California in Fall
Fall is one of the best times to be out and about in the Golden State, a season when the color of the leaves matches the state's nickname. Gone are the tourist crowds and gloomy fog that may have plagued the coast all summer long.
What to Expect
- While California has some spectacular spots of fall color, it isn't like New England. Visitors are especially surprised to find little fall color in the Yosemite Valley, where most trees are either evergreens or oaks whose leaves simply turn brown.
- Skies will be mostly clear and are especially welcome at the coast, which may have been fog-shrouded for much of the summer.
- Fall weather can be glorious. Check the average temperatures and rainfall
Places at Their Best in Fall
- Eastern Sierras: The eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains boast the most beautiful stands of aspen trees, so pretty that once you've seen them, the place will look plain in any other season. See our notes on the best spots below.
- The cool, grey city of San Francisco is at its nicest after the fog goes away and tourist crowds abate.
- Find the best places for a fall getaway, with spectacular fall scenery or special activities.
Mother Nature in Fall
Outdoor recreation site GORP named California's Inyo National Forest as one the country's best forests for fall color and we concur. By the time you see our fall foliage pictures and take a virtual drive along California's most beautiful three miles in California, you'll agree, too. Check the fall color report to find out the current conditions.
Point Reyes and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge are two of the best places in the state to observe bird migrations. In Kern County, migration is a good excuse for the annual Turkey Vulture Festival and in Lodi, it's the Sandhill Crane Festival. Monarch butterflies also begin their annual return to California. And up in northern California, the elk are mating and especially easy to watch at Elk Meadow in Redwood National Forest, where you can settle into the Elk Meadow Cabins and watch them in your back yard.
One of the year's most spectacular light shows, the Leonid meteor showers happen in mid-November. Good places to watch include Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and almost anywhere east of the Sierras. For the ultimate in relaxation and dark skies, book a room at the Inn at Benton near the California border where you can watch the show while you soak in a spring-fed hot tub.
Driving in Fall
Highways are generally open in fall except for repairs and improvement projects, but it's always wise to check a highway's status if you plan to travel on it. Two of California's most scenic roads remain open through fall, closing when snowfall starts to accumulate:
- Depending on snowfall, Tioga Pass through Yosemite may close any time between mid-September and mid-November. Check its current status before you go. If it's still open, this is the most direct route to the state's best fall foliage, the fascinating area east of the Sierras, Bodie, the "mother lode" of ghost towns and the world's oldest living things - the Bristlecone Pines.
- In Sequoia National Park, the road into Kings Canyon closes in mid-November. This spectacular drive into the heart of a glacier-carved canyon is not to be missed.
Holidays and Festivals in Autumn
Fall in California is the time for food festivals celebrating the harvest of apples, grapes, nuts and pumpkins.
Halloween is the big fall holiday, with everything from simple celebrations to big theme park extravaganzas. Find the one that suits you best in our California Halloween guide.
It's not a holiday or a festival, but in fall, special Hearst Castle night tours give a glimpse into daily life at the castle.