Northern California is really unlike any other part of the state when it comes to weather. Due to its geography, from mountain landscapes to valleys, the weather tends to change by region. In one breath, you could be in a very foggy San Francisco, and then go over the bridge to Marin and it is fifteen degrees warmer.
When I think of Northern California, I think of areas like the coastline, San Francisco, and the mountain regions of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. All of these areas are unique in experience and truly can be beautiful at any time of the year.
If you’re planning a trip to Northern California, it’s important to consider which time of year you want to visit. Hopefully, this guide will help you figure what time of year is best to come to visit!
A guide for the best time to visit Northern California
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Winter – December to March
The coldest time of year is most certainly the winter in Northern California. However, it has its perks.
Mountain regions: Areas like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite will get blanketed in snow. Tahoe is an incredible ski destination (part of it is in Nevada) so if you plan to hit the slopes, the months of December through March is the time to visit and you can rent incredible Airbnbs there. For Yosemite, you’ll need proper mountain tires and chains to enter the valley depending on the amount of snow. Keep this in mind if you want to visit the valley. We’ve done it once and absolutely adored seeing the park in the snow.
Wine country: If you’re looking to score a hotel deal in Sonoma or Napa Valley, the prices are at its best in the winter. This is still a great time of year to visit Northern California’s wine country as most of the experiences are indoors. The vineyards may be a bit baren but none the less the same experience. These Airbnbs in Sonoma are also wonderful for a weekend escape.
San Francisco: I give San Francisco its own category as its the most particular for the weather. In winter, you’ll have the clearest days with the least fog. In exchange, you’ll get a bit colder weather in the city. December is a fun month in San Francisco as Union Square will get an ice rink and completely decorated for the holidays which is very festive.
The Coast: The coast of Northern California is an outlier for the weather. I feel like the coast is almost anywhere from 45-55 degrees year-round especially late fall through summer. Carmel is even wonderful this time of year. It’s still a nice time of year to go for a drive and will need to bundle up for the wind. Here are a few places to visit along the coast.
Spring – April to May
Mountain regions: This year is a bit tricky in areas, like Tahoe. I call it mud season as the snow is melting but it’s not completely quite gone. Too cold to swim and not enough snow to ski. It’s a good time of year to visit if you plan to drive around the lake and will have a limited amount of hiking to do. For Yosemite, by spring the snow has usually melted away and the park comes to life. May, in fact, is my favorite month to visit Yosemite. Some of the upper trails may be closed due to leftover snow, but you can still do a ton on the valley floor before the summer crowds.
Wine country: The mustard fields come alive and the vineyards are green. This is an awesome time of year to visit wine country as it’s truly scenic. There may be a few days of showers throughout but none the less beautiful. You could even visit both valleys in a few days.
San Francisco: A great time of year to visit before the foggy months kick in. The crowds also seem to be lighter this time of year.
The Coast: As the coast tends to keep a similar temperature year-round, April and May are a safe bet for visiting the coast. I love this three-night road trip up the northern coast.
Summer – June to September
Mountain regions: This is one of the busiest times of years for Yosemite National Park. I’d personally avoid weekends as the queues to get into the park can be long and the traffic is dense. However, you do get longer days and great weather for hikes in Yosemite. Lake Tahoe this time of year is also great to visit. Lake Tahoe is perfect for a swim or renting a boat, even a hike in the mountains is great this time of year — here’s a quick summer guide.
Wine country: The summer months in wine country are warm. The weather gets hot, so I’d plan out some pool time if you’re staying overnight. The days are longer, festivals are frequent and there’s a lot to do. It is also the busiest season with weekends packing in traffic.
San Francisco: Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he ever had was a summer in San Francisco. We have even named the fog, Karl. It’s a tough time of year to really see the Golden Gate Bridge as the fog comes in thick. The summers may have a lot to do nearby but can almost guarantee a few foggy and very windy days in a week. We have an “Indian summer” in San Francisco, which means the months of late September to October are unseasonably warm.
The Coast: Depending on the day, you will often get very foggy mornings that will burn off by the early afternoon. You can have some wonderful beach days on the coast of Northern California this time of year.
- here are a few things to do in the summer in Northern California.
Fall – October – November
Mountain regions: This is my favorite time to visit Northern California. Fall colors kick into gear, fewer crowds, and mild temperatures. Yosemite is magical in the fall before the first snowfall. Lake Tahoe is still warm enough for hiking as long as the snow hasn’t hit yet.
Wine country: It’s the season with the most events in the valley — harvest season! There is a lot to do in Napa and Sonoma. A lot of wineries have harvest events you can partake in as well.
San Francisco: Early October is one of the best times of years to visit sans crowds and mild temperatures.
The Coast: I love a fall road trip up the coast of California. You’ll get sunny days through October and the roads are empty. Mendocino is particularly wonderful this time of year or you can even adventure further north up the Redwood Coast with this itinerary.