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Updated August 2023

If you’re looking to find fall foliage in California, you’ll want to consider one of these destinations for a trip. California is home to some incredible places to visit during the fall. With cooler temperatures and an abundance of outdoor experiences, these are a few of the best California fall destinations.

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Every year we opt to go to a few of our favorites locally. Some are classics that draw in crowds and others are a bit off the beaten path. Another part of California’s fall season that can’t be overlooked is wine country. For me, it’s one of the best times to visit as wineries host harvest events. So I like to keep this in mind as we plan our trips!

Whether you’re considering a day trip or looking to go hunt down the fall foliage, take a look at these incredible fall destinations in California.

Short on Time? Here are my Top Picks for the Best Fall Destinations in California:

  1. Carmel Valley (stay at Bernadus Lodge), for the best under-the-radar wine region
  2. Yosemite (stay at AutoCamp Yosemite), for the best outdoor destination
  3. Nevada City (stay at National Exchange), for the best small-town destination

The Best Fall Destinations in California


1. Napa Valley

Can there be a more quintessential fall destination than Napa Valley? The vineyards are turning colors, the oak trees are filled with bright orange leaves. It’s one of my favorite times of the year to visit.

This is the perfect fall experience, bundle up with sweaters and head to a local winery to escape the cold air. Whether you head for the day or a weekend away, it’s an ideal trip to experience fall foliage and wine country’s abundance.

If you’re looking to plan a trip there, check out this Weekend Guide to St. Helena for all of my local travel tips. And if you’re in need of an epic hotel, this list of the Best Hotels in the Napa Valley will get you going in the right direction.

Napa Valley Hotel Recommendations

  1. Archer Hotel, for the best downtown hotel
  2. Carneros Resort & Spa, for the best resort hotel
  3. Four Seasons Resort Napa Valley, for the best family-friendly hotel

2. Yosemite National Park

20 Photos to Inspire You to Visit Yosemite National Park

A personal favorite to visit, Yosemite National Park is booming with the essence of fall. Long meadows filled with deer, massive trees looming over the valley, and colors ranging from yellow to red make this an ideal destination.

This is the best location to get outdoors, take a hike, and enjoy California’s best national park. With the new reservation system in place, be sure to reserve your entrance ahead of arrival. Find the full Yosemite Weekend Guide here and if you’re looking for a chic hotel to stay at nearby, definitely book at AutoCamp Yosemite.

Yosemite Hotel Recommendations

  1. AutoCamp Yosemite, for the best design-for-dollar stay
  2. The Ahwahnee, for the best in-park hotel

3. Apple Hill

Apple Hill, photo via: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25014270@N08/6413166313/

In Northern California, you grew up going to Apple Hill. It’s one of our favorite places to go for a day trip or even an overnight escape.

You can go get your pumpkins for Halloween, take a wagon ride, enjoy the famous apple pie or caramel apples, and much more. This is a great day trip from San Francisco and nearby areas. It’s good to know that the weekends get very packed here and I’d recommend an early start or opt for a mid-week visit. Read my full guide to Apple Hill here.

4. Central Coast (San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, & Beyond)

The Design Lover's Guide to a Central California Road Trip

Perhaps a bit different than your typical fall getaway, the central coast of California is a wonderful choice for those looking for a seaside trip. From Pismo up to Cambria, there are several stops to consider.

I adore San Luis Obispo during the fall and getting up to Cambria to be closer to the ocean. And while in the area, you could even pop into Paso Robles for a lovely wine tasting. Check out this Design Lover’s Guide To A Central California Road Trip for all of my tips and itineraries for this area.

While exploring, you’ll find that there are a few “Fall” gems and one of them you should consider stopping at is Avila Barn in SLO. Stop in for all of your favorite fall things!

Central California Hotel Recommendations

  1. San Luis Creek Lodge, for the best SLO hotel
  2. White Water Cambria, for the best Cambria hotel
  3. Geneseo Inn, for the best Paso Robles hotel

5. Nevada City

A small town on the way to Lake Tahoe that screams charm and history is Nevada City. Walk the old town and step back in time. Plus, the changing colors here are always magical. It is a great place to enjoy an afternoon at a local lunch spot, take a drive into the countryside, and just enjoy the fresh air.

Nevada City Hotel Recommendations

  1. National Exchange Hotel, for the best overall hotel

6. June Lake and Mammoth Lakes

This may be one of the most popular fall destinations in California. Known for its golden aspens and bright fall foliage, it draws in visitors every year who want to peek at all the colors. Located in the Eastern Sierras and near Mammoth, June Lake Loop has the best assortment of fall foliage.

For those looking to get their dose of fall colors, this is where to go. Book your accommodations far in advance and be ready with a camera. If you’re staying in the area longer, check out these 7 Incredible Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth Lakes Hotel Recommendations

  1. The Westin Monache Resort, for the best overall hotel
  2. The Village Lodge Mammoth, for the best-located hotel
  3. Juniper Springs Resort, for the best budget-friendly hotel

7. Big Sur

The Complete Extended Travel Guide to Big Sur, California

We can’t forget the infamous coastline of California. Head to Big Sur to see the colors of fall combined with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. This is a great place for those looking to get outdoors, especially those who love to hike. 

I think you’ll find the fall months incredibly pleasant as the temperature here is always mild. Plus, you’ll have fewer crowds to enjoy the area. If you are visiting Big Sur, I’d recommend staying for a bit longer. Check out this Complete Extended Travel Guide To Big Sur, California, and find read the Guide to Best Big Sur Hotels For All Budgets to help plan your trip.

Big Sur Hotel Recommendations

  1. Alila Ventana, for the best all-inclusive resort
  2. Big Sur Lodge, for the best family-friendly stay
  3. Big Sur River Inn, for the best budget stay

8. Carmel Valley

The Carmel Valley Guide

For those looking for a wine region that is still a hidden gem, take a look at Carmel Valley. Just inland from the picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea, this award-winning wine region is a fall favorite.

We did a trip here last fall and the mild temps combined with changing colors made for a stunning setting. Great wineries, incredible food, and lovely resorts make for just a quintessential fall trip. I’ve got all of my travel tips on the Ultimate Guide to Carmel Valley.

Carmel Valley Hotel Recommendations

  1. Bernardus Lodge, for the best romantic hotel
  2. Carmel Valley Ranch, for the best luxury resort hotel

9. Santa Barbara

Road Trip Guide to Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Ojai

Looking for somewhere down south to visit during the Fall season? Look no further than Santa Barbara. The weather is still agreeable, with great dining locations, and awesome beaches. You could even combine it with a quick trip out to Ojai for a relaxing getaway.

It’s certainly not a traditional fall getaway but nonetheless a lovely escape on California’s coast. Read the Slow Road Trip Guide To Santa Barbara, Ventura, And Ojai to help plan your trip. 

Santa Barbara Hotel Recommendations

  1. Hotel Californian, for the best downtown hotel
  2. Palihouse, for the best boutique hotel

10. San Francisco

My Secret List of San Francisco Restaurants After Living There

Maybe your fall cravings are a city getaway and if so, look no further than San Francisco. I’m always a fan of the autumn months in the city as the crowds have died down as have the gloomy, foggy days.

It’s a great day trip or even a weekend away for those looking to explore more. If you want to plan out a trip, I’ve shared all of my secret spots in the Local’s Travel Guide to San Francisco. Check out The Best Hotels in San Francisco for an in-depth guide on where to stay.

San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

  1. 1 Hotelfor the best design hotel
  2. The Proper San Francisco, for the best new hotel
  3. Fairmont San Franciscofor the best Nob Hill hotel
  4. Hotel Kabukifor the best neighborhood hotel

 


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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

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