My recent multi-week whirlwind first trip through Northern California revolved around the planning that was made possible through this indispensable travel guide. While I did actually take advantage of my AAA membership for the first time by ordering a free TourBook for Northern California, I completely disagree with another reviewer here who wrote that this Lonely Planet guide does not offer anything beyond what the TourBook offers. If you are mainly interested in exploring available eateries and accommodations because you already have a good idea of the areas you want to visit, it can be helpful to some degree, but I rarely touched the book and relied heavily on very accurate TripAdvisor reviewers for hotels and locals for restaurants. Just like other Lonely Planet guides I have used in the past to put together travel itineraries, this book really acted as the central resource for my recent vacation, and I heartily recommend this very recently published edition to anyone not familiar with this area of the country.
The bulk of this near 800-page text is consumed by the "On the Road" section that covers California broken down into 13 different regions by the authors. The regions that I heavily absorbed were for San Francisco, Marin County and the Bay Area, North Coast and Redwoods, Northern Mountains, and Gold Country and Central Valley, but the book also covers Napa and Sonoma Wine Country, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, Central Coast, Los Angeles, Disneyland and Orange County, San Diego, and Palm Springs and the Deserts. When deciding whether this book is right for you, be aware that Lonely Planet also offers travel guides completely dedicated to individual regions. Earlier in the text, the editors offer an overview of what they consider the top-25 places to visit, and although I have scoffed at some other listings that Lonely Planet has provided in other travel guides, in retrospect I ended up including roughly 25% of the places on this list in my itinerary without even realizing it: (1) Pacific Coast Highway, (2) Redwood Forests, (6) San Francisco's Golden Gates, (7) Ferry Building Marketplace, (19) Gold Country, and (24) Mendocino.
One location on this list that almost made the cut, (22) Lassen Volcanic National Park, was unfortunately just barely outside the distance tolerance when en route back to San Francisco from the North Coast and Redwoods portion of the trip, which was one of the two highlights of the trip along with with San Francisco. As with other Lonely Planet guides, I really enjoy the detail of the writers, and their recommendations were largely spot-on, although I must admit that some were slightly off, such as their rave review of an eating establishment just north of Eureka in a town called McKinleyville, and their descriptions of Mendocino, which although largely accurate due to the beautiful views and whale watching, was largely a sleepy town due to timing, although the heads-up that the town is nicknamed "Spendocino" was appreciated. While I am an experienced traveler, sometimes I need to remind myself that travel guides such as this one, while well put together, should always be considered just a starting point, and are always to some extent based on opinion. Very well recommended despite its minor flaws.