Getting Into Nature in Northern California

One of the best things about Northern California is the proximity of a little bit of everything. Whether you are looking for the mountains or the beach you can get to it in just a few hours, and often even less.

While the summer here in Sacramento can be pretty toasty, for the most part, summer in Northern California is the perfect time to get out and explore everything nature has to offer.

You might be like me who always wants to do something outside but can lack the inspiration or know how on where to go and what to do. Take a look at some of my favorite things to do around Northern California this summer.

Hit the Lakes with a Board

Get out and explore nature in Northern California. Tips on different activities and areas to explore this summer outdoors in the region.For me, the best way to enjoy the outdoors is being out on the water. Northern California has a wide variety of lakes, from big to small, that provide access to hanging out on the water. Tahoe may be the most popular, and worth the trip, but sometimes you’re looking to go out for just an afternoon. Two great options are Lake Natoma, here Sacramento State has an Aquatic Center where you can rent everything from paddle boards to small sail boats at reasonable prices. If you haven’t tried paddle boarding yet, which I highly recommend, they offer a great 3-hour lesson to help you get your feet steady. Lake Berryessa, closer to Napa, has both boating and boarding, you’ll find coves and coasts to explore.

One of the great things about paddle boarding is being able to quickly jump in and out of the water. Swim around a bit and enjoy the lake, lay on the board and relax, and then pick back up and get a good workout exploring the rest of the lake. Kayaks can be a great option as well, but ever since I tried a paddle board I haven’t been able to turn back.

Take a Hike

Get out and explore nature in Northern California. Tips on different activities and areas to explore this summer outdoors in the region.Getting out on the trail is another opportunity to explore a new piece of Northern California. If you’re looking for a view of the coast head down to Point Lobos for breathtaking views just south of Monterey or up to Point Reyes north of San Francisco.

If you’re looking to explore the woods you can find trails around the Tahoe region, throughout the Auburn State Recreation Area and in Muir Woods.

For a quick escape outside look into taking an “urban” hike. In San Francisco, you can hike the Presidio or Fort Funston. (A great list by Thrillist here). In Sacramento, take a hike along the American River. Heading just a dozen miles out of downtown will already make you feel like you’ve escaped. Wine Country also offers a variety of trials through Sonoma and Napa where you can catch a beautiful view of the valley and vines.

Catch a Ride On the Water

If you are looking to relax a little more, but still get out on the water catch a ride on a boat. The rivers, the lakes and the bay, all provide great opportunities for boating. If you’re lucky you’ve got a friend or two with a boat you can join, just remember to chip in for gas and snacks.

If you aren’t so lucky there are great options to rent a boat. Figure out whether you want to get a motorboat where you can wakeboard along the lake or if you’re more interested in a pontoon and floating around the delta. You can also find a variety of Groupon-like deals that offer sailing trips on the bay and lakes.

The rivers offer a great chance to see Northern California from a different perspective, plus there are some great spots you can dock up to and grab a bite around Sacramento.

Relax on the Sand

Not much can beat the experience of being at the beach. While I still miss my Southern California warm beaches, Northern California has amazing options to relax on the sand.Get out and explore nature in Northern California. Tips on different activities and areas to explore this summer outdoors in the region.

Take a trip up to the Sonoma County State Beach, the cliffs are breathtaking, there is a small sandy area you can lay out your blanket on, and at the right time of year you can watch whales migrating up the coast.

Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, provides more of a sandy beach that can often warm up pretty well. While I might not recommend jumping in, without a wetsuit that is, it can be a great spot to lay out in the sun a read a great book.

For those of us a little further from the coast, the lakes and rivers also provide a great option. In Sacramento, you can either head to the north end of downtown and enjoy a sandy beach on the river or drive up further to the Auburn area and jump in a swimming hole.

Pitch a Tent

If you’re looking to do more than one of these, or just spend some good time out in nature your best option is camping. From easy car camping spots close to the lake to hiking into sites at Point Reyes to backpacking up in the Sierras, Northern California has camping options for just about everyone.

Get out and explore nature in Northern California. Tips on different activities and areas to explore this summer outdoors in the region.This summer we took a trip up the Alpine Lake, a long drive from Sacramento, but a great escape. At the Silver Tip Campsite, we were just a mile hike from the lake and sites with all the necessary amenities (I prefer flushing toilets and potable water access).

If you’re planning a weekend or overnight trip to reach an outdoor activity, make sure to research the camping options nearby. It is always a lot cheaper than getting a hotel and if you aren’t planning on spending much time in the room you won’t miss the luxury. Plus how many hotels can you curl up around a campfire, look up to the sky and roast some s’mores.

Get Out And Explore

This summer my goal has been to do something significant outside each weekend. So far I’ve gone swimming at the beach, spent a morning paddle boarding, took a nice hike, and spent a weekend camping. This has been a different approach to getting out and exploring but being outside, enjoying the sunshine, and often sweating a little, has made me feel relaxed and energized. I hope you take the time to get outside and explore nature this summer.

Where have you visited outdoors so far this summer? Where are you planning to go next?

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.