Northern California has no shortage of charming small towns. Some are more well-known than others, and even in those towns, there is always something new to explore. Many Northern California towns offer shopping and dining, plus nearby outdoor activities. And, of course, many small towns have a fascinating Gold Rush history to uncover. Here’s a New Years’ Resolution you’ll actually enjoy– our list of towns to visit, one for each month of 2023.
Truckee has been loved by Northern Californians for decades. The town experienced some population growth in 2020 when people wanted to escape from the Bay Area, but it still retains a charming small town feel. Truckee has events year-round. The Truckee River is a popular rafting spot in the summer but the town really comes to life in winter. Truckee is the ideal homebase for skiers, snowboarders, and anyone who wants to enjoy the snow. Located in the North Lake Tahoe area by many ski resorts, the Truckee region gets some of the most snow in California. Start your day in Truckee by skiing all morning, then head to Historic Downtown Truckee to shop and enjoy a good meal at one of the restaurants– Truckee has everything from casual eateries to fine dining.
Wine country doesn't really have an off-season but there are fewer tourists in winter. Take advantage of the lack of crowds to book some wine tours ahead of your visit. Is there a winery that requires a reservation months in advance or perhaps there’s a tour you’ve been wanting to take? Book it for February when you’re more likely to snag the date and time you want. You can also just hang out in downtown Sonoma without going to the country wineries– there are plenty of tasting rooms in the central area.
March– Sutter Creek
We love a beautiful Gold Rush town like Sutter Creek in March. This month at the end of winter and the start of spring has most people still hunkering down at home, leaving cute towns like Sutter Creek not-too-crowded on weekends. You can easily spend an entire day here– between the many shops (with really cute stuff!), boutiques, plus restaurants and wine tasting rooms, you might want to book a hotel to stay overnight.
Enjoy the quaint town of Ferndale in the first full month of spring. Ferndale is not crowded in April so you’ll get an authentic small town experience. Check out the colorful Victorian houses that line the main street. If you visit during Easter, take your kiddos to the town’s egg hunt event. The weather doesn’t vary too much in this area of the state. You may want to bring an umbrella since Ferndale does get some rain in April but typically not as much as in March.
May– Half Moon Bay
We can’t think of a better month to visit Half Moon Bay. May marks the last month of gray whale-watching season and the start of humpback whale-watching season. Upping your odds of a sighting! Bring a warm jacket because Half Moon Bay is chilly most of the year, and find a spot on the beach or a cliff to whale-watch. The downtown area of Half Moon Bay is very swanky, with some gorgeous home decor shops and jewelry boutiques.
June– June Lake
Of course, it would make sense for the month of June to visit June Lake, California! This small town just south of Lee Vining and Mono Lake offers a scenic, short drive with tons of epic hiking. Spend a weekend fishing, kayaking, and enjoying the great outdoors!
July– Shasta Lake
Shasta Lake, CA 96019, USA
Bask in the summer sun at Shasta Lake, where the average July temperature is in the low-to-mid 90s. Shasta Lake has 365 miles of shoreline and is a popular place to
rent a houseboat
. The beautiful blue lake is refreshing on those hot Northern California summer days. If you don’t want to stay on the water, check out the neighboring towns of Mount Shasta, Dunsmuir, and McCloud for lodging.
August– Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
Take a break from the intense summer heat at Bodega Bay. Most of the year this beautiful bay is shrouded in fog and chilly. Even on sunny days, you’ll want to wear something warm. Bodega Bay is the perfect place for a restful and relaxing Northern California beach day. Bring a blanket and a picnic and find a spot on the beach. You’ll quickly figure out why Northern Californians love this beach.
With summer coming to an end and kids going back to school, it’s likely you need a break– even if it’s just for a day. No matter your budget, you can treat yourself to a spa getaway in Calistoga. A neary hot spring provides heated mineral water to a few hotels in the downtown area. Some hotels offer day passes for about $50, but depending on the price of the hotel you choose, you might want to consider staying overnight. The cute little town also has nice restaurants, perfect for a date night.
This is one of the best times to visit Trinidad. The weather isn’t too cold or rainy and you’ll miss the summer crowds. This is the perfect time to hike some of the famous trails, like the Trinidad Head Trail Loop and Wedding Rock Trail. Get a good look at Trinidad State Beach– it’s absolutely stunning! There are just a few restaurants in Trinidad and they are all well-liked by locals and tourists alike. Try Seascape Restaurant, which has been around since the 1950s. They’re known for their clam chowder and homemade desserts.
Placerville, CA 95667, USA
Enjoy a fun-filled day in Placerville in November. The long main street makes for a nice walk. Historic plaques along the way tell the story of Placerville’s founding. You can also get a lot of Christmas shopping done here. There are many unique boutiques that have cute odds and ends that would make great stocking stuffers for everyone on your list. Placerville is beautiful in winter and popular in early fall during apple picking season, but November is a great time to visit and enjoy the downtown without too many crowds.
December– Nevada City
Nevada City, CA 95959, USA
We’re practically obsessed with this Christmas town that looks like something out of a Hallmark movie. Nevada City is a small, well-preserved Old West town that goes all-out during the Christmas season. December attracts a lot of crowds, but there’s a reason for that. Make a restaurant reservation before your visit to ensure you’ll get a table. If you want to get in the Christmas spirit, or have out-of-town guests to impress, take a trip to Nevada City in December. It won’t disappoint!
Have you been to any of these towns? Tell us if we missed any small towns in Northern California that you love to visit!
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