Northern California has a great coastal area that is very diverse. You can find everything from rocky cliffs to wide open sandy beaches, dry open fields to permanently wet redwood forests, small logging towns to super expensive communities, there is a huge amount of diversity in one strip of coastline.
In the north you will find redwood forests that are simply amazing with 300ft tall tress that are literally wide enough to make a road through. These forests need a special environment to live that only exists in a few places along the ocean. The trees are so tall that they need moist mist and fog created by a special ocean environment to water the tops of them. Along much of the northern California coasts a few areas of these ancient forests have been protected from logging and destruction so visitors can still experience these amazing forests.
Much of this part of the coast had very little population for many years due to the ruggedness of the terrain. Until Highway 101 was built, this area was very remote and hard to get to. There are still parts of the Northern California coast that no roads go into and you must hike in if you wish to get there.
Many of the beaches in these areas are very nice, but are not very friendly for wading and playing in the water, which makes them not as popular with the typical beach crowd. The water is colder and the surf and currents can be dangerous, but these beaches are simply amazing for walks, hikes and wildlife watching.
The weather in northern California can be wet and foggy for most the year. In the summer months you will have a good chance of seeing the sun, but during the winter months, the sun is hidden behind fog and drizzle most of the days
In the far North of California, the economy is rather poor. For much of northern California, the economy was based on the logging industry, which has almost died out. Many of the small towns can be a little grim and gray around the edges. There is a large underground economy in growing marijuana in some parts of northern California making some “off the beaten path” places less friendly to strangers wanting to wander around in the woods. It is better to stay in the parks and ask local advice about questionable places.
As you get closer to the San Francisco Bay, most of the costal area is populated by resort homes and wealthy commuters from the Bay area. These towns can be very high priced, small and crowded. Even with the crowds, you can find some great beaches, camping and hiking areas with a little looking.
The weather starts to get drier as you leave the redwood forest and head south. As with most coastal places, it can vary from place to place with the wind and the fog, but in general the more you go south from the Bay, the sunnier and less windy it gets.
Over the Bay Bridge and down the coast you start to get into the Santa Cruz area, which has some great beaches for hiking and beach combing. There is also a redwood forest, which is not as amazing as the one in the north, but is still a very nice place to see. Around the Santa Cruz area, you can find more affordable lodging and dining compared to some of the other towns just north of the Bay area.
Northern California offers visitors a large variety of experiences from big cities like San Francisco to remote secluded beaches where the only footprints will be yours.