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California fall destinations: Where to Find the Best Fall Foliage and Weather

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Here are the California top Destinations in California for the fall. Whether you are looking for beautiful fall foliage or the incredible fall weather of California, here are the best California Fall Destinations. Enjoy the less-crowded season in the Golden State! You will love these places and in this blog post you will find some real gems for your next fall trip.

California in The Fall

I spent most of my life thinking California fall didn’t get fall colors. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong because once I started hiking and scenic driving, I discovered that you just have to know where to look.

Best places to see Foliage and colors in California Fall

Yosemite

Of course first in my list is Yosemite because the fall colors are incredibly beautiful there. We visited Yosemite last October and the waterfall wasn’t full, but it was less crowded and the weather was exquisite.

Yosemite in Autumn is just magical, maybe because it’s quieter, and there’s a delicious chill in the air, the falling leaves softly to the ground. Honestly you cannot ask for more.

Yosemite in the fall is was just amazing 🍂🍁🧡. We even got a chance to see a bear scamper across the middle of the great meadow in the Valley – never approach one, watch it from a distance. The valley has plenty of foliage. You can stroll, ride, or drive around the valley and go to Mirror Lake (which may be dry) but the foliage is there. During this time of year, you may find the glacier and Tioga pass closed.

Walk by the Merced River, winding around Sentinel Beach. Yosemite Falls is sometimes completely dry in autumn. When you visit in the fall, make sure to call for updated driving conditions, road closures, etc. Check for more details on hikes in Yosemite here, where to stay here, and an itinerary that can work in the fall too here.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a beach town, and although the beach area doesn’t change much with the seasons, its state parks and forest have plenty of fall foliage to visit:

My favorite place to see fall foliage is Nisene Marks State Park and Pogonip. If you are looking for fall foliage, you will love those parks.

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Eastern Sierras

The eastern sierras is the perfect place to see the fall colors in California. They run along Highway 395 crossing Lone Pine, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, and Lake Tahoe.

The places you can see the fall foliage are Coloma and then on Cold Springs Rd towards Gold Hill. Other great places are Fossil Falls, Reward Mine, South Lake, Fish Slough Rd Petroglyphs, Benton Crossing Rd Hot Springs, Cerro Gordo Mine and Ghost Town.

In addition, check out Convict Lake, Silver Lake, and June Lake.

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During the fall, you can enjoy these areas with fewer crowds and cooler weather. You can actually hike without much risk of heat stroke, 😂 and you don’t need to deal with bugs. However, it is still warm enough to swim in the lakes during the day, but the nights are cool. The higher you go, the earlier the colors come out. Here are the areas to visit:

1. Big Pine Canyon

2. Bishop

This is a city located in the beautiful  Eastern Sierra region of California. This area is in the middle of the state along its eastern border with Nevada and about halfway between Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks.

When you visit, explore from Highway 395 to the Mojave desert then to Death Valley, then head over to the small town of Bishop located on the way to Mono Lake and Mammoth Lake. Bishop is one of the best cities in California to find fall foliage, and it is very picturesque.

This is supposed to be the best place to enjoy autumn in California because of the golden leaves and the white mountains. Bishop Creek is probably the closest to fnd good fall foliage. The elevation is around 9,000 feet.

3. Rock Creek Canyon

5. Mammoth Lake

4. Convict Lake

6. June Lake

7. Alkali Lake

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Lake Tahoe

Tahoe is absolutely great for leaf peeping. 😀 Places to visit include Zephyr Cove on the eastern side of the lake. Drive Highway 50 and see the aspen trees along the shore that turn red, orange and yellow in the fall.

Lake Tahoe can have completely different water, color blue and torquoise depending on from where you are accessing it. The contrast of Emerald Bay in California and Secret Cove in Nevada with turquoise water and the fall colors is beautiful.

Here are places you can find great fall colors:

  1. Taylor Creek Visitor Center – South Lake Tahoe
  2. Hope Valley, Markleeville- South Lake Tahoe
  3. Luther Pass – South Lake Tahoe
  4. Quaking Aspens pass
  5. Zephyr Cove – Stateline
  6. Marlette Lake – Glenbrook
  7. Ebbetts Pass – South Lake Tahoe
  8. Fallen Leaf Lake – South Lake Tahoe
  9. Apple Hill – South Lake Tahoe
  10. Mount Rose Highway Summit – North Lake Tahoe

Where to see fall fall foliage in Southern California

One of the best places to enjoy autumn in Southern California is Highway 395 from Los Angeles, all the way north to east Mountain.

Oak Glen

This place is good for fall colors and also for apple picking. It is located 8 miles north of either Beaumont or Yucaipa. It is near the popular Riley’s Apple Farm. There you can get fresh pressed apple cider and take a scenic drive. You will find many apple orchards and vendors selling fall goodies.

dogs standing under tree during golden hour
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles the colors are not super strong, but there are places you can see them, such as the botanical gardens and the Huntington library gardens. These are places where you can see fall foliage.

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Big Bear

This area is special in the fall. The crisp air together with the reflexion of the gold, amber and yellow colors reflecting on Big Bear Lake is just the best experience of a legit fall season. It is a perfect place for a hike on a magic carpet of fall colors.

This area has so many evergreen trees like aspens, cottonwoods, and oaks, full of brilliant fall colors and vibrant red maples. Some of the best spots include: Mill Creek Road, the Pine Knot Trail and Castle Rock Trail. October is the peak of the second and is the perfect time to experience it.

mammoth_lake_fall

Julian

Julian is a mountain town inSan Diego County famous for its fall colors. also known for its apples, especially at Lake Cuyamaca/Julian, also known as the Cuyamaca Reservoir, 110 acres in the eastern Cuyamaca mountains at an elevation of 4,600 feet. I know you wouldn’t expect this about San Diego famous for its beaches! It is about an hour drive from San Diego and located in an oak and pine forest, surrounded by 26,000 acre of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Burney Falls

Fall is a great time to visit famous Burney Falls. The weather can be cold, but the fall colors make this waterfall even more picturesque. Of course, you can see the falls from the parking lot, but it is always better to hike down and see it in its splendor.

Mendocino

This is a gorgeous area to see redwoods, and in the fall, make sure you stop in Fort Bragg. There is a beautiful botanical garden that catches the fall colors. From the Bay Area, it’s about a 4–5 hour drive with lots of fun little pit stops. Plus the coast is beautiful and September is usually a good weather month, and October can have many warm days as well.

When you are near Fort Bragg, visit Van Damme State Park! The Pygmy forest really unique!

Best California Fall Destinations

California has some of the best destinations in the country during the fall. Believe it or not, California actually has four changing seasons and I can’t tell you enough about its beauty.

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Places with great weather in California fall

San Diego

The weather in San Diego is gorgeous all year round and during the fall season San Diego has many bargains to be found. For example, in October, you’ll find “kids free days” in different museums and zoos, even at the amazing San Diego Zoo.

Check for more details in my blog about San Diego and the many deals you can find.

Calico Ghost town

This old mining town is fun to explore when there’s good weather. Stay for a short time even though it is touristy place. Star gaze til your eyes shut and you fall deep into a deep sleep. Ride the train, get ice cream, visit the gold shack and try your luck gold panning.

San Francisco

Autumn is a great time to visit San Francisco before it gets too cold. As you know, during the early fall we enjoy the Indian summer, when the fog goes away. September can be actually super pleasant weather to visit the city by the Bay. Check more here.

Santa Cruz

Fall in Santa Cruz is great because the weather is so beautiful. This town has more than just places to visit for seeing the colors. You get gorgeous fall days especially at the beginning of October with way fewer summer crowds and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk still open on weekends! Check out what to visit in Santa Cruz here.

Nisene Marks State Park has perfect fall weather. The redwoods don’t change much but there are many plants that do!

Big Sur

This is the place to explore in the fall weather when it is still nice and the views still gorgeous. Make sure to explore these main places in the fall, especially with family. Find out how to plan your next trip here.

Point Lobos

This beautiful area just south of Carmel, and it is a must-visit! The weather is great year round but if you are looking for a great place to visit this fall it won’t disappoint you.

Death Valley

There are amazing places you can’t visit in California during summer because they are extremely hot. One of them is Death Valley but visiting from October to November is the perfect time. Check the dunes, Racetrack, Ubehebe Crater, and Scotty’s Castle.

Palm Springs

We love Palm Springs and one of the best times of the year to visit is autumn. During the fall you can enjoy the town, its art and beautiful resorts with great weather. We took the aerial tramway on one of our fall visits.

It is a desert paradise, with so many hotels, resorts and beautiful places to visit as the end of September and October brings great weather to the dessert. Make sure to add this to your California Bucket list!

Joshua Tree

Palm Springs is so close to Joshua Tree National Park as well. The fall is definitely the best time to visit!

This is one of the best places in California to explore in the fall, since summer can be so hot. Don’t miss it! The cool nights and warm days in the fall are perfect time to explore the borders, Chola trails and different beautiful hikes that Joshua Tree has. Check the best hikes with family here.

Joshua_tree_in_the_fall

Solvang

On your way to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree is the adorable town of Solvang, and you are going to want to spend more time there than you’d expect!

Solvang is called “The Danish Capital of America”. It is a touristy village with a European heritage in the heart of California. It has super cute shops and a couple of really great bakeries. You are going to love stopping here during the fall.

Paso Robles

Paso is such a great area for wine tasting and enjoying all the fall festivals. The wineries in this area are world renown and you can find beautiful fall foliage. Don’t miss the great weather and good food, and the magical lights at Sensorio!

landscape mountains nature field
Photo by Soly Moses on Pexels.com

Check the cool tour of the 400 Acre Historic Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery in a 1958 Willis jeep! Also look for the unique sculptures & gardens at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden. Also, plan for a quick stop at Niner Winery for the views and a snack! There’s also a cool cave tour of the wine caves below the tasting room at Eberle Winery.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

California in the fall can be such a great time to visit Sequoia National Park. You can drive route 198 through the south entrance for a beautiful view. Although the road is windy, it is such a unique experience to drive through.

easter_sierra_sequoia

Sequoia National Park in September and October are still warm and cool, but the beautiful giant trees can turn very red in the fall. Late October can have very crisp nights. You can check the giant Sequoias, the General Grant, the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail Tree, and Hume Lake.

The park offers shuttle services to some of the park’s busiest attractions. Make sure that you visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ prime attractions:

Giant Forest

Here you can observe the stunning General Sherman Tree (the world’s largest), the Congress Loop that is about a mile, a shuttle bus (in summer) to Moro Rock, and great exhibits at the Giant Forest Museum. Tokopah Falls is slightly longer, but is a great hike as well. The Big Trees Trail is a wonderful accessible trail as well. And if you want to explore underground, you can check into the Crystal Cave Tours.

wooden signage of sequoia national park
Photo by James Lee on Pexels.com

Grants Grove/Redwood Canyon

Grant’s Grove area includes the Grant’s Grove trail where you can walk through a fallen Giant Sequoia as well as the North Grove Loop Trail. Behind Muir Lodge is the drive (during summer) to Panorama Point. And the Columbine Picnic Area great places to stop and eat.

the general sherman tree in sequoia national park
Photo by Samuel Jackson on Pexels.com

Redwood Canyon

Is just south of the area down a 2-mile dirt road that keeps the crowds light. It is probably my favorite of all the giant sequoia groves for its solitude and spectacular trees. The hike here can be shortened by going out and back down the middle or by going down just the Hart Tree/Fallen Goliath Loop OR Sugarbowl Loop.

Cedar Grove

Cedar Grove at Road’s End in Kings Canyon is an incredible area to hike and explore. The drive is open late spring to early fall. Along the way, you’ll pass Boyden Cavern, Grizzly Falls, and Roaring River Falls. From Road’s End you can hike to Mist Falls (8 mile roundtrip) or do shorter hikes. One of my all-time favorites is from Roads’s End to Zumwalt Meadows (the loop hike is often flooded early in the season). Or check out the area from the Cedar View Overlook.

When you do the scenic drive you get to see the giant Sequoia trees you will be awed by the marble and granite mountain sides cascading down to the beautiful streams and meadows. It’s spectacular.

Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park

Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park in the fall is great and the greenest in Aug-Sept. This is a canyon in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It’s fabulous gem in Northern California located in Humboldt.

a fern in a forest
Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

These places are the famous locations were many amazing movies and documentaries has been filmed, among them: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs and IMAX’s Dinosaurs Alive.

On the way there you can stop at the Trees of Mystery at 15500 US-101, Klamath, CA 95548. The Avenue of the Giants and Patrick’s Point are must-sees. Wear shoes you don’t mind ruining to fern Canyon because you will be walking in the creek. If you will be driving from May 1 to September 30th, you will need to apply for a permit. Find more here.

Hiking Fern Canyon

It is crazy but to enter on the area there is a kiosk of the California State park where you need to PAY CASH: $12 for a regular vehicle. Credit cards are not accepted.

To hike this gem, it takes about an hour or two and is quite an adventure, and the time required depends on which parking lot they have open. Sometimes you can’t access the closest parking lot and have to walk an extra mile.

The drive down from Highway 101 to the parking area is another ~30 min. It’s not a difficult or long hike, and you can also explore the area around Bluffs Beach.

There are some great cabins in Trinidad, great restaurants; and beautiful beaches… and Fern Canyon is a short drive away. Make sure to bring your rain gear! 

Napa

Napa can be way too hot for my taste during the summer. I personally don’t like hot weather while wine tasting, but Napa has great facilities during summer. However, during the fall, you can enjoy outdoor drinking and some very pleasant weather.

napa valley
Photo by Vanessa Sezini on Pexels.com

Here is the list of best things to do there. And also a list of great wineries. Fall is definitely one of the best Napa seasons with so many great wineries to visit, and it’s the time when wineries have plenty of harvest activities!

Columbia and Jamestown

This gem located so close to the Sierra Nevada is a must visit especially if you have family, or if you just appreciate history or like fun new experiences. Go back oinn time here and ride a carriage and pan for gold.

The stores and streets are like in the Gold Rush times in the nineteenth century. Even the merchandisers are dress up like in the era. It is a great experience. Fall definitely has the perfect weather!

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Best California Fall festivities and Events

September

1. Capitola Art & Wine Festival September 10 & 11, 2022

2. Capitola beach festival This festival is during the time when Begonia Festival at Capitola beach used to happens due to low inventory of Begonias. September 24th & 25Th, 2022

October

1. The Capitola Sea witches hit the waves during every Halloween since 2015. On Halloween morning, ladies who do stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) dress up in their finest witchery and gather for a fun and casual paddle off of Capitola Beach! it is a fun event so don’t miss it if you’re in town. Check their Facebook web page for updates.

2. Monte Foundation Fireworks, every October is the great celebration of fireworks by the ocean. and it rivals anything you’ll see on the 4th of July and is on of my favorites! It is hosted by a foundation that helps to improve schools in the community.

3. Santa Cruz Monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Park. Every fall we have the opportunity to see thousands of Monarch Butterflies migrate to their habitat at Natural Bridges State Park, the only state Monarch preserve. They are tropical creatures and enjoy having a temporary home on the eucalyptus trees until the early winter at this State Park. If you visit make sure you don’t touch the butterflies

4. Go apple picking at one of the many farms in California. Here is the list of best apple farms in California

My favorite local from this list is Clearview Orchards in Watsonville, California

5. Go to a pumpkin patch. This is the time for all the California fall celebration and you should visit. Find some of the best Pumpkin patches in California.

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  1. Discovery Farm with great fall celebrations and activities all year round
  2. Rodoni Farms in Davenport
  3. Arata
  4. Pumpkin Patch in Crystal

6. California Oktoberfest Events

Almost as soon as summer is over, Oktoberfest events start popping up in locations all over California. Here you can find the list of them.

7. California Halloween Events

8. California Fall Food Festivals

9. Big Sur 10K River Run | bigsurriverrun.org

10. Calabasas Pumpkin Festival | calabasaspumpkinfestival.com

11. Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival | miramarevents.com

I hope this helps you to plan your fall adventures in California!

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