Travel

39 Things You Have to Do in Northern California Before You Die (or Move)

Published On 06/20/2016 Published On 06/20/2016

We already told you everything you need to do in San Francisco before you die, but did you think we’d let you off there? As if, people. As if. Besides all of the must-do stuff on that list, the best part of living in SF is that our backyard is all of Northern California, one of the most stunning places on earth. And though we'd vote for you to explore every inch and every town of the upper (read: better) half of California, at the very least, you absolutely must check these 39 items off your list before you kick the bucket.

Explore Yosemite National Park

There’s so much to see and do, all of which could be a separate Yosemite Bucket List, but you definitely don’t want to die without having hiked Half Dome or eaten the decadent Sunday brunch in the dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel (which, for crappy legal reasons, is currently being called The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, which we just can’t get behind).

Go wine tasting in Napa Valley

There are over 400 wineries to choose from, but you can’t really go wrong because, that’s right: they all have wine! And some of the best wine in the world, at that.

Spend an afternoon strolling the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Ride the Giant Dipper, the wooden roller coaster that opened in 1924. And pretend you're in The Lost Boys.

Hike to Alamere Falls

It’s one of just two tidefalls in California, and, yes, they’re both on this list.

Flickr/Adam Baker

Go skiing in Tahoe

One of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in the world is right in your backyard; you’ve gotta take advantage of that at least once. Bonus points for powder days.

Give General Sherman a hug

Located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, this giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world.

Float down the Russian River

Canoe, inner tube, kayak, however… just grab your friends and some beer, and float away.

Enjoy how nature turns lemons into lemonade at Glass Beach

This beach in Fort Bragg is covered with multi-colored sea glass due to years of dumping, which, no, does not mean it’s OK to litter.

Flickr/Psyberartist

Go swimming in Lake Shasta

All the better if you’re doing it after sliding down the water slide attached to your houseboat.

Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium

This massive aquarium is home to over 35,000 sea creatures, including a giant octopus, hammerhead sharks, and sea otters.

Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse

You’ll have to walk down 300 steps to get to this historic lighthouse, which is located on the windiest place on the Pacific Coast.

Dine at The French Laundry

It’s worth saving up a couple hundred of dollars (yeah, that's per person) to experience this internationally famous, three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Yountville.

Pan for gold like an old-timey person

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is the perfect place to learn about the Gold Rush and do a bit of panning yourself.

Flickr/Jessica Petersen

Peel off from your tour group in the Winchester Mystery House

If you ditch your tour group at this bizarre mansion with twisting hallways and secret passages, there’s a chance you’ll be lost for hours. This place is also the best reason to go to San Jose that we can think of.

Welcome home the elephant seals

Año Nuevo State Park is one of the largest mainland breeding colonies of elephant seals in the world. Go from December to March when breeding season is in full effect if you want to herald their return.

Experience the majesty of Muir Woods

This cathedral of redwoods is one of the most majestic in the world, and is home to trees that are up to 250ft tall and 800 years old.

Go boating on Lake Tahoe

The winter is for the mountains; the summer’s all about the lake.

Flickr/Yuichi Sakuraba

Shuck and eat your own oysters

... while sitting by the water they came from, of course. Make a day of it by renting a picnic table at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall.

Drive down the Avenue of the Giants

Is there a lot of stuff about trees on this list? Yes. But that’s because Northern California has the best trees! Including Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101 with over 50,000 acres of redwood groves.

Feel the mist of Burney Falls on your face

At 129ft, it’s hard to find a more impressive waterfall than Burney Falls at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.

Eat Taco Bell on the beach

The prettiest Taco Bell in the world (no, seriously) is located right on the beach in Pacifica. It’ll taste a lot better if you go surfing first, but we won’t judge if you go straight for the Crunchwrap Supreme.

Meet some ghosts (or at least visit an old ghost town)

There are lots of amazing ghost towns in California, but the most famous and well-preserved (and the one you must definitely check out) is Bodie.

Flickr/R3li3nt

Climb Mount Lassen

And explore the whole park while you’re there. There are geothermal pits, waterfalls, and great camping.

Bike down the 17-Mile Drive

There’s a reason this stretch of road in Pebble Beach is one of the most famous scenic drives in the world. But you’ll get a lot more out of it if you do it on two wheels instead of four.

Hike to the most dramatic waterfall in California

At 80ft, McWay Falls in Big Sur is kind of a showstopper. Honestly, you should probably just stop whatever it is you're doing and go there right now.

Explore the Pygmy Forest

In Mendocino County, there’s a pygmy forest with trees that are over 100 years old, but have been stunted by factors like "complex ecological conditions" and "magic." Some of these trees are older than your grandma, but less than a foot tall.

Watch the sunset from the Muir Beach Overlook

It feels like you’re on the edge of the world.

Flickr/Pete Harmer

Get a drink at the Madonna Inn

Even better, stay in one of the 110 themed rooms at this landmark hotel in San Luis Obispo. But at the very least, use the waterfall urinal that’s activated when someone stands in front of it (ladies, this is what pStyles were invented for).

Take a ride through the Cypress Tree Tunnel

This row of cypress trees in Point Reyes is even better first thing in the morning.

Eat a piece of apple pie at Ikeda's

If you’re headed to Tahoe on 80, you really have to stop at Ikeda’s for apple pie made with apples picked from an orchard that's under a mile away. And you might as well get burgers while you’re there, too, because you should never overlook the opportunity to have a burger.

Spend a whole day at Stinson Beach

One of the best swimming beaches in Northern California, this small beach town is incredibly charming (when it's not overcrowded).

Flickr/Robert Shea

Explore the Petrified Forest

Over 3 million years ago, a volcanic explosion knocked down this forest of redwood trees near Calistoga, and it’s now considered one of the finest examples in the world of a preserved ancient forest.

Raft down the American River

Whether you go for the more mellow South Fork, or opt for an exciting trip on the Middle or North Fork, you’ll immediately figure out why the American River is the most popular destination for white water rafting in California.

Hike up Mount Tamalpais

The peak offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Bay you’ll ever see.

Old Faithful Geyser of California

See California’s very own Old Faithful geyser

There’s an eruption every 30 to 40 minutes, so you won’t have to wait long. And while you’re in the area, soak in one of Calistoga's natural hot springs.

Uncover the mysteries of the Mystery Spot

The "gravitational anomaly" is a tourist destination, sure, but it's still one you really have to experience for yourself.

Stay at a romantic BnB in Mendocino

...and grab a drink at one of these places (at a minimum) while you’re there.

Taste every single flavor of IT'S-IT

If you die before eating an IT'S-IT, you might as well not have lived.

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Daisy Barringer is a writer living in San Francisco. She’s climbed Mount Lassen over 10 times, and looks forward to doing it again soon. Tell her what she should add to this bucket list on Twitter @daisy.

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