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Fall is without a doubt the best season for a family getaway in California. The summer crowds are gone. The weather is warm, and the skies are clear. The fall colors are blazing from the top of the state to the bottom. And the apples are ripe for the plucking.
Oh! You didn’t know there were apple orchards in California? Well, there are! And pumpkin patches too!
So forget about flying all the way to New England for late October fun — when everything you need for the spooky season is right here in the golden state (golden with falling leaves, that is!)
Keep reading, and I’ll show you the top places for a family getaway in California in the fall that’ll make you glad summer’s almost over.
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8 Best Places to Visit in California in the Fall
Mammoth Lakes: Fall Foliage
Well-known for being a haven for skiers in the winter, Mammoth Lakes also happens to be an excellent place to visit in the fall.
The best time to visit this small town at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is in October when the fall colors are at their peak.
There’s nothing like a scenic drive through the Eastern Sierra up Highway 395 from LA. Seriously, the fall colors are so vivid, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn into New England.
Along with Mammoth, this famous (perhaps the most famous) California highway takes you by some other excellent fall destinations, such as:
- Lovely Mono Lake in Mono County
- Colorful aspen groves in Hope Valley, CA
- Tranquil Lake Almanor in Plumas County
- Scenic Lake Tahoe — but without the summer crowds!
The autumn days in Mammoth are warm, while the nights are chilly. This makes it a perfect destination for those interested in hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, etc.
Some of our family’s favorite activities to do in Mammoth in the fall are:
- Camping at the Twin Lakes Campground
- Hiking to the Mammoth Hot Springs
- Kayaking around picturesque Convict Lake
Don’t Miss! 7 Fun Activities for Summer in Mammoth with Kids
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
For those not interested in camping, there are plenty of hotels and cabins in town available for rent. It’s the off season after all, so the prices are almost guaranteed to be stellar. We love staying at the Mammoth Mountain Chalets. They’re small, rustic, and perfect for anyone looking for a relaxed vacation in the heart of the forest during fall.
San Francisco: Fewer Crowds
The best weather to be found in San Francisco is in September and October.
That means blue skies and warm days all week long without a hint of Karl, the Bay Area’s pesky fog, trying to ruin all the northern california fun.
And the best part? Fall also happens to be a lull in the SF tourist season, so you won’t have to worry about huge crowds blocking all the sites.
The best place to enjoy the fall colors in San Francisco is in Golden Gate Park. There are over 1,000 acres of parkland inside the city, and they’re easily accessible by public transit.
One of our family’s favorite SF fall activities is to visit the botanical gardens. Our girls love running through the fields of flowers and gazing up at the falling leaves.
Another favorite family activity of ours is visiting the pumpkin patch at Clancy’s Christmas Trees. Yep, you read that right. The christmas tree farm sells pumpkins in San Francisco — go figure!
Don’t Miss! Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area: Best Things to Do with Kids
Where to Stay in San Francisco
The summer crowds having dispersed, luxury hotel rooms in San Francisco can be got for a fraction of their July/August price.
We recommend checking out the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the premier waterfront resort situated in the downtown Embarcadero neighborhood. Its prime location means everything fall in the San Francisco will be at your fingertips.
June Lake: Scenic Drive
Weekend road trips up the scenic Highway 395 are one of our family’s favorite things to do in California in the fall.
There’s nothing like packing everyone into the car early in the morning and enjoying the sight of yellow aspens as you make your way into the mountains.
And nowhere is there a better endpoint for a weekend getaway than June Lake in autumn.
Again, like SF, fall is a bit of a dry season for tourists in June Lake, which is great news for you! When our family first visited in autumn a couple of years ago, we were worried that fewer people meant most of the attractions would be closed.
NOPE! June Lake was just as fun as it was in summer (and winter), only it was like we’d rented the entire lake! Talk about a sweet deal.
There’s kayaking, hiking, fishing, hiking — pretty much every outdoor activity you could imagine — all set against that gorgeous red, gold, and orange backdrop that makes fall so magical.
And while June Lake gets all the attention, the June Lake Loop Trail takes you to all four lakes in the area: June Lake, Silver Lake, Grant Lake, and Gull Lake.
Where to Stay in June Lake
Located right next to the “Switzerland of California” the Double Eagle Resort & Spa is the perfect homebase for your family’s fall adventure at June Lake. Want a resort-style hotel room? They’ve got it. Prefer to stay in a cozy, rustic cabin? Again, got it! Looking just to relax by the Lake? Perfect! Feeling adventurous? Book an adventure through the hotel.
It really is the perfect blend of flexibility and dependability, and with all that incredible natural scenery thrown it to boot.
Yosemite National Park: Crystal Clear Skies
One of the great things about visiting iconic destinations in California in the fall is that you get to see them in a whole new light.
Take Yosemite for instance. In the summer the park is full to the brim with tourists, photographers, hikers, climbers, you name it. But in fall the trails are almost deserted, providing a much calmer and more tranquil national parks experience.
The weather in Yosemite in fall is crisp and refreshing, perfect for those of us used to being cooped up in stuffy apartments. In the latter months, snowfall is even possible. Make sure to check the weather ahead of time to ensure you’re prepared.
Sip wine, pick apples, hike mountains, and carve pumpkins when you take your family on an unforgettable California adventure this fall! 🍂🍁🎃🍎
Where to Stay in Yosemite
Rooms are available right in the Yosemite Valley at the Ahwahnee Hotel and Tenaya Lodge. At times, you feel like you’re the only people in the place. My wife and I often joke it’s like staying at the Overlook Hotel in winter, just minus the “Here’s Johnny!” shenanigans.
Joshua Tree National Park: Autumn Desert
It’s a crime that Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t get more attention as a “Fall Destination.” Sure, it may lack some of the stuffing autumn foliage of other spots on this list, but for pure fall desert beauty and autumn weather loveliness, Joshua Tree reigns supreme.
Okay, actually—scratch that. Maybe it’s because Joshua Tree isn’t considered a family fall getaway destination that it’s so fun to visit. With the summer surge over, you practically have the park to yourselves, which makes for a more relaxing visit over all.
The temperatures hover around the mid-nineties in Joshua Tree in September, but drop down to the sixties by December. We recommend visiting the park between September and October, when the weather is mild and the skies are clear. Oh! And the stargazing at Joshua Tree in fall is INCREDIBLE! Definitely don’t forget to check it out while you’re there.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
While there aren’t any accommodations in Joshua Tree National Park, there are more than enough lodgings available around it. We recommend staying in one of the towns to the north — such as Twentynine Palms or Joshua Tree — as these put you closest to the most iconic places in the park; I’m talking Skull Rock, Keys View, and Desert Queen Mine — just to name a few.
Napa Valley: Local Wines
Unlike the other destinations on this list, visitors to Napa Valley soar during the autumn months, particularly from August to October. This is due to the autumn harvest, the busiest time of year for the region’s wineries. Don’t let that deter you though! Napa is still a blast to visit in the fall!
Some of our family’s favorite activities to do in Napa in the fall are:
- Go for a wine tasting during the Harvest Season (and sample some DELISH wines!)
- Solve a murder mystery on a vintage train
- Take in Napa’s fall scenery from a hot air balloon
Where to Stay in Napa Valley
As mentioned above, fall is Napa’s busy season, so plan accordingly and book in advance. The Churchill Manor is one of our family’s favorite spots to stay when visiting Napa. It’s a quaint bed and breakfast nestled in downtown Napa. With close proximity to the vineyards, shopping areas, and hiking trails, Churchill Manor is the perfect blend of convenience and tranquility.
Julian: Apple Picking!
I think it would be safe to say that Julian, CA is the apple-picking capital of Southern California. With numerous orchards, stunning fall colors, and that quintessential New England vibe to match, Julian is by far one of the best places for a fall family getaway in California.
Julian is located just an hour north of San Diego and 2.5 hours south of LA, making it the perfect spot for a day-trip. BUT… there’s so much to see and do in Julian — I mean besides all the apple picking — that I highly recommend you turn this into a weekend (or long weekend) family adventure.
In addition to a trip to Julian’s orchards, there are fun shops to explore, apple pies to purchase, gold to pan for, and wolves to learn about.
And during October, many of Julian’s orchards will be opening their pumpkin patches to the public, only adding to the autumn festivities.
Where to Stay in Julian, CA
Julian is a popular destination in the fall for obvious reasons. Rooms go fast, so book yours in advance to get the best deal. We recommend staying at the Quiet Mind Mountain Lodge, Retreat and Spa in Julian. It’s an adorable boutique with a romantic, craftsman-style interior and complimentary breakfast served daily in its gorgeous dining room.
Planning Your Fall Getaway From LA
Everywhere on this list is within driving distance of Los Angeles. If you’re a local, all you need to do is hop in the car and go. If you’re from farther afield, you’ll have to get to LA first. To do that, you’ll probably be flying in to one of the city’s airports. The two main ones are LAX and Burbank.
For those not flying from somewhere in California, I recommend checking ticket prices for LAX first, as it’s the larger airport.
Burbank is what our family uses when anywhere local: San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, OR, etc.
If you aren’t sure, check both! You’d be amazed at how cheap tickets to LA can be if you book them fare enough in advance!
Start your research for flights with exclusive discounts available from Scott’s Cheap Flights or WayAway. There’s no need to buy a membership to either (you’ll still have access to good deals) but if you do decide to get the extra savings, use this link to get 50% off WayAway membership price or 51% off Scott’s Cheap Flight for their birthday sale.
Another excellent discount site is Cheap O’Air!
To get discounts on tours in the area, try Viator which offers 51% off last-minute tours (and great deals on advanced ones too).
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