California's reputation for year round mild weather and vacations to the coast, one may assume that Fall does not exist in the Golden State. Although most people have no idea, California is home to extensive mountain ranges and wilderness areas with a wide diversity of trees that provide stunning fall colors. Not only are the mountains covered with fall foliage, but several cities and wine regions boast beautiful fall colors and festivities for visitors to partake in.
Fall in California begins in the Eastern Sierras by later September and continues into November - December in the state's warmer regions. It's one of the most beautiful times of year because the skies are clear, the air is crisp, and all of the best fall crops, including wine, are in harvest! Apple picking, cider tasting, wine grape stomping, and many other activities are at your finger tips.
This California travel guide will show you where to see the best fall colors in the state, sample fall flavors, and take part in seasonal festivities.
A quaint and picturesque farming community located off HWY 50 just outside Placerville, CA, offers some of the best fall experiences in California. A visit to Apple Hill in the fall is one of the best places in California to participate in fall activities and witness Autumn in all of its splendor. You can make the most of your fall adventures by visiting gorgeous rolling vineyards, apple orchards, pumpkin fields, U-Pick farms, and cider tap rooms. If you're wondering why this place is called Apple Hill, it's because their apple harvest is rather impressive, and there's an abundance of apple-flavored foods to satisfy your cravings. Not to add that the neighborhood is ablaze with fall colors from October through November!
Apple Hill has over 50 local farms and businesses to visit, see my favorite fall vendors here.
Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierras are one of California's top locations to see fall color. Although the fall season is rather short-lived in this high alpine region, the colors and fall foliage is the most impressive. Late September to Mid October is the greatest time to visit Mammoth Lakes because the fall colors are still vibrant. June Lake, Convict Lake, Lundy Canyon, and Heart Lake are the greatest places to enjoy fall colors near Mammoth Lakes. After enjoying hiking to see fall colors, take a soak in the natural Hot Springs in area! Read my full Fall Travel Guide to Mammoth here.
Nevada City is a picturesque mountain town with shops, restaurants, museums, and art galleries. In October and November, the landscape is colored with lovely autumn hues. A trip to Empire State Mine State Park is a wonderful way to take in the fall colors, enjoy hiking, and learn about California history. Continue along HWY 20 to see the beautiful fall hues of dogwood and maple trees that are scattered throughout the forest.
Chico, California is where I first fell in love with autumn. This small college town is renowned as the "city of trees," and in the fall, you'll witness a lot of trees changing hues. In October-November, visit Lower Bidwell Park and walk or bike along the paths for beautiful foliage. The Chico State Campus, Esplanade, One Mile Recreation Area, Genetic Resource and Conservation Center, and Bidwell Mansion are all spots in Chico for you to see Fall colors.
TJ Farms Estate is the best pumpkin farm in Chico, where you can grab a wagon and set out into the patch in quest of the ideal pumpkin to bring home off the vine. The grounds themselves are magnificent, with plenty to see and do, including a blacksmith shop and farm animals.
If you have some extra adventure time, it's a great drive up Deer Creek HWY and CA-32, with stunning fall colors along the creek and forest!
Not only is the transitional period between summer and winter a lovely time to visit Lake Tahoe, but the Aspen trees are a sight to behold for any fall enthusiast. Some of the best fall foliage can be spotted in Hope Valley, Luther Pass, and Ebbetts Pass; see this article here with additional fall color locations. The best times to spot fall colors in Lake Tahoe is late September to mid-late October.
Because the weather is mild enough to break a sweat and enjoy the cool temps, outdoor sports such as mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing are popular in the Fall at Lake Tahoe. Here's a list of fun activities to do in Lake Tahoe.
I may be biased because I live here but one of my favorite cities to experience fall is Sacramento, California. Grab a pumpkin spiced latte from any of the amazing coffee shops and take a stroll through downtown to admire the tree-lined streets shedding their leaves.
To view fall colors in Sacramento, visit Capitol Park, William Land Park, Curtis Park, McKinley Park, or Midtown. If you are looking for a walking tour of Downtown Sacramento, check out my mural guide here!
Harvest is one of the best times of year to visit a vineyard, which is why autumn is one of the most popular periods to visit Napa Valley. Take a vacation to wine country to watch the vineyard vines turning vivid shades of red, orange, and yellow. Wine harvest celebrations are held at many local wineries, and you can find a complete list of current harvest parties here.
Between winery visits, take a walk on one of the trails at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. The big-leafed maples are beautiful, mid- to late-October, the colors are at their finest.
In the 1800s, treasure hunters swarmed to Julian in pursuit of gold. Despite the fact that the gold ran out, the gallant small town of the gold rush endured. It now has a charming downtown area with plenty of old-fashioned charm. In the fall, visitors rush to Julian for a fresh slice of Apple Pie from Julian Pie Company and a glass of Julian Hard Cider. Don't miss the Grape Stomp Festa at Menghini Winery if you visit in early September!
California's Yosemite National Park is one of the state's most magnificent natural wonders. Over 1,200 square miles of mountainous panoramas, cliffs, deep valleys, towering waterfalls, and enormous sequoias can be explored. Fall colors can be found along the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, both wild and beautiful landscapes. With over 282 miles of scenic highways, tourists will have plenty of opportunities to stop and see some of California's best fall foliage. Sentinel Meadow, Glacier Point, and Tuolumne Meadows are the best spots to see fall colors in Yosemite.
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Take a drive along Arnold Drive in the Sonoma Valley, which is dotted with rows of multicolored oak and maple trees. Continue on to the Russian River Valley, where the vines are a frenzy of color and the wines are a perfect match for the squash fall harvest.
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