Places to See in Northern California

Venture to the wild heart of northern California, a land of abounding natural beauty, vast national parks and enigmatic cities steeped in gold rush history.

Gold runs through the veins of Northern California. But we don’t just mean the 19th century Gold Rush, which saw the populations of cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco grow from 1,000 people to some of the most vibrant and celebrated in the United States. Travel to this wild coastal state and it seems as though gold glitters everywhere; from the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, to the vineyards which produce the honey-hued wines of the Napa Valley, and the bronzed branches of some of the largest living organisms on the planet in Yosemite National Park.

Discover San Francisco’s Heart of Gold

If there was a gold medal for the most free-spirited city in the United States, then it would undoubtedly hang around the neck of San Francisco. Eccentric, yet forward-thinking, it’s a place where peace-loving hippies and tech whizz kids live in fun-filled harmony. There is only one way to appreciate this city’s inimitable flair, and that’s to let your hair down and dive right in. Dramatic and iconic sights are at every turn, from the vast art-deco Golden Gate Bridge, to the hairpin turns of Lombard Street and the Painted Ladies (the brightly-coloured Victorian houses). Wander the bustling, sea-scented streets of Fisherman’s Wharf – no trip would be complete without sampling some freshly caught crab – and feel your skin crawl in the eerily fascinating Alcatraz. But to get a true feel for San Francisco, step off the main drag and take in the local life. Sip organic, sustainable coffee in a funky sidewalk café, watch people practice yoga in the waterfront Dolores Park, or sip local wines in one of the speakeasy bars – a hark back to the glorious Gold Rush era. Only then will you feel as though you’ve truly experienced San Francisco.

Walk in The Footsteps of Gold Rush Prospectors in Sacramento

Despite being the state capital, there is a delightfully small-town feel about sprawling Sacramento. It’s a place where farmers’ markets host food trucks serving steaming portions of farm-to-fork goodness, all washed down with locally-brewed craft beers. A place where the history of the Gold Rush is proudly celebrated, and horse and carts trundle alongside modern SUVs. Yet it’s one which also embraces the future – the Golden 1 Center, home to the Sacramento Kings, stands as one of the most advanced sporting facilities in the United States.

Head back to the Wild West in Sacramento’s Old Town, where tales of gold rush miners still waft through the saloons and buildings which have stood since the mid 19th century. Preserved as part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, you can walk in the footsteps of pioneers such as Samuel Brannan and John Augustus Sutter Jr and imagine the lawless chaos which ensued when prospectors came to fight for their fortunes. Meet the rapscallion characters of the Gold Rush at the Sacramento History Museum, or watch paddle wheelers glide down the Sacramento River as you contemplate how the discovery of a single piece of gold found at Sutter Mill launched the greatest human migration in American history.

Meet Mother Nature in Yosemite National Park

There are few places on the planet which garner the same sense of awe as Yosemite National Park. The product of Mother Nature’s power over 30 million years, Yosemite is nature at its most raw and wild. Feel humbled by groves of Sequoia trees, the rarest, oldest and biggest living organisms, which sway majestically 100 metres in the sky. Or feel the fine mist from Bridalveil Fall as it tumbles 189 metres down Cathedral Rocks. In Yosemite Valley, the granite walls tower to more than twice the height of the Empire State Building, and the iconic El Capitan has lured adventurous rock-climbers to conquer its sheer face for decades. Dig your toes into Cathedral Beach as you watch them slowly climb 900 metres to the lofty summit.

While Yosemite National Park astounds with its grand views and jaw-dropping statistics, visitors leave here with something more than impressive photographs. To experience nature at its most astounding is soul-soothing and humbling. Amidst the gargantuan granite peaks, coursing torrents and jewel-like lakes you’ll discover a sense of inner peace and serenity. If you are looking to challenge or discover yourself, Yosemite is the golden ticket you’ve been searching for.

See all West Coast America tours