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Winter is a great time to visit Northern California. The weather is generally mild, especially on the coast where there can be more sun now than during the foggy summer. Prices are often lower and crowds thinner during this time of year, and despite the bare trees and occasional rainy days, the nature is still beautiful in winter. Here are my ideas for what to do in Northern California in January 2023.
Through March 31, you can watch elephant seals in their natural habitat at Año Nuevo State Park on the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Visitors must take a guided tour.
Where: Año Nuevo State Park
Cost: $10 for the park day use fee, $7.00 for the tour + $3.99 reservation fee. Kids 3 and under are free.
Every year before Chinese New Year begins, the Flower Market Fair is held in San Francisco. Residents come to purchase fresh flowers, fruit, treats and household supplies to prepare for the new lunar year. Besides seeing the displays of flowers and fruit at the 120+ booths and concessions., you can watch performances of traditional Chinese dancers and magicians.
Where: Grant Ave. from Clay to Broadway and Pacific, Jackson and Washington between Stockton and Kearny in San Francisco
When: January 14 & 15, 2023
Northern Californians love to spend time in the snow in the winter, and as of now, there’s snow at one of the state’s most popular snow destinations, Lake Tahoe. Yosemite is also blanketed in snow at this time of year and is rarely crowded in winter.
Where: Snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe: Camp Richardson, Donner Lake State Memorial Park, Ed Z’berg State Park
When: Anytime there’s snow on the ground, but it’s best when the snow is fresh
Cost: Free + state park entrance fees + cost to rent snowshoes
Besides Tahoe and Yosemite, Lassen National Park offers wonderful opportunities for fun in the snow with its ranger-led snowshoe walks on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. The cost of the walks is covered by your park entrance ticket, and snowshoes are available free of charge to participants. Children must be at least 8 years of age. More information here.
Where: Lassen National Park
When: Saturdays and Sundays 1:30-3:30
Cost: Free with park entrance
Winter is the time to witness migrating whales in the water just off the coast of Northern California. Every year approximately 20,000 gray whales make the long journey between Alaska and Mexico and back. Try walking at Bodega Head (the cliffs at Bodega Bay) or the lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore for the best chances to see whales. At both locations, docents keep track of whale sightings and are available to answer questions.
You can also try a boat tour to see whales in the Mendocino, San Francisco and Monterey areas. Try Fast Raft in Monterey for a small group experience.
Where: anywhere along the coast, but get high up on cliffs for the best views (Fort Ross, Bodega Head). Point Reyes is especially known for whale watching because the peninsula sticks so far out in the sea.
When: now through early March
Cost: free, unless you book a whale watching boat tour
The Winter in the Wineries Passport is an affordable way to experience Napa Valley wine country. The passport allows you tastings at 16 wineries in the northernmost part of Napa Valley and discounts at participating restaurants, lodging, and more. Plus it’s smart to visit Napa Valley in the winter — low season means lower prices, fewer crowds and bright yellow mustard in the vineyards.
Where: Calistoga, the northernmost town in Napa Valley
When: Through February 5, 2023
Cost: $75 for the passport
Dine Downtown Sacramento:
Sacramento has a serious food scene that is becoming increasingly noticed. In fact, Southwest: The Magazine named Sacramento the “Next Great American Food City” (although we locals already knew that!). If you’d like to try some of the best restaurants, the annual Dine Downtown Restaurant Week is the time to do it.
30 participating restaurants are offering a special 3-course menu, and some of the proceeds go to local social services and food literacy programs. Many of Sacramento’s best restaurants are participating. Find out more here.
Where: Downtown and Midtown Sacramento
When: January 13-22, 2023
Cost: $45 for a 3-course, prix fixe menu
Nightlife events at the California Academy of Sciences allow visitors 21+ to visit the museum for a special evening every Thursday, each with a different theme. Learn more here and note that there are virtual Nightlife events offered as well.
Where: California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: Now through Feb. 19, 2023
Cost: Admission starts at $21
Mondavi Center Shows, Davis:
We love to go to the Mondavi Center for a fancy night out, especially in winter when rainy days complicate other plans. It’s great as a couple or with kids who can get dressed up and experience the magic of sitting in a grand theater (think older kids who can stay seated for a whole show).
In January 2023, enjoy Itzhak Perlman, the Alexander String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, and more.
Where: UC Davis’s Mondavi Center
When: select evenings in January
Cost: Starting at $27.50. Tickets & info here.
The de Young Museum’s show of 181 treasures from ancient Egypt runs through February 12, 2023. “The state-of-the-art exhibition allows visitors to walk among royal statues and other treasures while viewing multimedia productions that provide deeper context for the art on view. The installation is accompanied by Ramses & Nefertari: Journey to Osiris, a separate immersive VR experience with cinematic-motion chairs that takes visitors on a whirlwind tour of two of Ramses’s most impressive monuments.”
Plus, visiting the de Young is a joy! Take the elevator to the top of the tower for sweeping city views, check out the permanent collections, shop for quirky items at the gift shop, and enjoy the outdoor sculpture garden. More info here.
Where: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: through Feb. 12, 2023
Cost: $35 for adults (this covers admission to the rest of the museum) + parking. Ticket discounts are offered for seniors, students, and children.
There are tons more things to do all over Northern California. Just jump online and Google “Things to do in Northern California right now” and you’ll see hundreds of pages dedicated to happy go lucky things you and the family can enjoy!
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