My first trip to Northern California, Bay Area, was in 2010, for a work trip. While there, the group I was with ventured to San Francisco for a night. I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of the city and I think it's because we went late one night, struggled to find parking so I had to walk the hills in heels, I found marijuana in the restaurant bathroom, and we went to eat sushi which, at the time I wasn't a fan. Let me be clear, that now, sushi is a favorite food of mine! I digress... but because I didn't have an excellent first experience in San Francisco I'm now a believer that every city should get a second chance except maybe New York City, been there, done that (sorry, Mamaw I know it's your favorite city).
In the past five years I've discovered that I love Northern California! Therefore, I've compiled a list of my favorite "Nor Cal" towns, in no particular order and I'll tell you why I love each of them.
Sausalito: This community is the closest to the city, only about five miles outside of San Francisco. This little town has the best views of the city! It has largely protected spaces because of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. I loved driving through the neighborhoods and looking at all of the cool houses on the hillside. The city's central street, Bridgeway, runs right along the shoreline. Sausalito started out as a shipping and fishing hub but has now become very artistic and a picturesque residential community. I loved exploring the shops on the main street, drinking coffee overlooking the water, and getting to admire the city from a distance in a slower paced area.
Wine Country: I grouped Napa, Yountville, and Sonoma into one bullet point mainly because I couldn't pick just one town to highlight! I love them all for different reasons but the the main reason is the wine! Duh! After you get past the wine, each town offers a little something different.
The town of Napa is a bit more commercialized and the least expensive of the three places to stay. There are more chain hotels int he city which means better rates and more shuttle options. I love the night life of the downtown Napa area.
Yountville is a bit more "boujie." The hotels are very much boutique style and the town has multiple Michelin Star Restaurants. Yountville is extremely small so if you stay downtown then you'll be able to stroll to restaurants, art galleries, and wine tastings.
I would say Sonoma falls right in the middle of the Napa and Yountville feel. It's less populated than Napa but not quite as upscale as Yountville. It's a historic city and known for its art galleries and the colonial-era Sonoma Plaza. Sonoma also has great options for a spa day if you get tired of wine tasting.
You can't go wrong with any of these three small towns in wine country. If you decide to visit, maybe you could spend time in all three places during one trip but I'd recommend going back multiple times for the different experiences.
Stinson Beach: I've already done an entire post on Stinson Beach and why I love it. You can find that post here so I won't spend much time on this town. I believe it's one of Northern California's best kept secrets, it's located about 20 miles NW of San Francisco. You can hike in the Mt Tamalpais State Park, enjoy time by the water, or visit one of their cute, quaint cafes.
Bodega Bay: I've never actually stayed in Bodega Bay but I plan to someday! I have done two day trips here though and love this little town. Bodega Bay has the best views around off of Highway One. If you're ever in the area I'd recommend stopping at the Pelican Plaza Grocery & Deli to pick up items for a picnic. They make the best cold deli sandwiches, you can also grab a side (try the olive salad, if you like that), and a drink while there. After you've got your picnic ready to go you should venture down to the beach and enjoy!
Petaluma: Petaluma is another town that I've only day tripped to but I've been here twice and loved the atmosphere each time. The historic downtown area is one of a kind, you won't find the shops that are located here anywhere else! My personal favorite thing to do in Petaluma and the main reason for my visit each time is the Lagunitas Brewing Company. The brewery has an amazing outdoor space that can be covered when it's raining and heated when it's cold or on beautiful days you can enjoy the space just the same. They have excellent brew tours every day, great food on its menu, and you can even bring your dog! This is such a cool tap room and one of the main attractions for Petaluma.
With so many cool and quaint Northern California towns to choose from, I obviously haven't been to them all! I can't wait to get back out there and explore! Do you have a fave?!
A southern girl trying to make my dreams come true. My husband and I love to travel and go on new adventures--We love Jesus and the blessings He provides!