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Northern California’s 7 Most Underrated Towns To Visit In 2024

by Staff

Northern California’s diverse landscapes and rich history are often overshadowed by the area’s famous cities, such as SacramentoSan Francisco, and Redding. However, tucked away in the region’s rolling hills, majestic redwoods, and pristine coastlines are several underrated towns that offer a tranquil escape away from the hustle and bustle of the region’s large cities. These towns offer unique annual events, such as the Whale Festival in Mendocino, and historical adventures, including panning for gold and learning about the region’s mining history in Yreka.

Whether seeking a peaceful summer retreat in Shasta Lake or enjoying wine country throughout the year in Healdsburg, these seven underrated towns in California offer the perfect getaway in 2024.

Nevada City

Downtown Nevada City, California.

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Nevada City offers Gold Rush-era charm in its well-preserved downtown area. Visitors can stroll along the tree-lined streets of this underrated Northern California town to view the Miners Foundry Cultural Center, built in 1865. Nearby is the Historic Firehouse No. 1 Museum, featuring mining and Donner Party items, Native American pieces, and pioneer artifacts in a firehouse built from 1860 to 1861. For those looking to enjoy a live performance or movie, visit the Nevada Theatre. Built in 1865, it is the oldest theater building that still operates as a theater on the west coast. Located across the street is the Historic Firehouse No. 2, circa 1860 to 1861, one of the state’s oldest continuously used firehouses.

Nevada City is also a great base for outdoor enthusiasts. The town is home to the beautiful Crystal Hermitage Gardens, which boasts 20,000 tulips to view from April 10 through May 5, 2024. Nature lovers can also hike along the Deer Creek Tribute Trail, featuring the stunning Deer Creek suspension bridge. The trail is one of the spots on the Victorian California Falls Color Tour, which takes place at the end of October during peak foliage season. 

Mendocino

The seacoast settlement of Mendocino, California
The seacoast settlement of Mendocino, California.

Tucked away on the rugged Northern California coast, Mendocino captivates visitors with its breathtaking ocean views, quaint cottages, and artistic community. One of Northern California’s most underrated towns to visit in 2024, travelers can explore the town’s art galleries, including the Prentice Gallery. Located across the street is the Ford House Visitor Center and Museum, built in 1854 and home to Martha Ford, the first woman to reside in the historic town. The museum is part of Mendocino Headlands State Park, perched along the cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Nature enthusiasts can hike along miles of trails in the park to view the stunning redwoods. The park is also a great place to learn about gray whales and watch their migration during Mendocino County’s Whale Festival, which takes place every weekend in March throughout 2024.

Along with watching the gray whales migrate in Mendocino, the town offers views of other wildlife in the Big River. The river is home to river otters, harbor seals, dungeness crab, and other wild animals. Visitors can catch a glimpse of these incredible creatures while swimming, boating, or paddling in the Big River.

Truckee

Aerial view of downtown Truckee, California.
Aerial view of downtown Truckee, California.

Situated in the High Sierra just north of Lake Tahoe, Truckee charms visitors with its historic downtown, outdoor activities, and scenic beauty. History buffs can explore the town’s railroad and logging history at the Truckee Railroad Museum, located in a Southern Pacific Railroad caboose beside the town’s historic depot. Nearby is the Truckee River, where nature enthusiasts can enjoy scenic views while walking along the Legacy Trail.

More outdoor adventures await year-round in Truckee, such as skiing at Tahoe Donner Ski Resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, viewing wildflowers in the spring on the Donner Lake Rim Trail, swimming in Donner Lake in the summer, or hiking along eight miles of trail in the Donner Memorial State Park. The state park also features the Pioneer Monument, which is dedicated to pioneers who were part of the westward expansion in the 1800s.

In Truckee’s historic downtown, visitors can enjoy Truckee Thursdays from June 20 through August 15, 2024. Each Thursday night, Historic Downtown Truckee hosts live music, artisanal vendors, and children’s activities from local merchants. Visitors can also explore the area on the Truckee Historic Walking Tour. The self-guided tour features 29 buildings, including the Old Jail Museum from 1875 and Gray’s Cabin circa 1863, the town’s oldest building.

Shasta Lake

Aerial shot of Lake Shasta in Northern California.
Aerial view of the Shasta Lake.

The underrated Northern California town of Shasta Lake offers incredible outdoor adventures and scenic views. Known as “Boomtown” due to the population growth in the 1930s when the man-made Shasta Dam was created, visitors can learn more about the history of the town at the Boomtown Museum. Located in Clair Engle Park in the quaint downtown, the park will also be the site of the 73rd annual Boomtown Festival on May 4 and 5, 2024. The festival features local artisans, a craft fair, live music, and a parade.

As the name suggests, the town is also home to Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, with 30,000 acres to explore. One of the best times to visit the town is in the summer when the lake becomes a haven for fishing, boating, and jet skiing. For a unique adventure, rent a houseboat and stay a night or a week on the pristine waters. Also located on the lake are the Lake Shasta Caverns. A national natural landmark, nature enthusiasts can take a guided boat tour of the caverns and scenic lake with views of the nearby 14,180-foot Mount Shasta.

Healdsburg

A city park in Healdsburg, California.
A city park in Healdsburg, California. Editorial credit: Daniel Lane Nelson / Shutterstock.com.

The underrated town of Healdsburg offers a blend of small-town charm and wine-country sophistication. Located in the heart of Sonoma County wine country, visitors can explore the town’s historic Healdsburg Plaza, lined with shops and restaurants, and taste award-winning wines at nearby wineries, such as Hartford Family Winery and Ernest Vineyards. After exploring the historic plaza, history buffs can view local history on display at the Healdsburg Museum or take a stroll across the historic Healdsburg Memorial Bridge that crosses the Russian River. Built in 1921, the bridge can be seen from Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, a popular summer spot for swimming and kayaking.

For those looking for wine country events, Healdsburg has much to offer. From April 26 through May 5, 2025, the town will host the 10th annual AV Film Festival. A few weeks later, from May 16-19, visitors can enjoy world-renowned wine and food during the Healdsburg Wine and Food Experience. In the fall, wine enthusiasts will flock to Healdsburg Plaza for Healdsburg Crush, which features more than 60 wineries from the area, on October 13, 2024.

Crescent City

Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, California
Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, California.

While Crescent City may not have the commercial hustle and bustle of larger towns, its natural beauty, historic landmarks, and outdoor adventures make it a great place to explore for those seeking a tranquil coastal getaway. The underrated Northern California town is situated along the Pacific Coast and is only 20 miles from the Oregon border, making it a gateway to the Redwoods. Nature lovers can explore the redwoods, hike on 20 miles of trails in the rainforest, and fish or kayak in the Smith River at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. More outdoor adventures await at Tolowa Dunes State Park, where outdoor enthusiasts can hike or bike on rugged trails, including part of the 1200-mile California Coastal Trail along the Pacific Ocean.

There is also history to discover in Crescent City at the Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum, which was first lit in 1856. Nearby is Billy Boone Square, where history buffs can view part of the hull from the S.S. Emidio, the first casualty of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s submarine force off California’s coast during World War II. More of the town’s history will be celebrated and remembered on March 23, 2024, at the Tsunami Resiliency Festival & 60th Anniversary of the 1964 Tsunami. Crescent City will honor the rebuilding of the town after the devastating tsunami with an art walk, stories of those who survived, and a display at the Del Norte County Historical Society’s Museum.

Yreka

Elks Building on Miner Steet Downtown in Yreka, California.
Elks Building on Miner Steet Downtown in Yreka, California. Image credit CL Shebley via Shutterstock.com

Yreka may not be as well-known as some other destinations in the state, but it offers a unique blend of history, outdoor recreation, and small-town charm that makes it one of the most underrated Northern California towns to visit in 2024. Founded in 1857 during the Gold Rush era, visitors can stroll along Historic Miner Street to view California Historical Landmarks, such as the Franco-American Hotel Museum circa the 1850s.

More history can be explored at the Siskiyou County Museum, showcasing exhibits on the region’s Native American heritage, pioneer life, and Gold Rush history. For those wanting to experience the town’s history, visit in June during the town’s annual Gold Rush Days. The festival includes panning for gold, carriage tours, live music, and delicious food along Miner Street.

The town is also a great place for outdoor adventures in Northern California, serving as the gateway to the Klamath National Forest & Butte Valley National Grassland. The forest offers camping, hiking, and gold panning on 1.7 million acres of land, as well as fishing and swimming in the Klamath River. For more outdoor sightings, visit the Shasta Valley Vista Point for scenic views of Mount Shasta.

Discover Northern California’s Hidden Gems

In a state known for its bustling cities and iconic landmarks, these seven underrated towns offer a tranquil escape in the heart of Northern California. Whether exploring the region’s renowned wine country in Healdsburg, the historic charm of Nevada City, or the coastal beauty of Crescent City, each small town provides a glimpse of what makes the region special. For those wanting to discover the natural beauty, unique history, and incredible outdoor adventures in the area, these underrated towns are ideal destinations to experience Northern California in 2024.

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