Northern California Road Trip
Northern California boasts art and culture, jaw-dropping nature, and many bucket-list activities and attractions. Traveling by van means you don’t have to choose one destination—you can experience it all. You can stay comfortably and flexibly wherever you like, for however long you like.
That’s why we’re offering van lifers our customizable road trip itinerary for the upper region of the Golden State. You can follow our plan to a T or mix and match destinations that appeal most to you. You can fit many of these activities into a week-long trip or take advantage of your traveling home to stay in your favorite places for much longer. However you choose to explore northern California, let Rec Van be your guide. Read on for our diverse destinations in cities, towns, and remote nature for a well-rounded road trip you’ll never forget. Be sure to check out our innovative space in Freemont while you’re in town.
Stop 1: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Start your adventure off right at one of the country’s most iconic national parks. Experience giant sequoia trees and waterfalls amongst dramatic granite mountains. El Capitan and Half Dome are classic summits and bucket-list items for dedicated rock climbers. If you prefer a less strenuous activity, visit the park’s popular viewpoints including Tunnel View and Glacier Point to take epic photos (and check out our tips on travel photography here). The park also offers plenty of hiking trails of different lengths and difficulty levels—Mist Trail is a favorite short and scenic hike. Make one of Yosemite’s many van-friendly campgrounds your home base.
Stop 2: SAN FRANCISCO
After experiencing the rugged wilderness of Yosemite, switch gears by driving just over three hours west to San Francisco. This hub of art and culture is a must-visit when you’re talking NorCal. Get inspired at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the romantic Palace of Fine Arts, or wander through the transporting Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park. Speaking of the Golden Gate, you’ll want to experience driving on the Golden Gate Bridge. Depending on how long you have in the city, we recommend visiting different neighborhoods to get a feel for the varied and vibrant cultures of the area. Some notable districts are the Mission, North Beach, Castro, Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, and Nob Hill. Stealth camping is a great option for free accommodations, but there are also a number of nearby RV parks and campgrounds with hookups.
Stop 3: SONOMA AND NAPA
Head north from San Francisco into wine country for a luxurious yet rustic experience. If you don’t mind going a bit out of your way, make a stop at the stunning expanse of protected coastline that is Point Reyes National Seashore before heading to wine country for the rest of the day. Sonoma County and Napa County are both lovely, but Sonoma is more laid-back, while Napa is more high-end. Whichever you choose to visit, expect cinematic rolling hills with rows of grapevines and memorable wine tasting experiences. Skyline Wilderness Park is an RV park in Napa that provides easy access to wineries as well as hiking trails.
Stop 4: MENDOCINO
Our next destination is the quaint small town of Mendocino. Enjoy fresh seafood, admire New England-style saltbox houses, and take walks along the rugged and scenic coast. Stay in the nearby Van Damme State Park for van camping next to the beach. On your way out of town, drive 16 minutes north to Fort Bragg to collect some colorful souvenirs at Glass Beach, where an unusual amount of wave-tossed sea glass washes up on the sandy shores.
Stop 5: THE REDWOODS
One of the most iconic things to do in Northern California—and a bucket-list item for many nature lovers—is visiting the ancient redwood forests. The colossal trees tower as tall as 379 feet and are as old as 2,520 years old. You can wander among these gentle giants at many different locations, including Redwood National Park and a network of state parks. Each location has something unique to offer. At Humboldt Redwood State Park, you can drive through a magnificent tunnel of trees called the Avenue of the Giants. Further north, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park features the popular van-friendly Mills Creek Campground.
We are taking the Winnebago Travato on our Northern California road trip.
Stop 6: FERNDALE, EUREKA, ARCATA, AND TRINIDAD
These small coastal communities among the redwoods are hidden gems in the northwest corner of the state. Choose one to visit or explore all four. Architecture and history buffs will enjoy a stroll through streets filled with well-preserved Victorian facades in Ferndale or a visit to the magnificent Victorian-era Carson Mansion in Eureka. Eureka is also the largest coastal city in the area, making it a good place to enjoy a quality meal and a bit of shopping (and stock up on supplies). As the home of Humboldt State University, Arcata is a classic college town offering vegetarian restaurants and growers markets. In Trinidad, enjoy hiking along the picturesque coast and hanging out at many public beaches including the popular Trinidad State Beach.
Stop 7: MCARTHUR-BURNEY FALLS MEMORIAL STATE PARK
Wave goodbye to the California coast and head over four hours inland to the Mcarthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. It’s only a short hike to the park’s crowning glory, a spectacular wall of interlaced waterfalls surrounded by bright green vegetation. Other activities to keep you occupied include longer hikes, fishing, horseback riding, and watersports. You can boondock in the state park or stay at the nearby Burney Falls Resort RV Park for full hookup sites.
Stop 8: LAKE TAHOE
Finish your road trip with some relaxing vacation time at the popular tourist destination of Lake Tahoe. This lake straddles the boundary between northeastern California and western Nevada and is renowned for its unusually clear water, sunny weather, and classic mountain views. Sit back and relax with a good book at the lake or get active with paddleboarding and kayaking. We recommend staying at the Lake Forest Campground, a reasonably-priced boondocking option just blocks from the lake.
Depending on where you are starting your road trip from, you may want to adjust the order of the stops on this itinerary. Luckily, traveling by van means you have more flexibility in your schedule and the freedom to explore according to your curiosities. Looking for the van to take you there? Visit Rec Van today for a wide variety of top-of-the-line adventure vans.
What are your favorite road trip destinations in northern California? Let us know in the comments!