Visiting Northern California – Spring Break in Sonoma County

Last month our travels took us to the West Coast. We decided to spend last spring break visiting Northern California. We used to live there, but the kids were very small and they didn’t remember anything from that time. To tell the truth it turned out I didn’t remember a lot either… Probably because it was challenging to do much exploring with an infant and a toddler in tow. And on top of that these were still film times for me, so I was very thrifty with releasing the shutter on my camera and as a result I wasn’t taking a lot of photos.

Northern California is a huge area, we focused on exploring just a small part of it just north of San Francisco, mostly Marin and Sonoma Counties.

From a variety of things that we did I think that driving along the Pacific coast was the most unforgettable. California Highway 1 is known as one of the most scenic roads in the country. The views are picturesque, the waves are gorgeous, each turn brings new scenes to admire and there are countless places along the road to stop and explore. It’s not the fastest drive. The road winds along the hillside and sometimes the curves are quite sharp, with just a small barrier between the car and the ocean way below. Over a few days we covered the stretch between Bolinas, CA and Salt Point State Park, which is north of Jenner, CA.

Pacific Coast Highway 1

Bolinas is a sleepy little village. Agate Beach next to the town has almost two miles of some of the best tide pools on the California coast. They are a part of Duxbury Reef State Marine Conservation Area. We planned our visit around a low tide to explore fascinating tide pool life.

Bolinas CA houses crab crates Agate Beach County Park

The tide started to rise but we had enough time to play in the pools and admire different creatures. We weren’t lucky to find a starfish but saw lots of hermit crabs instead.

Duxbury Reef at low tide kids exploring Duxbury Reef Duxbury-reef-Bolinas-CA

Can you see three crabs hiding here?

hermit crabs Duxburry reef CA visiting-Northern-California_17

Here is an amazing view of Nicasio Reservoir floating in the air that we saw on our way back from Bolinas reef…

Nicasio reservoir in spring

Sonoma County has several beautiful beaches, each one is different than the others. Bodega Bay beach was probably our favorite. It was amazing to see how the weather kept changing from one hour to the next. The clouds seemed to come from nowhere and then disappeared unexpectedly. It seemed like we had totally different conditions at each spot on the way.

California 1 Pacific Highway

Beautiful California poppies, growing everywhere in spring.

California poppies

Bodega Head Beach, vast and spectacular…

Bodega Head coast view Bodega Head beach

Very windy Salmon Creek Beach…

Salmon Creek Beach Sonoma County Sonoma County beaches

Arched Rock Beach…

visiting-Northern-California_08 driving California Hwy 1

Wright’s Beach…


Goat Rock Beach is famous for a local colony of seals. We didn’t see them when we were on the beach, but later noticed a quite large group from the road.

Goat Rock beach Sonoma Countyseal colony Goat Rock beach

Fort Ross – an old settlement established in 1812 by the Russian-American Company, is now a historic state park.

Fort Ross State Park

Gerstle Cove, another awesome spot for exploring tide pools…

Salt Point State Park

Stump Beach in Salt Point State Park was our last stop along Highway 1 this time, but we’ll probably be back…

Stump-Beach-Sonoma -coast

Besides the coast, Northern California redwoods were also on our bucket list. We had a chance to visit two of those ancient forests: Armstrong Redwoods near Guernville, CA and Muir Woods National Monument. Both places offer spectacular sights but the first one was much less crowded and seemed to have more mature trees. The oldest tree in Armstrong Redwoods is estimated to be about 1400 years old! It’s really hard to imagine… Redwoods are majestic, peaceful and inspiring. Pictures don’t do these trees any justice, you just have to see and experience their magnificence in person.

visiting-Northern-California_43 Armstrong Redwoods spring in Armstrong Redwoods redwood forest streams tall redwoods CA Muir Woods redwoods

A visit to Northern California must include at least a little bit of wine tasting, of course. I was shocked how many vineyards we saw everywhere. Wine grapes are growing there almost like corn in Wisconsin and I think there are literally hundreds of wineries. We’re not connoisseurs, but it was fun to visit a couple of wineries each day and learn more about wines.

Alexander Valley vineyards Sonoma county vineyards foggy morning vineyard Korbel champagne vinyard vineyard in spring kendall jackson vineyard spring vineyard shoots vineyard in spring Sonoma county Alexander vineyard Sonoma County wine cellar visiting-Northern-California_42

Between the coast, the redwoods and wine we decided to spend one day in the city and visit San Francisco. We drove across the Golden Gate bridge, parked the car in Presidio area near the bridge (for only $7 for entire day!) and used tourist shuttles and public transportation (with a day pass) to explore the city. It was a very long and intense day with lots of walking (and climbing) and we covered quite a lot. One day is not much to experience San Francisco, but it was enough for us. We are definitely more nature than city hikers. What I loved most was admiring the views from the top of incredibly steep streets, riding cable cars and watching sea lions’ antics at Pier 39.

Golden Gate bridge in spring historic streetcar San Francisco Ferry Building San Francisco sea lions at Pier 39 cable car in Chinatown San Francisco Chinatown Grand Ave San Francisco painted ladies San Francisco Hyde Street cable car San Francisco San Francisco cable cars steep San Francisco street steep Filbert St San Francisco driving Lombard Street in San Francisco

With spectacular ocean views, majestic redwoods, some of the best wines in the country and probably one of the coolest cities, Northern California has so much to offer! I hope you’ll feel inspired to visit if you haven’t been there yet. And I’ll finish this post with a fun photo of one of the happiest dogs we saw there and a few more of floating house boats in Sausalito, CA.  This dog sure knows how to enjoy a ride in a convertible!

happy dog in a convertible

Some of the boat houses were as cute as doll houses!

visiting-Northern-California_50house boats in Sausalitohouse boats Sausalito CA

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