I’ve lived in Seattle for nine years now, and despite my best efforts to thoroughly explore the city and its surrounding areas, when I flip through the latest Best Places Northwest, I’m surprised how many parts of Washington I haven’t even come close to visiting. Downtown Bellingham? Never seen it. Bainbridge Island? Only viewed from a distance. Grand Coulee Dam? Where’s that? And so on. It just shows what a vast, diverse region of compelling attractions the Pacific Northwest is made up of—no matter how hard one tries, it’s tough to see everything.
Before moving to Seattle, I spent about 90 percent of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although I love the Pacific Northwest, I suppose Northern California will always feel like home, since I grew up and went to school there. While there are certainly plenty of things I don’t miss about the area—for example, the morning commute traffic that averages about 85 mph on Highway 280, or the governor far more convincing in his role in the Terminator movies—it’s still a place dear to my heart, and one I don’t get to visit nearly enough.
Everyone loves the Golden Gate Bridge!
I didn’t think there was much left in Northern California that I hadn’t already seen. While reviewing our brand-new sixth edition of Best Places Northern California, I realized just how wrong that assumption had been. This expanded edition features coverage from San Luis Obispo all the way up to the Oregon border. And that’s a lot of territory for any one person to explore, even over several decades.
For example, I thought that by passing through Placerville, I had seen the best of California’s legendary Gold Country. But reading through the book, I realized that a visit to Amador City and its Imperial Hotel Restaurant (page 479) would have been even better. And while I’d spent many a happy weekend hour roaming the downtown and beach areas of Santa Cruz, I’d failed to venture ever slightly southeast to Capitola to view its Mediterranean-style architecture and the lively, 867-foot-long Capitola Pier (page 173).
The author surrounded by two Bay Area pals at the Marin Brewing Company.
I was, however, glad to see that some old favorites that might not be part of the Northern California visitor’s standard itinerary made the book. The Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur is one such place, a site where I spent many hours enjoying great food, beer, and conversation. And the enthralling Redwood Empire along Highway 101 is richly described (starting on page 341). If it’s not the most beautiful area in California for a road trip, it certainly has to be in the top two or three. Anybody visiting Northern California really needs to make time to explore it.
Meeting the real Sasquatch is just one of the attractions of the Redwood Empire.
Best Places Northern California, 6th Edition, reminds me why most people I know from the Northwest love visiting Northern California as well. You can find any kind of experience you’re looking for—as you can in the NW—be it urban exploring; fine dining; amazing sightseeing; hiking, biking, and boating; and much more . . . yet no matter how much time you have to spend in either area, you’re unlikely to ever make it to every destination worth seeing. The new edition of this classic guidebook makes me realize how overdue I am for a vacation to the state—and the next time I’m there, it will help me discover parts I never knew existed.