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Top 8 Off The Beaten Path Things To Do In Northern California

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Northern California may not be home to as many sunny beaches as its southern equivalent, but it’s still home to some gorgeous scenery and memorable, one-of-a-kind things to do.

If you’re looking to plan a trip to northern California this year, here are 8 off the beaten path things to do.

Sunset at Pinnacles National Park.

1. Visit The California Academy Of Sciences

If you’re looking for a memorable way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco, head over to the California Academy Of Sciences!

Located in Golden Gate Park, this science museum is home to numerous one-of-a-kind, interactive exhibits, including a four-story indoor rainforest and animal exhibits ranging from gorgeous butterflies as well as an albino alligator.

Tickets are available for purchase online.

Aerial view of the California Academy of Sciences.

2. See An Ancient Forest

Located near the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the ancient bristlecone pine forest is out-of-the-way but a great choice for those looking to explore and get a glimpse of some unique natural history.

In addition to hiking trails, the ancient bristlecone pine forest also features a visitor center where you can learn even more about the area's history.

An old tree at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

3. Visit Pinnacles National Park

Take in the gorgeous beauty of the country’s newest national park at Pinnacles!

Established as a national park in 2013 after previously being classified as a national monument, this stunning wilderness area is home to a variety of hiking trails ranging from easy to more challenging.

If you’re looking for an adventure that extends past a single day, there are also camping opportunities in the park.

trees hills and water at Pinnacles National Park, California

4. Explore Caves At Lava Bed National Monument

You can look forward to exploring a number of caverns formed from ancient lava tubes at this national monument.

Lava Beds National Monument is located near the border between California and Oregon. It's home to a number of caves, ranging from beginner-friendly caves with established trails as well as more challenging caverns for more experienced cavers.

Regardless of what sort of adventure you’re looking for, make sure to acquire the free permit needed to enter the caves at the visitor center before heading out.

cave from underground

5. Head Over To Forestiere Underground Gardens

Lava beds National Monument isn’t the only place in Northern California home to an underground attraction that’s worth checking out, however.

The Forestiere Underground Gardens are a series of handbuilt underground tunnels, rooms, and courtyards that are amazing to spend an afternoon exploring.

To see them yourself, you can book tickets online.

Map showing Forestiere underground caverns.

6. Explore The Museum of 3D Illusions

Here’s a fun off-the-beaten-path attraction that kids and adults alike will love.

Located in San Francisco, the Museum of 3-D illusions lives up to its name by featuring dozens of exhibits. These exhibits offer various mind-bending illusions.

Additionally, Tickets can be purchased online.

Optical illusion of a floating road symbol.

7. Explore The Winchester Mystery House

Here’s one for those who love a bit of spooky history.

Located in San Jose, the Winchester Mystery House is perhaps best known for its supposedly haunted past.

The house has been featured on a number of ghost-hunting shows. However, even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the unique, confusing, and also, at times nonsensical architecture of the house is still pretty fun.

You could see the house for yourself via a tour, and tickets can be purchased online.

aerial view of house of mystery san jose

8. Check Out Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is another national park that’s not as well known as big-name parks, but it’s still worth a visit.

Situated on an ancient volcanic field, the park is home to many of the unique, stunning thermal features, such as hot springs you might find at Yellowstone, but without quite as many crowds.

Thermal features at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

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