Francisco Giants, the AT&T Park is a baseball stadium located in San Francisco, California. It was previously known as Pacific Bell Park and subsequently SBC Park before being given its current name.

Some of its features include the Willie Mays statue at the public entrance, McCovey Cove, the bay area beyond the right field wall which was named after Willie McCovey and which is famous for receiving numerous “splash hit” home runs, especially in the Barry Bonds era. The giant Coca-Cola bottle with playground slides and the Miniature AT&T Park behind the left field have garnered considerable fame and make this ballpark a famous and fun place to visit.

24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107, Phone: 415-972-2000 Photo: mtsaride/Fotolia

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»Napa Valley Balloons, Inc

Napa Valley Balloons, Inc

Napa Valley Balloons, Inc., located in the Napa Valley, California, is the oldest balloon company in the area and was founded by Don Surplus in 1978. It is also the leading hot air balloon company in the United States, chosen by many well-known personalities for both its reputation and its excellence.

Its pilots have a combined experience of more than 23,000 flight hours, which makes them the most experienced staff in the valley. They offer pre-flight coffee, pastries, tea, juice, and fruits. However, the best part is neither the company nor its staff, but rather the place, which is one of the most incredible valleys on Earth.

4086 ay E., Napa, CA 94558, website, Phone: 707-944-0228 Photo: ah_fotobox/Fotolia

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»Fairytale Town

Fairytale Town


Located in the William Land Park in Sacramento, California, Fairytale Town is a park for children and families to have a fun day and learn something in the process. Amongst its many features are 25 play sets based on a representation of fairytales and nursery rhymes, including Humpty Dumpty, King Arthur, the Three Little Piggies, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, and Hickory Dickory Dock.

Farm animals such as lambs, rabbits, goats, pigs, mice, hen, cows, and donkeys can also be found in the premises, offering an opportunity for interactive learning, and children and grownups can also learn about gardening in the show gardens.

3901 d Park Dr, Sacramento, CA 95822, website, Phone: 916-808-7462 Photo: Fairytale Town

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»Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Located in Redding, California, the Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a 300-acre complex consisting of museums and natural spaces. Next to the Sacramento River, it features the magnificent Sundial Bridge which, as its name indicates, is one of the largest sundials in the world and is also a bridge.

There is a museum containing two exhibition galleries and permanent interactive experiences about local and regional history that is specially connected to Native American culture. Other features include the McConnell Arboretum and botanical gardens, which comprise 20 acres of Mediterranean climate gardens, a medicinal garden, and a children’s garden, extending 200 acres in total along the Sacramento River Trail.

844 Sundial Bridge Drive, Redding, CA 96003, website, Phone: 530-243-8850 Photo: Turtle Bay Exploration Park

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»Tallac Historic Site

Tallac Historic Site

Located in South Lake Tahoe, California, the Tallac Historic Site was once a world-renowned resort for San Francisco Bay area’s elite families. Today, its 74 acres, comprising the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate, and Valhalla, invite you to stroll through its luxurious gardens, visit the museum, and enjoy the magnificent views.

Sink into the “Old Tahoe” lifestyle as nature combined with human architecture makes this a perfect place to see Lake Tahoe from a different perspective. Even though the buildings are closed during winter, it remains a very popular place for skiing and walking in the snow, and offers a completely different landscape compared to that in the summer.

1 Heritage Way, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, Phone: 4530-541-5227 Photo: James Phelps JR/Fotolia

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»The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium

Located in San Francisco, California, the Exploratorium is a public museum and learning laboratory founded by the famous physicist Frank Oppenheimer, who wanted to improve scientific education in the United States. Oppenheimer was awarded a grant to develop new methods for teaching physics to elementary and school children, and this work evolved into an interactive museum of science, art and human perception which opened its doors to the public in 1969.

Much like its founder, the museum has always been at the cutting edge of teaching and learning and now boasts a 50,000-page website and numerous iPad apps. Its main sustainability goal is becoming a net-zero-energy facility by producing more energy than it consumes.

Pier 15, The Embarcadero & Green St., San Francisco, CA 94111, Phone: 415-528-4444 Photo: zinkevych/Fotolia

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»Aqua Adventure Water Park

Aqua Adventure Water Park

Located in Fremont, California, the Aqua Adventure Water Park is a great opportunity for a day out with your family. It features four 40-foot-high slides, a 25-yard-long oasis pool with 5 lanes as well as a lazy river that surrounds the whole park with a kiddie island in the middle.

Other services include locker rooms, food service, picnic areas, and beautiful gardens. It also provides a cabana service, 10x10 cabanas with lounge chairs, a table, and a food service option that allows you to avoid queueing. Swimming lessons are also offered for all skill levels.

40500 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94538, Phone: 510-494-4426 Photo: Aqua Adventure Water Park

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25 Best Things to Do in Northern California