A Perfect Northern California Road Trip Itinerary

Mendocino. Photo by Allie Caulfield
Mendocino. Photo by Allie Caulfield

Our iconic Grand California Family Road Trip — a longtime favorite with CB! travel planning clients — has families covered for all the big destinations south of San Francisco. But what if you want to hit the northern coastline as well? We’re happy to offer up some love for the north, with a guide to seven nights on the road from the City by the Bay to the California-Oregon border. Vineyards, redwoods and old-town charm, here we come!

Start in San Francisco, where you’ll head north on Highway 101. (Don’t worry, you’ll connect with the coast along Highway 1 soon.) For each nightly destination, we’ve highlighted must-see and do activities plus gems you may not have heard of.

Northern California Road Trip
Mendocino’s dramatic coastline forms the backdrop for a charming small town and outdoor adventure. “Fort Bragg, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens” by Allie Caulfield is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Best Northern California Road Trip Itinerary for Families

Sonoma Wine Country/Healdsburg: 2 Nights

We’re kicking this road trip off right in wine country. Sonoma County may still be considered Napa’s kid sister when it comes to viticulture reputation, but the Healdsburg area is filled with nature and kid-friendly offerings in addition to world-class vino. And yes, you can wine-taste with kids in tow. Many wineries, such as Preston Farm & Winery and DaVero Farms & Winery, have expansive grounds with gardens to poke around, animals and a BYOP (that’s picnic!) atmosphere. Nearby, Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves are are family-friendly and have activities for kids on the weekends. Or go to Sonoma Cider, where kids can play old-school favorites like Connect Four and Jenga while parents taste-test.

Want help planning a California road trip with kids?

Our Family Vacation Advisors can help you create the best itinerary, book accommodations, recommend kid-friendly activities and more. Click to get started! >

Must See and Do

  • The Wurst Restaurant
  • DaVero Farms & Winery
  • Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

Gems to Add

  • Francis Ford Coppola Pool
  • Lake Sonoma
  • Dry Creek General Store, circa 1881

Where to Stay

Geyserville Inn. This affordable gem in the heart of wine country offers family-friendly suites, lawn games, a pool and pet-friendly amenities.

From Healdsburg, connect with Highway 1 via Highway 128. You’ll end at the Pacific Ocean below Little River.

Mendocino: 1 Night

Tucked along the rocky coastline of north-central California, Mendocino is a fan favorite for a reason. From chic eateries to cozy coffee houses, this slick small town combines natural beauty with elegant charm. Mendocino may be a perfect weekend getaway destination with your partner, but it’s also kid-ready. Start by stretching road trip-weary legs at Van Damme State Park, where the Little River Inn meets up with hiking trails galore. Later, be sure to check out iconic Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, which sits just north of town on the bluffs. For more kid-friendly ideas, see our Mendocino offerings here.

Must See and Do

  • Navarro Vineyards & Winery (with artisanal grape juice for kids)
  • Stone and Embers wood-fired pizza
  • Russian Gulch State Park

Gems to Add

  • Fort Bragg and a ride on the historic “Skunk Train”
  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
  • Pennyroyal Farm

Where to Stay

The Andiron Seaside Inn & Cabins. This vintage-style property is stocked with creative pastimes for kids, including craft supplies and record players. The cabins are all different and all themed.

Continue north on Highway 1 and connect with 101 to Eureka.

Eureka: 2 Nights

Perhaps less polished than Mendocino, Eureka and adjacent Arcata offer a slightly rough-around-the-edges vibe that invites settling in. Eureka’s Victorian-era downtown is fun to explore on foot (check out the many aging but elegant mansions), and a drive through the nearby Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a must. This 30-plus-mile roadway in Myers Flat winds through a stunning old-growth forest of redwood groves. Patrick’s Point State Park in Trinidad offers coastal hiking options, too.

Must See and Do

  • Loleta Cheese Factory (with a grilled cheese bar)
  • Lost Coast Brewery
  • Trinidad State Park

Gems to Add

  • Redwood Discovery Museum
  • Humboldt Bay harbor cruise

Where to Stay

Inn of the Lost Coast is located at the end of Patrick’s Point Road at Shelter Cove, and has a casual eatery with ocean views that’s great for lunch. You’ll feel tucked away from everything in this remote location.

Continue north on Highway 101 to the California-Oregon border at Crescent City. Consider a short stop at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Crescent City: 2 Nights

You’re in the heart of the redwoods and Bigfoot country now, and the northern California border is the place to fully explore the towering giants you first glimpsed in Myers Point. The town of Crescent City is the gateway to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (inland on Highway 199, aka the Redwood Highway), about 20 minutes’ drive. Here, you’ll find the stunning Smith River (go for a dip!) and the Simpson Reed Grove Trail, right off the highway. Go a bit farther north to Oregon and explore the Chetco River area next, where you’ll find the Redwood Nature Trail — actually a network of trails just past Alfred A. Loeb State Park in Oregon.

Must See and Do

  • Harris Beach State Park (just over the border in Oregon)
  • Smith River swimming holes along Highway 199
  • Battery Point Lighthouse

Gems to Add

  • Beachfront Park
  • Ocean World Aquarium

Where to Stay

The Crescent City/Redwoods KOA may not seem like a likely pick, but while in the Crescent City area, the outdoors is the attraction, and this KOA is right in the heart of the forest. Rent one of their deluxe cabins!

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly destinations and accommodations in California on Ciao Bambino

The Best Bites and Sips in Half Moon Bay, California

A grand California family road trip

Rosewood Miramar Beach: A Coastal California Retreat in Montecito

Best kid-friendly wineries in Northern California Wine Country

Must-see stops on a California Central Coast road trip

Postcard from California: Driving the Big Sur coastline

Six family adventures in Mendocino

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let Ciao Bambino! Plan Your Dream Trip with Kids

Get the latest family travel news, exclusive deals & more!

Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be the first to know about special promotions, perks, tips and hot destinations.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign In

Want to save all the great intel and tips you are finding on Ciao Bambino? My Trip Planner allows you to bookmark articles, family-friendly hotel reviews, and family vacation packages. Simply click the heart icon on anything you want to save. Site registration is required to get started. Happy planning!

Create an Account

Please fillout the form below to create your free My Trip Planner account.