Although the Bay Area is technically in "Northern California," insofar as it's in the upper half of the state, if you want to get to know a truly Northern part of the Golden State, drive up to coastal Humboldt County, which is a full 270 miles north of San Francisco. Only around 135,000 people live in this relatively remote but huge swath of dense forest (including soaring stands of ancient redwood trees) and twisting, rocky, and downright stunning coastline. The county seat and main population center is the small city of Eureka, which has a metro population of about 45,000 as well as the second-largest bay in the state.
Humboldt County has long been a center of liberal and countercultural thinking, one of the nation's most infamous centers of marijuana production, and a place that's very welcoming of LGBT folks.
There's not a huge gay scene here, again given the limited population, but Eureka does host the well-attended and quite fun Humboldt Pride Parade & Festival each year in early to mid-September - this year's date is September 10, 2016. There are several events scheduled over the preceding days in both Eureka and the neighboring college town of Arcata, home to Humboldt State University.
You can view a calendar of Humboldt Pride Week events here - these traditionally include a Labor Day picnic, film screenings, a softball game at Cooper Gulch, a film screening and potluck presented by the local PFLAG chapter at the UCC Church, and more.
On the main day of Pride, Saturday, September 10, the Humboldt Gay Pride Parade sets off at 11:30 am from downtown Eureka at 1st and C streets, after which, from noon until 5 pm, there's a Humboldt Pride Festival at Halvorsen Park (at Waterfront Dr. and L St.), which is situated along downtown Eureka's lovely waterfront on Arcata Bay.
Eureka Gay Resources
Eureka has no gay bars per se, but the excellent and friendly Lost Coast Brewery is a fun hangout for beer and good food, and it'll likely draw more than a few LGBT patrons during Pride Week (Lost Coast is also a sponsor of Humboldt Pride. Also visit the site of Where's Queer Bill Presents, which presents monthly LGBT-oriented parties at different venues around the region.
If you're traveling to Eureka from San Francisco, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the journey, perhaps planning an overnight en route in coastal Sonoma County or Mendocino, both of which you'll pass through on your way up Highway 1 if you follow the coastal route - be warned, though, that sticking close to the coast adds 50 miles to the drive and can make it a 7- to 9-hour journey from San Francisco, depending on how often you stop. If you take the more direct U.S. 101, which is still quite a scenic drive, plan for a five-hour journey.
Coming from the north, Portland, Oregon lies about 400 miles north and entails a 7-hour drive through Grants Pass and Crescent City.
The county has one very helpful LGBT resource, Queer Humboldt, which provides links to local organizations, upcoming events, gay-wedding resources, and so on. For travel information on Humboldt County, visit Redwoods.info, the site of the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau. You'll find lots of great information on the site about how to view the region's famous redwood groves.