Lonely Planet Northern California

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Northern California is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Take in the culture of San Francisco, get up close and personal with the world's tallest trees, and sip your way through Napa Valley; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of northern California and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Northern California Travel Guide:

  • Color maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, lifestyle, people, arts, architecture, wildlife, landscape, music, architecture, literature, visual arts, food, wine.
  • More than 70 maps
  • Covers San Francisco, Marin Country & the Bay Area, Napa & Sonoma Wine Country, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park & the Sierra Nevada, the Central Coast and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalize your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Northern California, our most comprehensive guide to the region, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

  • Looking for a guide focused on San Francisco? Check out Lonely Planet's San Francisco guide for a comprehensive look at all the city has to offer; Discover San Francisco, a photo-rich guide to the city's most popular attractions; or Pocket San Francisco, a handy-sized guide focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.
  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's California guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer, or Discover California, a photo-rich guide to the city's most popular attractions.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, John A Vlahides, Sara Benson, Alison Bing, Celeste Brash, Beth Kohn, Tienlon Ho

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

List price: $19.99

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San Francisco

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Get to know the world capital of weird from the inside out, from mural-lined alleyways named after poets to clothing-optional beaches on a former military base. But don’t be too quick to dismiss San Francisco’s wild ideas. Biotech, gay rights, personal computers, cable cars and organic fine dining were once considered outlandish too, before San Francisco introduced these underground ideas into the mainstream decades ago. San Francisco’s morning fog erases the boundaries between land and ocean, reality and infinite possibility.

Rules are never strictly followed here, but bliss is. Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz are entirely optional – San Franciscans mostly admire them from afar – leaving you free to pursue inspiration through Golden Gate Park, past flamboyantly painted Victorian homes and through Mission galleries. Just don’t be late for your sensational, sustainable dinner: in San Francisco, you can find happiness and eat it too.

AJan–Mar Low-season rates, brisk but rarely cold days, and Lunar New Year parade fireworks.

 

Marin County & the Bay Area

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The region surrounding San Francisco encompasses a bonanza of natural vistas and wildlife. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin and visit wizened ancient redwoods body-blocking the sun and herds of elegant tule elk prancing along the bluffs of Tomales Bay. Gray whales show some fluke off the cape of wind-scoured Point Reyes, and hawks surf the skies in the pristine hills of the Marin Headlands.

On the cutting edge of intellectual thought, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley draw academics and students from around the world. The city of Berkeley sparked the locavore food movement and continues to be on the forefront of environmental and left-leaning political causes. South of San Francisco, Hwy 1 traces miles of undeveloped coastline and sandy pocket beaches.

ADec–Mar Elephant seal pupping season and the peak of gray whale migrations.

AMar–Apr Wildflowers hit their peak on trails throughout the region.

 

Napa & Sonoma Wine Country

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America’s premier viticulture region has earned its reputation among the world’s best. Despite hype about Wine Country style, it’s from the land that all Wine Country lore springs. Rolling hills, dotted with century-old oaks, turn the color of lion’s fur under the summer sun and swaths of vineyards carpet hillsides as far as the eye can see. Where they end, lush redwood forests follow serpentine rivers to the sea.

There are over 600 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties, but it’s quality, not quantity, that sets the region apart – especially in Napa, which competes with France and doubles as an outpost of San Francisco’s top-end culinary scene. Sonoma prides itself on agricultural diversity, with goat-cheese farms, you-pick-em orchards and roadside fruit stands. Plan to get lost on back roads, and, as you picnic atop sun-dappled hillsides, grab a hunk of earth and know firsthand the thing of greatest meaning in Wine Country.

AJan Bright-yellow flowers carpet the valleys during the off-season; room rates plummet.

 

North Coast & Redwoods

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There's a stretch of the coast with no road access called the 'Lost Coast,' but even the rest of the region, reached by a circuitous two-lane blacktop, feels far from the world's radar. The North Coast is no Beach Boys’ song; there are no bikinis and few surfboards. The jagged edge of the continent is wild, scenic and even slightly foreboding, where spectral fog and an outsider spirit have fostered the world’s tallest trees, most potent weed and a string of idiosyncratic two-stoplight towns. Explore hidden coves with a blanket and a bottle of local wine, scan the horizon for migrating whales and retreat at night to fire-warmed Victorians. As you travel further north, find valleys of redwood, wide rivers and mossy, overgrown forests. Befitting this dramatic clash of land and water are its unlikely mélange of residents: timber barons and tree huggers, pot farmers and political radicals of every stripe.AJun–Jul The driest season in the Redwoods is spectacular for day hikes and big views.

 

Northern Mountains

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'Hidden California' gets bandied around fairly casually, but here you have an entire corner of the state that does seem forgotten. The coast and foggy redwood groves are far away, so prepare yourself for something completely different: vast expanses of wilderness – some 24,000 protected acres – divided by rivers and streams, dotted with cobalt lakes, horse ranches and alpine peaks; further east is a stretch of shrubby, high desert cut with amber gorges, caves and dramatic light that is a photographer's dream. Much of it doesn’t look the way people envision California – the topography more resembles the older mountains of the Rockies than the relatively young granite Yosemite. The towns are hospitable but tiny, with few comforts; come to get lost in vast remoteness. Even the two principal attractions, Mt Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park, remain uncrowded (and sometimes snow-covered) at the peak of the summer.

AJul–Sep Warm weather and snow-free passes are ideal for backcountry camping.

 

Gold Country

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Hollywood draws the dreamers and Silicon Valley its fortune-hunters, but this isn't the first time droves of young folk looking to hit paydirt streamed into the Golden State. After a sparkle in the American River caught James Marshall’s eye in 1848, more than 300,000 hungry prospectors from America and abroad started digging for gold in the Sierra foothills. Soon California entered statehood with the official motto, 'Eureka,' solidifying its place as the land of discovery and opportunity.

The miner forty-niners are gone, but a ride along the aptly named Hwy 49 through sleepy hill towns, past clapboard saloons and oak-lined byways, is a journey back to the wild ride that was modern California’s founding. Between the quaint antique stores and sprawling wineries, fading historical markers still tell tales of Gold Rush violence and banditry. Many travelers hardly hit the brakes while rushing between California’s coasts and mountains, but those who slow down will be rewarded with a taste of the helter-skelter era that first kick-started the heartbeat of this state.

 

Lake Tahoe

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Shimmering in myriad shades of blue and green, Lake Tahoe is the USA’s second-deepest lake and, at 6255ft high, it is also one of the highest-elevation lakes in the country. Driving around the lake’s spellbinding 72-mile scenic shoreline will give you quite a workout behind the wheel. Generally speaking, the north shore is quiet and upscale; the west shore, rugged and old-timey; the east shore, undeveloped; the south shore, busy and tacky, with aging motels and flashy casinos; and nearby Reno, the biggest little city in the region.

The horned peaks surrounding the lake, which straddles the California–Nevada state line, are year-round destinations. The sun shines on Tahoe three out of four days in the year. Swimming, boating, kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding and other water sports take over in summer, as do hiking, camping and wilderness backpacking adventures. Winter brings bundles of snow, perfect for those of all ages to hit the slopes at Tahoe’s top-tier ski and snowboard resorts.

 

Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada

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An outdoor adventurer’s wonderland, the Sierra Nevada is a year-round pageant of snow sports, white-water rafting, hiking, cycling and rock climbing. Skiers and snowboarders blaze through hushed pine-tree slopes, and wilderness seekers come to escape the stresses of modern civilization.

With fierce granite mountains standing watch over high-altitude lakes, the eastern spine of California is a formidable but exquisite topographical barrier enclosing magnificent natural landscapes. And interspersed between its river canyons and 14,000ft peaks are the decomposing ghost towns left behind by California’s early settlers, bubbling natural hot springs and Native American tribes that still call it home.

In the majestic national parks of Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon, visitors will be humbled by the groves of solemn giant sequoias, ancient rock formations and valleys, and the ever-present opportunity to see bears and other wildlife.

AMay & Jun The Yosemite waterfalls are gushing and spectacular in spring.

 

Central Coast

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Too often forgotten or dismissed as ‘flyover’ country between San Francisco and LA, this fairytale stretch of California coast is packed with wild beaches, misty redwood forests where hot springs hide, and rolling golden hills of fertile vineyards and farm fields.

Coastal Hwy 1 pulls out all the stops, scenery-wise. Flower-power Santa Cruz and the historic port town of Monterey are gateways to the rugged wilderness of the bohemian Big Sur coast. It’s an epic journey snaking down to vainglorious Hearst Castle, past lighthouses and edgy cliffs atop which endangered condors soar.

Get acquainted with California’s agricultural heartland along inland Hwy 101, called El Camino Real (the King’s Highway) by Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan friars. Colonial missions still line the route, which passes through Paso Robles' flourishing wine country. Then soothe your nature-loving soul in collegiate San Luis Obispo, ringed by sunny beach towns and volcanic peaks.

AAprMay Balmy temperatures, but fewer tourists than summer; wildflowers bloom.

 

Sacramento & Central Valley

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The Central Valley is a vast swath of golden fields, rolling hills and scenic waterways that span 400 miles from Chico to Bakersfield. Its rich soil feeds the nation. Half the produce in the US — and nearly every carrot, almond and asparagus spear — was grown here.

In spring, the rivers swell and the orchards bloom. In summer, vast vineyards thrive under the relentless sunshine, and produce comes to market still warm from the fields. By fall and winter, the skies mellow and migratory ducks and geese fly in for a visit. The birds stay longer than most travelers, who tend to zip through on their way to more popular parts, but the shady streets and stately mansions of the region's Victorian-era towns and the uniquely scenic communities dotting the Sacramento Delta and Hwy 99, warrant more than a glimpse through the window.

AFeb–Mar Stop for pie and hot cider in the valley's technicolor Blossom Trail orchards.

ANov–Feb Catch the spectacular return of millions of migratory waterfowl in Sacramento.

 

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