Best Less Crowded Family Destinations in Northern California 2023
Northern California. Blessed with ancient, towering natural beauty, an engaging mix of activity between the arts, sport and innovation, all in a famously mild climate spanning over 100,000 square miles, there’s something for everyone here in this half of the Golden State. However, if your family favours those quieter spots away from the many crowds from in-state and beyond, and you’re not sure where to go – we’ve got you covered. Read on for our best kept secrets and hideaways from the riff raff and waves of tourists, and get ready to discover another California.
Eureka and Arcata
A globally renowned part of North America, between dramatic seaside views, cool weather, grey skies and the famous Redwoods, many seaside communities between the trees and the ocean here in Northern California are sleepy and charming escapes from the traffic and bustle of the Bay Area and larger cities. Eureka and nearby Samoa and Arcata are a stunning trifecta of tranquil beaches, dramatic cliffs and thick Redwood forest – a paradise for those travelling to Northern California. One of the greatest attractions of this part of the state is the natural beauty – and there is plenty here. Whether for camping, hiking, photography or just to marvel at the beauty of this area, this corner of Northern California is rarely packed as the other destinations such as Tahoe or the Golden Gate and still provides for groups of all sizes. Enjoy shopping personable boutiques, a bite at a local restaurant or cafe, and spend your day amid nature with endless options. The roads leading north towards further Redwood forests and Oregon are great alternatives to the scenic coastal routes, with a combination of soaring trees and hills that make for a truly otherworldly experience.
Overlooks in San Mateo county
A hilly and varied landscape of foggy mornings, drowsy neighbourhoods and quiet scenery here in the neighbouring south to San Francisco are the communities of San Mateo. Frequently overlooked for sights such as Pacifica and landmarks such as the San Francisco Airport, or the allure of Silicon Valley further to the south, San Mateo county has plenty to offer. With a number of cute towns, wilderness not too far away and the draw of the coast, one of the less appreciated and ( free ! ) activities here is simply to stop at one of the many overlooks and gaze at the surrounding area, whether at dawn, dusk, night or during the day. With this mix of calm, accessible and sights galore all in a small area with a notably slower pace than other parts of the Bay Area, wandering around San Mateo might be a good addition to your itinerary.
Bridgeside, by the water at night
With many of the popular overlooks and vantage points around the bay, some of the less appreciated areas are the amazingly quiet and calm waterside areas both along the Bay and the Pacific. We aren’t talking about super frequented hotspots such as Ocean Beach or Santa Cruz, but instead those many smaller parks of lesser known cities around the Bay Area. Continue farther south of Pacifica for equally beautiful views with fewer people in places such as Moss Beach or Half Moon Bay, and consider the many parks of Foster City and the Palo Alto area for views of the bridges at night. These titans of the area don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve, and are quite pretty to look out at on a clear night. The best part about stopping by the water anywhere in the Bay Area ? You’re never too far from a tasty midnight snack at these spots.
Giant Redwood Forests
While we did write about those seaside communities in Northern California’s far north, we would not be doing this list justice without giving the mighty Redwoods their due respect. This attraction of the state is fully deserving of all of the hype, if not more. Thankfully, due to their distribution and size around Northern California, finding a less crowded area or forest is not too difficult of a task, even during peak tourist season. We recommend heading North of Marin and Santa Rosa to the larger reserves and parks for more variety and space. The Redwoods south of San Francisco and especially those on the east side of the Bay are more accessible and thus see more traffic than those in the far north of the state. Not to mention, a longer drive means more scenic coastal roads to enjoy, as well as more of small town California to discover. Whether it’s a giant tree you’re able to drive through, feeling like an ant walking on a massive fallen Redwood or wandering among these wonders of nature, the Giant Redwood Forests are absolutely a must for all visitors to Northern California, and are thankfully so many that dodging the crowds is not too hard.
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
While the Winchester Mystery House may be the object of popular intrigue in this region of the Bay Area, a lesser known gem is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, one of the most criminally underrated sights here. Whether in its stunning exterior and gardens, the immersive and enchanting Rock-cut tomb replica or the chance to see a number of rare artefacts and mummies, Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is a trip into the ancient. Step away from the buzz of San Jose and the city and spend a while at one of many lesser known exhibits and museums of the area – starting with the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.
Drive Big Sur
Farther south of Santa Cruz and Pacifica is the stretch of California known as Big Sur, a breathtaking and otherworldly landscape of steep cliffs, isolated beaches, and one-of-a-kind views. Whether as a trip in itself or as a way to reach another stop on your trip, the vast expanses of Big Sur are a great addition to any itinerary, and with its immense size, hard to pack up. Be sure to look out for the wilderness around Monterey and the coast by Bixby Creek Bridge, two points of interest along State Route 1. Even at peak tourist season, you’re never far from some of the less visited areas and views – don’t be afraid to go that extra bit further to get away from the crowds ! Also, be sure to pack well if you’ll make Big Sur a multi-day excursion due to the remoteness of certain locations, as well as the lack of restrooms and similar facilities in certain areas.
Out in far northern California is another quaint town – Weaverville ! A charming collection of small town hospitality at the foot of the mighty Trinity Alps Wilderness, this is your gateway to the shocking views of the Trinity Alps, with soaring granite peaks and forests around a series of some 55 alpine lakes. Those visitors who wish to escape to a quiet and lonely part of the sunshine state while getting a look at many of the state’s famous endemic wildlife can see it all here in the Weaverville area from American black bears to cougars, bobcats and black-tailed deer. With over 520 miles of hiking trails and various lines leading into other neighbouring towns and other trail systems, this is both easily accessible for those stopping through or the seasoned hiking veteran.