Fall Foliage, Pumpkins, Apples, & More


The ultimate guide to fall in california: fall foliage, pumpkin picking, apple orchards, grape stomping, and where to go for the best fall activities in California!

Psst: Please be sure to follow all local regulations, social distance, and wear a mask to keep yourself and others safe. Also: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no cost to you.

Crisp autumn air. Crunchy leaves. Brightly colored foliage. Pumpkins and apples and spooky season – I love EVERYTHING about fall! Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year – I was born in Boston and grew up in a Halloween-obsessed city – but there’s just one tiny problem: I’ve lived in Oakland, California for the past decade.

Some people get seasonal depression in the winter because it’s cold and dreary. I get seasonal depression in October because it’s hot and sunny.

Every October since I first moved to California, I put on a giant chunky scarf and knee-high boots, make my once-annual pilgrimage to the nearest Starbucks to pick up a spiced apple cider or pumpkin spice latte, and drag Jeremy – a born and raised Californian – to the nearest pumpkin patch or apple orchard, where I proceed to complain the whole time because it’s 80 degrees and sunny and I’m sweating like crazy and there are way too many tarantulas (fun fact that I never wanted to know: fall is ALSO tarantula season in California).

It’s … exactly like this:

Over the years, I’ve learned to temper my expectations and stop trying to hold California to unfair expectations. I’ve learned where to find California’s elusive – but very much existent – fall foliage, and I’ve learned to time my trips right to get some legit autumnal vibes (hint: it turns out that early October is still summer unless you go allll the way up into the mountains – more on that below).

I’ve even learned to associate tarantulas with Halloween (spooky! See? Makes sense, right?) and I’ve started to crave wine and vineyards in the fall the way I used to crave apple cider and orchards. 

I am – slowly but surely – becoming more Californian every year (this will be me in a few years).

Since I’ll be staying close to home this year, I’m rounding up my favorite fall destinations in California! From apple picking to leaf peeping and yes, even some spooky tarantulas, here’s where to go to experience fall in California, and everything you need to know about when to plan your trip for maximum autumn vibes!

Planning to explore more of California? Take a look at some of our other posts to help you plan your trip:

Small creek at Yosemite Park in Ca.
Yes, this is California! We do indeed get fall in California – if you know where to go looking for it, that is. This is in Yosemite National Park! (Photo used with permission)

Fall in California FAQ’s & Things to Know

Is there fall in California?

Yes. Only it’s not when you’d expect it to be, and it varies wildly depending on where you are and how you are from the mountains.

For instance, September and October are essentially summer months in the Bay Area, when an Indian Summer heatwave rolls through and gives us the warmest months of the year (much to my annual frustration). But even the Bay Area does – eventually – get changing leaves and cooler weather!

In the Bay Area, the fall season is fast and too-short: leaves turn and fall in November and December … only to immediately grow back again and start flowering in January as the annual winter rains roll through the state and turn everything into a brilliant, verdant green.

But in the mountains and foothills, California is truly seasonal, with stunning displays of fall foliage giving way to snowfall.

That said: if you blink, you’ll miss it. But if you’re willing to drive to find fall at the right time of year, there is definitely plenty of opportunity for California autumn adventures!

Tractor in a pumpkin patch near Chico, California
Sure, it might be 80 degrees and sunny, but by golly, you can still pick a dang pumpkin in California in the fall!

When is fall in California?

Fall in California begins at high elevations in late September, spreads throughout the state in October, and lasts through November and December along the coast.

Picture fall in California like a wave: it begins in October at the highest elevations, in the mountains, then rolls outwards across the rest of the state, hitting the coast around late November/December as the mountains are covered with snow.

So depending on when you plan your trip, you’ll likely need to head up into the mountains if you want to catch fall foliage before Thanksgiving. 

In general, mid to late October is a safe bet to find fall foliage in California. Just beware: traveling at peak season means lots of people! Try to visit mid-week or seek out less popular destinations to avoid crowds.

Is fall cold in California?

The answer to this depends entirely on where you are, but generally speaking: not really. It gets chilly at night – but keep in mind that to Californians, anything under 60 is considered chilly.

On the coast, it’s hot in September & October, cools down in November, and gets “cold” (again, 50s is cold to us) in December.

However, up in higher elevations and the mountains, the air will be cooler. Temperatures follow a more traditional seasonal pattern, with snowfall beginning in November and cold weather settling in throughout the month. But during the day, chances are that you’ll probably still feel warm and breezy in the sun.

Are there fall activities in California?

Yes! You can go apple picking, pumpkin picking, corn-maze-ing, and even leaf-peeping in California, and we’ve included our favorite suggestions below.

There are also some very California-specific fall activities you can only do here, like grape stomping on a vineyard – fall is grape harvesting season!

That said, it’s not exactly the same as doing traditional fall activities in a truly seasonal place – pumpkin patches are somehow always 80 degrees and blazing, and even apple picking is annoyingly warm and sunny. (Related rant: here at home in Oakland, all of our apples turned red and fell off our backyard trees in July this year. I’m still upset about it.)

So if it’s fall weather you’re craving, you’ll need to head into the mountains, where you’ll find plenty of crisp mountain air and brightly colored foliage.

The Best Places to Experience Fall in California

Apple Hill

Contributed by Kelsey from Sights Better Seen

Apple Hill near Placerville is the epitome of California fall! Apple Hill is not just a single hill with apples on it – it’s actually an area which includes over 50 farms. From September through December, you can visit for fall activities like apple picking, visiting pumpkin patches, wine tasting, leaf-peeping, and, of course, eating and drinking all the apple-related delicacies!

That said: because it is quintessential Northern California fall at its peak, Apple Hill is a pretty popular place during the fall season. Expect crowds during the weekend – oh, and the roads are usually one lane so they can get quite congested. Expect to wait in line to enter some of the most popular farms!

Still, it’s well worth a visit, especially on your way to and from nearby Lake Tahoe! You can pretty much stop at any farm which tickles your fancy, but here’s where we suggest to make the most of a day trip:

  • Apple Picking at Denver Dan’s Apple Patch: Make sure to call ahead to find out what apples are in season, as well as check on the status of U-Pick apples as they can run out quickly, and are typically gone by the end of September. They also sell a to die for Apple Crisp Sundae as well as other apple-related desserts and goods. Don’t forget to go to the back of the shop for an apple peeler demo – they’ll slice an apple so you can eat it off your thumb, free of charge!
  • Hard Apple Cider & Hot Apple Cider Donuts at Rainbow Orchards! In addition to the hard stuff, they also sell apple cider without alcohol. I can vouch that both versions are delicious! You’ll also find various apple-related products for sale, like pies, cobblers, crisps, tarts, jams, wine, fresh fruit, and more.
  • Pumpkin Patch & More at Delfino Farms: If you visit before Halloween, Delfino Farms has a cute pumpkin patch and corn maze. They also sell lots of fall gourds and mini pumpkins, in addition to desserts from their bake shop, Joan’s Apple Bakery. You can even taste the wine from Edio Vineyards, since ya know – it’s not California fall without wine. The farm’s location is stunning and set right in the middle of nature – don’t miss taking a short walk around the property!
  • Honorable Mention: High Hill Ranch has a cute market full of stalls selling handicrafts, plus apple cider donuts (and regular apple cider), a farm market selling farmhouse specialties, and a LOT of different types of homemade pie.

Insider Tip: Most people are coming from Sacramento, and tend to start at the closest farms then work their way back. Instead, you can start at the furthest side (as if you were coming from the Lake Tahoe area) and drive towards Sacramento for less traffic. Here’s a map for reference. For more tips, visit Sights Better Seen’s comprehensive Apple Hill guide.

Open meadow during the fall in Yosemite, Ca.
Meadow in Yosemite Valley! You’ll plenty of beautiful meadows hugged by jagged cliff faces on a drive through the valley in Yosemite National Park in the fall. (Photo used with permission)

Yosemite National Park

Contributed by Caroline from Pictures & Words

While Yosemite National Park is beautiful at any time of the year, attracting millions of visitors who come to see its towering granite monoliths and majestic waterfalls, the fall season in the park is truly spectacular.

Not only do the crowds thin out considerably (and accommodation rates come down accordingly) during the fall season, but the Yosemite valley becomes transformed into breathtaking shades of red, orange, and yellow. The weather also remains relatively mild, perfect for doing one of Yosemite’s many amazing hikes. Because of this, the fall season is perhaps the best time of year to visit the park!

Here are some of the best ways to experience fall in Yosemite:

  • Drive, stroll, or bike through the Yosemite Valley: This is where you will find the most spectacular fall foliage. Higher elevations have evergreens, so you won’t see the fall colors the higher you go in elevation. The leaves on the oak, maple, and dogwood trees here transform into vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. Spend some time taking it all in – you’ll stop so many times to oooh and aaaah over the colors and to take tons of photos!
  • Valley Loop Trail: The Valley Loop trail is a relatively flat, quiet trail that takes you through beautiful meadows at the base of giant granite cliffs. The trail also runs along near the Merced River, and you will pass along some beautiful streams (surrounded by foliage!). There are many fall colors along the trail throughout. The entire trail is 11.5 miles long, but there are many entry points so you can choose to do as little or as much of it as you wish.
  • Cook’s Meadow Loop: The Cook’s Meadow Loop is an easy 1-mile hike that is suitable for all ages and ability levels – and one with some of the best fall views in Yosemite! You will encounter plenty of red, yellow, and orange trees here, set against several of Yosemite’s most iconic sights, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. A side trail will also lead you to the charming Yosemite Valley Chapel, from where you can see some beautiful fall colors as well – and take the perfect picture!

Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park.

For more suggestions, visit Pictures & Words’ guide to fall in Yosemite. We also have a review of the best place to stay near Yosemite (and they have free s’mores)!

Oak Glen

Contributed by Jennifer from World on a Whim

Angelenos rejoice! You CAN have that typical fall experience we all envy so much on our East Coast friends’ Instagram page. You might be drinking Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos instead of Lattes and you will certainly sweat through your festive flannel in the 100-degree weather, but don’t let that stop you from u-picking apples, drinking apple cider, and devouring apple cider donuts in Oak Glen, California. 

Just 90 miles or so from Los Angeles, there are a whole host of orchards to choose for apple picking in Oak Glen, a small, mountain community nestled in the foothills of Yucaipa. Three of the most well-known orchards are Willowbrook Apple Farm, Los Rios Rancho, and Riley’s Farm which are all conveniently located down Oak Glen Road. 

The Oak Glen secret is out, so make sure you leave bright and early for the two hour or so journey from Los Angeles. The farms usually open around 10 AM and there will be lines to enter. Be sure to check the dates you want to visit because u-pick typically only happens on weekends. However, there are also great nighttime events at some of the farms should you wish to do things a bit differently. Below are some of the best activities to do for fall in Oak Glen, CA.  

  • U-Pick Apples and U-Press Apple Cider at Willowbrook Apple Farm. The orchard was planted in 1910 making their famed Stayman-Winesap apples over 100 years old!
  • Attend a historical reenactment dinner at Riley’s Farm. The fall show is none other than The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. You’ll watch the three-act play, do some apple bobbing, and even participate in a pie-eating contest! 
  • Take a hayride and weave your way through a corn maze before enjoying some delicious tri-tip sandwiches from the bbq at Los Rios Rancho

Chico

Located a few hours north of San Francisco, the charming little college town of Chico is often overlooked as a seasonal destination. But Chico, also called the City of Trees, is close enough to the mountains to get a wonderful blanket of fall color at the appropriate time of the year, and never be too far from snow in the winter! Starting in September when the oaks and sycamores begin to turn, you’ll see an explosion of yellows, oranges and deep reds throughout town.

In the foothills near Chico, you’ll also find sprawling pumpkin farms complete with corn mazes, fresh pumpkin pie, and an extra-special California fall addition: tarantulas.

But don’t let the tarantulas deter you, because Chico’s nearby pumpkin farms are far less crowded than more popular pumpkin picking destinations like Apple Hill or Half Moon Bay, where you’ll often have to wait for an hour just to enter the parking lot at any October weekend!

One thing Chico does not have, however, is fall weather. So slather on some sunscreen and try not to get too disappointed when you have to take off your fall scarf and hat because it’s 80+ degrees and sunny.

Here’s how to make the most of a trip to Chico in the fall:

  • Pick pumpkins & get lost in a corn maze: Country Pumpkins is one of the best pumpkin patches we’ve visited in California! Free of crowds and with sprawling land to spare, the farm packs in fall activities: there’s a corn maze AND a limited-run 10-acre haunted maze, a hay pyramid, a petting zoo, a country store, and yes, a pumpkin patch. And tarantulas.
  • Leaf-peep downtown: On Saturday mornings in downtown Chico, you’ll find a fantastic farmers market selling fresh produce grown nearby mixed with seasonal fall handicrafts and goodies. Make the most of a fall morning by picking up a hot drink and strolling around downtown and Bidwell Park admiring the fall foliage, and then walk or drive down the Esplanade for peak leaf-peeping.
  • Beer & beer-related fall activities: Between football season and Oktoberfest, beer is an integral part of fall here in the USA. And you can get ’em both at the taproom and restaurant in the Sierra Nevada Brewery! Yep, Sierra Nevada beer is a Chico original. If there’s no football game that night, don’t worry: the farm-to-table food menu is as good as the beer.

Temecula

Contributed by Maria from Maria Abroad

Temecula is Southern California’s largest wine region, located about half way between San Diego and Los Angeles and making Temecula the perfect weekend getaway from either city.  

Fall in Temecula means grape harvest time, cooler temperatures, and lots of things to do! 

The best time to visit Temecula is during one of the special seasonal events that make a trip to Temecula in the fall just a little more special than during other times of the year. Here are the ones you should not miss:

  • Go wine tasting… & grape stomping: As the largest wine region in Southern California, there are plenty of wineries to visit and sip while enjoying fall colors in the vineyard! Vitagliano Vineyards has a stunning property to hang out at, pretend you are in Italy, and enjoy some incredible wines. If you like a more modern winery, check out Akash Winery. Their industrial ambiance is fun and very instagrammable. As a bonus, during the harvest season Temecula offers a unique fall activity: grape stomping! This traditional wine making activity is done just like centuries ago. You’ll hop in a barrel with grapes and stomp the grapes to juice – with their bare feet. Many wineries put on a special event for this, including live music, wine tastings, and dinner. Learn more about the wine stomping events in Temecula here. 
  • Attend a seasonal festival: The De Portola Wine Trail Harvest Fest usually takes place in the beginning of November. In 2019, 10 local wineries participated in the event to celebrate the end of harvest season. Each winery offers a special wine tasting paired with delicious local treats, live music and other special events. If beer is more up your alley, plan your trip during Inland Empire Oktoberfest. 
  • Pick a pumpkin: For the ultimate fall feeling, you simply MUST add a pumpkin patch to your Temecula itinerary. Check out Peltzer Pumpkin Farm and winery. You will feel like you have been transported to pumpkin heaven and the Peltzers, 5th generation family farmers, will make your day extra special. 

Don’t forget to spend some time exploring town! Along Temecula’s Main Street is a fantastic craft brewery serving up Belgian-style ales called Refuge Brewery. And for some of the best food in town, go to Devilicious – A Gastropub AND Speakeasy. What could be better ending to a perfect fall getaway to Temecula?

Half Moon Bay

Contributed by Jessica from A Passion and A Passport

Come Autumn, Half Moon Bay turns into the ultimate spot for pumpkin fun in Northern California. The coastal town is actually known as the “pumpkin capital of the world”, so you know they’ll be a whole slew of fun activities revolving around them! There’s pumpkin picking, corn mazes, pony rides, pumpkin beer, and oh so much more.

And better yet – autumn is the most pleasant time of year in terms of weather to visit Half Moon Bay! The summer fog has typically dissipated, the beaches are a bit warmer, and the coast is at it’s clearest.

Because of this (and all the fall fun), Halloween and the fall in general is typically the most crowded time of year in HMB. Unfortunately, expect more than a bit of traffic to get here (especially since there’s only one way in and out)!

  • Check out the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival: The #1 thing to do in HMB every October? Gawk at some ridiculously large pumpkins at the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, aka the Heavyweight Championship of Gargantuan Gourds (yes, seriously – I can’t take credit for that name). What else to do at the Pumpkin Festival? Admire the intricate carvings of the expert pumpkin carvers, sample pumpkin beer, and even devour some pumpkin mac’n’cheese (yup, that’s a thing!). There’s arts and crafts stations, pumpkin pie, haunted houses, and of course pumpkin picking.
  • Sip some festive fall beers: Come fall, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company concocts their very own seasonal brews. Throw back a few Pumpkin Harvest Ales and Ocho Barrel (and then indulge in some old fashioned apple crisp afterwards). The brewery even holds a few of their own annual festivals, including the Coastside Brewfest, Harvest Dinner, and Oktoberfest.
  • Visit a Pumpkin Patch: One of the most popular things to do in HMB in the fall? Go pumpkin picking, of course!There are ton of options – here’s a few more to choose from. Lemos Farms has pony rides for the kids, Bob’s Pumpkin Patch is a less crowded option where you can go out onto the field to pick them yourself, and Arata’s Pumpkin Farm has fun cornfield mazes!

Insider tip: looking to visit Half Moon Bay in the fall? Steer clear of weekend afternoons, and plan to come either during the week or early morning on the weekend. And whatever you do, DO NOT visit on Halloween weekend. It’ll be an absolute zoo! For more tips, check out Jessica’s huge guide of things to do in Half Moon Bay.

Julian

Contributed by Gina from Evergreen & Salt

For those who miss fall weather and live in Southern California,  or anyone who finds themselves visiting San Diego or Orange County in autumn and to soak up some California fall vibes, then the place to head is Julian, a historic gold mining town located about an hour east of San Diego. 

Why? Two reasons: Apple pie and the chance for a bit of a chill in the air — and maybe even snow if it’s late in the season!

Located at the base of the Cuyamaca mountains, Julian is a charming little town with a walkable Main Street. The town is best known for its apples, and you’ll find restaurants, cafes, and designated pie shops all along Main Street serving up an assortment of apple pies and cider. 

Julian makes for a great day trip or weekend getaway from San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles (though it does take quite a bit longer to get to from LA – plan accordingly).

Here are the best things to do in Julian in the fall:

  • Enjoy a slice of apple pie: Two of the most popular pie shops (expect a line on the weekend) are Julian Pie Company and Moms Pie Shop. The apple-pumpkin pie at Julian Cafe is also delicious (they even have a window along the sidewalk where you can order a pie to go! 
  • Go apple picking: Julian is famous for its apples, and apple picking is a fall staple! If you want to get to the source, apple picking and tours are often open to the public in the fall, but it often depends on how the crop was that year so check in advance if u-pick is an option. We recommend Calico Ranch & Cidery for apple picking & cider, or Julian Farm & Orchard for apple picking, pumpkin picking, and hayrides
  • Sample hard cider: What do you do when you’re known for growing apples? Duh: make hard cider! Visit Julian Station or the Miner’s Saloon to sample Julian Hard Cider flavors like Apple Pie and Cherry Bomb.

For more suggestions, Travel Awaits has a fantastic guide to things to do in Julian in the fall!

June Lake

Crisp mountain air. Shimmering lakes. Scenic drives. Colorful fall foliage. Welcome to June Lake, California: a rustic little mountain town in the high Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains packed with scenic trails to explore, breathtaking mountain views to admire, and brightly colored aspens to frolic in.

From October until the first snow of the season, June Lake is by far one of the best places in Northern California to see fall foliage! To time your visit perfectly, bookmark the Mono County Foliage Tracker and check it religiously.

June Lake makes a fantastic addition to a California road trip that includes Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lake, as they are all nearby!

Here’s what to do on a cozy mountain getaway to June Lake:

  • Drive the June Lake Loop: the scenic June Lake Loop is a 16-mile drive through towering aspens, rugged mountains, and glacial lakes. Just two miles and 20 minutes off Highway 395, the June Lake Loop starts in town loops through Lee Vining, at the entrance of Yosemite National Park, and the outdoor paradise of Mammoth Lakes. The loop will take about an hour or two to drive.
  • Go kayaking on Silver Lake: Take in shimmering mirrored lake views, crisp foggy air, and brightly colored foliage from a kayak in a beautiful mountain-ringed lake. Whether you’re an expert kayaker or you’ve never touched a kayak in your life, kayaking on Silver Lake is NOT to be missed. You can rent a kayak, paddles and life jackets right on the shore of the lake from Silver Lake Resort, conveniently located directly across the street from the best breakfast in town.
  • Take a hike: According to locals that I grilled during my trip, Parker Lake is the best hike in the area for fall foliage. It’s a 3.8 mile hike around one of the smaller lakes that takes about 2.5 hours to complete. This trail kicks off with a steep incline but quickly offers breathtaking views of Mono Lake and summits in the distance.

We’ve got even more suggestions – including FIVE nearby natural hot springs! – in our guide to things to do in June Lake!

Convict Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, surrounded by colorful yellow fall foliage.
Convict Lake, near Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is one of the best places to watch the sunrise surrounded by brightly colored fall foliage in California!

Mammoth Lakes

Contributed by Dhara from It’s Not About the Mile

Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra mountains is best known as a winter ski resort. But during the fall, before the winter crowds have arrived, the weather is perfectly mild and just right to enjoy Mammoth’s many outdoor activities. And – most importantly for leaf peepers – the area is ablaze with fall color!

While there is lots to do within Mammoth Lakes itself, it also makes for the perfect base from which to explore up and down the CA Highway 395 corridor! There are so many beautiful, scenic places to explore and adventure in the eastern Sierras, and Mammoth is the perfect place to plant yourself for a fall trip.

Here are the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes during the fall:

  • Enjoy fall colors on a hike: The Heart Lake trail, a 2.4-mile out-and-back moderate trail, is a beautiful hike in the fall to enjoy lots of Mammoth Lakes’ colorful fall foliage. The uphill path to the alpine lake offers beautiful views as you hike, but at the summit your efforts pay off with sweeping scenery of the mountains and Lake Mary far below. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way!
  • Coffee at sunrise at Convict Lake: Just two miles south of town is Convict Lake, one of the most scenic and iconic lakes in the Eastern Sierra. Convict Lake is ideal for boating or for walking the shore, lined with bright orange willows drooping over the water and colorful fall foliage ringing the lake at the foot of the mountains. To take it all in, wake up early with a hot mug of coffee and enjoy the perfect autumn sunrise at Convict Lake!
  • Take a scenic drive: You can’t visit the Eastern Sierra without driving scenic Highway 395, at least for a short trip. If you visit earlier in fall, go south about 30 minutes to Bishop, where three lakes sit on the three forks of Bishop Creek and offer stunning fall color. You can boat and fish at these lakes as well. Take a picnic along to enjoy by the shore for the perfect fall day!

With fewer crowds and lower prices on accommodation, fall is a wonderful time to plan a getaway to Mammoth Lakes!

Empty street filled with trees in Napa, Ca during the fall.
Fall foliage lining the driveway of Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley. Fall is also grape harvest season, and wine tasting is definitely a fall experience in California! (Photo used with permission)

Napa Valley

Contributed by Trijit from BudgetTravelBuff

Although you can enjoy the beauty – and delicious wine – of Napa Valley throughout the year, there is something magical during the fall months when the vineyards change colors from green to gold and drop their heavy grape harvest. The crunchy yellow-red leaves, cool dining, crisp air in a fantastic ambiance made Napa Valley one of the best fall destinations in California!

Napa is not a cheap place in California, but fall is the best time of year for fewer crowds – and finding affordable deals. And, as a special bonus for wine snobs – or even just fans of a good bottle of 2-buck Chuck – grape harvesting season falls between August and October!

Here are the best ways to experience fall in Napa Valley:

  • Stop some grapes: Grape stomping is one of the most fun and unique fall activities in Napa Valley! You can go grape stomping at a few different wineries and experience the weirdly satisfying feeling of releasing grape juice from freshly picked grapes by foot.
  • Go Leaf Peeping: You can enjoy the spectacular fall foliage throughout the valley, but the road to Far Niente Winery in Oakville is highly recommended! The drive features a tree-lined drive with picturesque fall foliage. Plus. there’s wine.
  • Take a Wine Train: The historic Napa Valley Wine Train runs through some of Napa Valley’s most scenic stretches. Enjoy the surrounding views with a four-course meal and a glass of wine – it’s the quintessential fabulous, luxurious, and romantic Napa Valley experience.

For a peek into the fall season in Napa Valley, check out this guide from Girl with a Glass.

And remember- although it’s certainly the best known, Napa Valley is only ONE of many wine regions in this area! Don’t skip a visit to nearby Sonoma or Healdsburg, too. Speaking of …

Vineyards in Sonoma County near Sebastopol, one of the best places to go wine tasting near the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall!
Vineyards in Sonoma County near Sebastopol, one of the best places to go wine tasting near the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall!

Sebastopol

Contributed by Allison from California Crossroads

If you want to experience some fall vibes while in California, Sonoma County — and in particular, the Russian River Valley — is a phenomenal area to choose! The vineyards all turn beautiful shades of rust and orange after the end-of-summer harvest, and the colors are exquisite.

There are many places to base yourself by the Russian River area, but my favorite is Sebastopol. It’s a larger city for the area – which is to say, a very small charming town – and is full of amazing restaurants and shops, while still close to wineries and apple orchards perfect for soaking up some autumn sunshine.

  • Go wine tasting near Sebastopol: The wines produced in the Russian River Valley are just as good as in Napa and Sonoma – and some varietals are actually better due to the special microclimates! The Russian River is known for its crisp Chardonnays and delicately fruity Pinot noirs, but there are also an abundance of winemakers doing cool things with unexpected grapes. Cool wineries near Sebastopol include Iron Horse Vineyards, which specialize in sparkling wines, and the very dog-friendly Dutton-Goldfield Winery. For a special day, book a tasting at Halleck. At $55 per person they’re fairly pricey, but a tasting includes meeting the winemaker at his house, delicious pairings (our plate included pate, chocolate truffles, and local cheeses) and phenomenal wines. His Gewürztraminer is one of the best wines I’ve ever had!
  • Go apple picking: At Apple a Day Ranch located off Occidental Road, you’ll get your own bag to pick apples to your heart’s content and pay by the pound at the end! Be sure to try the local apple for which Sebastopol is famous, the Gravenstein.
  • Hit the town: After enjoying fruit of both the fresh and alcoholic variety, time to chill! Everyone in Sebastopol’s favorite place to chill is The Barlow, a cool urban hangout featuring tons of restaurants, tasting rooms, and storefronts all converted from apple factories. Pay homage to its original purpose with a crisp apple cider at California’s beloved Golden State Cideror grab a tasty ice cream made with liquid nitrogen at Two Dog Night Creamery – their Campfire S’mores gelato is insane, and perfect for fall!

Looking for more things to do in the Russian River Valley area? Check out our Guerneville weekend getaway guide!

Fannette Island in Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, one of the best places to visit during the fall in California.
Fannette Island in Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, is a fascinating place with a super quirky backstory (involving death, rich people, and tea parties) that we cover in our Lake Tahoe Podcast Episode.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe offers about as diverse an experience as any destination in the country. In summer, crowds flock to Lake Tahoe’s clear blue waters and enchanting forests; in winter, they hit some of the best slopes and ski-resorts in the country for winter fun (check out our Lake Tahoe winter guide). But Lake Tahoe is also one of the most beautiful places in the US to take in beautiful fall foliage!

To capture the spectacle at its peak, it’s best to visit the Lake Tahoe area around October, when the region’s foliage will be on full display and the crowds will be the smallest. There’s endless hiking trails, local festivals, and plenty of places to get your fall on.

Here are three things you should put on your Lake Tahoe fall to-do list:

  • Go on a foliage-filled hike: There might be no better than Fallen Leaf Lake to catch a glimpse of Tahoe’s beauty. The lake is ringed with aspens blazing with bright color in autumn! Fallen Leaf Lake is easily accessible off Highway 89, and it offers different levels of hiking trails perfect for seasoned hikers and beginners of all ages.
  • Attend a proper Oktoberfest: Nothing says fall like oversized beers and funny outfits, and Lake Tahoe does Oktoberfest justice with many festivals & events that occur throughout the month. Oktoberfest at Camp Richardson just celebrated 25 years of putting on the free festival at their resort and marina. Camp Richardson serves up a unique take on a tradition that highlights Lake Tahoe’s rich German heritage, but for a more traditional take, head to Tahoe’s best (and most authentic) German bierhaus, Himmel Haus!
  • Take a sunset cruise: Lake Tahoe cruises are available from daytime to sunset offering majestic views of Emerald Bay, one of the most picturesque spots in Lake Tahoe. These narrated sightseeing cruises are the best way to soak in the beauty of fall colors in the Sierra Nevadas. Book a sunset tour like this one and get ready to have a memorable evening with awe-inspiring views, drinks, and dinner! 

To best enjoy Lake Tahoe in the fall, book a cozy cabin like The Lake Tahoe Chalet in South Lake Tahoe, close to both Fallen Leaf Lake and Emerald Bay.

Or, if you’ve got warm down bedding, we highly recommend reserving a campsite at D.L. Bliss State Park! We have a detailed camping essentials checklist for everything you’ll need.

Nevada City

You’ll find some of California’s best fall colors the historic Gold Rush town of Nevada City! Located in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, the area – including nearby Grass Valley – has a fascinating Gold Rush history, stunning Victorian homes and a well-preserved historic downtown.

Its easy to find fall foliage sprinkled throughout downtown Nevada City and nearby Grass Valley: there’s literally a map of the best trees!

  • Take a self-guided fall foliage tour: this self-guided fall foliage tour of Nevada City follows narrow streets lined with Victorian homes – which are typically well decorated for the season – and colorful trees. For maximum coziness, pick up a hot drink from City Council downtown before you start, and treat yourself to a caramel apple from the Chocolate Shoppe afterwards! If you prefer a less urban hike, these trails will treat you to fall foliage and scenic wilderness views.
  • Take a scenic drive: the 160-mile Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway is a looped route showcasing colorful fall foliage ranging from old trees and vines in historic mining villages to the groves of quaking aspens at the higher elevations of Yuba and Donner summits. Connect this drive with a stop in Truckee near northern Lake Tahoe for a perfect California fall road trip!
  • Visit a pumpkin patch: Sure, Bierwagen’s Pumpkin Patch has pumpkins, but most importantly, they’ve got autumnal sweet treats too: caramel apples, pumpkin cupcakes, apple cookies, fresh-baked pie, apple cider, and most popular of all, apple fritter nuggets! If you’d prefer something a little spookier, the Haunted Pumpkin Patch & maze offers adjustable scare levels (which I deeply appreciate, as a total wuss).

Glen Ellen

Contributed by Sierra from Free to Travel Mama

If you are looking for the perfect place to experience fall in California, the sweet and charming town of Glen Ellen checks all the boxes! Located in the beautiful Sonoma Valley, the autumn colors are as prevalent as the options for wine tastings.

The grape leaves in the vineyards change from yellow to orange to a deep crimson with a jaw-dropping array that rivals the best leaf-peeping spots you can find.

For outdoor adventures with practically perfect weather, delish farm to table meals, and gorgeous vistas, spend the weekend in Glen Ellen for a quaint fall getaway. Here’s what to do in Glen Ellen for maximum fall beauty.

  • Tour a Winery: Take a private tram tour through Benziger Family Winery for an intimate view of the changing leaves in the vineyards. Tram tours are available by reservation on certain days. Tours include a detailed experience of the winery with plenty of tastings along the way. Traditional outdoor seated tastings are also available on their beautiful grounds. Be prepared to pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir for later!
  • Take a hike: Visit Jack London State Historic Park for a fall hike. When entering the park, turn left to head to the 1.25 mile walking trail through the forest to the House of Happy Walls Museum and remains of the author’s dream home, the Wolf House. If you turn right when driving in, you will find the colorful vineyards and winery surrounding the ranch as a testament to London’s passion for pure and sustainable farming practices. A Bay Area Ridge trailhead is also located here for a longer hike.
  • Stuff yourself with fall comfort food: Enjoy a fabulous meal in at the Girl and the Fig. Their locally sourced ingredients make for a tasty dish any time of year, but in the autumn, you’ll find seasonal offerings like Wild Mushroom Risotto and Caramel Apple Galette. No one will judge if you head back for a giant cinnamon roll for Sunday Brunch!
Pumpkin statue at entrance of Disneyland during Halloween.
Welcome to Disneyland, one of the most fall-tastic places in California! Because nobody said the fall theming had to be real, right? (Photo used with permission)

Disneyland

Contributed by Kim from Stuffed Suitcase

Disneyland is one of the biggest attractions in California, and Disneyland in the fall is well worth a visit if you’re craving an autumnal atmosphere!

The entire theme park gets made over with fall décor, including tons of hand-carved pumpkins that decorate Main Street. Even a few of the lands and ride attractions get a makeover to be Halloween-themed – because nobody does theming better than Disney. Nobody.

If you’re heading to California in the fall and plan to visit Disneyland at Halloween Time, don’t miss out on these:

  • Ride spooky, themed rides: Enjoy the re-themed Halloween attractions like Cars Land, Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark, and Haunted Mansion Holiday.
  • Treat yourself to Halloween-themed treats: I especially love the pumpkin spice beignets. And if you’re a churro fan, you’ll find unique holiday flavored churros at different churro carts around the parks.
  • Enjoy the festivities: Don’t miss out on all the fall Halloween entertainment like the Halloween Screams fireworks show hosted by none other than Jack Skellington. Or buy a ticket to go trick-or-treating around the park picking up candy from your favorite billions and goons at the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party!

For more tips, check out the Stuffed Suitcase’s guide to visiting Disneyland at Halloween Time. We’ve also got a fun Disneyland Scavenger Hunt & guide and a guide to the best photo ops at Disneyland (neither of which are fall-specific, but still helpful, hopefully).

More Places to see Fall Foliage in California

If leaf-peeping is what you’re after, there are plenty more places to visit to catch California’s elusive fall foliage! Here are more options, with links to their fall seasonal offerings:

  • Murphys, a charming historic Gold Country town in Calaveras County, is the perfect town for a fall weekend getaway retreat. And there are fantastic wineries nearby too (you’re never too far from a winery in California)!
  • Bishop, in the eastern Sierras, is the largest (and only) incorporated city in Inyo County. Bishop Creek Canyon is often cited as one of the best places to view fall foliage in California.
  • Shasta Cascade, way up north near Redding, is the home of Mount Shasta and the stunning Trinity Alps – a must-visit for hikers! Look for a place to stay near Shasta Lake for the best fall foliage views.
  • Plumas County, which includes Lassen National Park, has their own foliage tracker & even a facebook group for leaf peepers.
  • The Ortega Highway, between San Juan Capistrano and Palm Springs along the 74 takes you from the beach, through the forest and into the desert – plus, it’s supposed to be super haunted.
  • The San Bernadino Mountains near Los Angeles are home to two fall foliage lakeside retreats: Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead, which also has a baller Oktoberfest. To visit them both, drive the Rim of The World Scenic Byway, which winds through the San Bernardino Mountains between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.

Still need some ideas to tide you over this fall? Hold tight, we gotchu.

More Resources for Fall in California

  • Pumpkin Patches: Heres’s a comprehensive list of pumpkin patches in California. There are pumpkin patches all over the state!
  • U-Pick Apple Orchards: Here’s a list of apple orchards near San Francisco, and orchards near Los Angeles. This list of U-Pick farms and orchards throughout California is super comprehensive – overwhelmingly so – but you can narrow it down and search by county.
  • Fall Foliage: This map shows user-reported updates of foliage color across California. This map shows data-predicted foliage change by week. This list covers the California State Parks with the best fall foliage. This blog is full of fall foliage trip reports and photos from all over California. It’s a little difficult to navigate, but you can browse reports by month and by location. And Mono County, one of the best counties to explore for fall foliage in California, has its own fall foliage tracker which they keep updated throughout the season each year. June Lake & Mammoth Lakes from our list above are both in Mono County.
  • Haunted Houses: This site includes a comprehensive list of California’s haunted houses and other spooky attractions. This site does too, and you can search by city or by attraction type (trigger warning before you click: there’s a creepy crawly effect on the site that arachnophobes will absolutely hate).

Are you ready to throw on your chunkiest scarf, sip a PSL and crunch through those fall leaves? What’s your favorite way to enjoy fall in California? Drop us a comment below!

Psst: Looking for more things to do in California? Take a look at some of our other posts, or browse them all!

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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our complete guide to trip planning.

  • Face Masks: Scientific consensus demonstrates wearing face masks protects both yourself and those around you from viral spread! We love these reusable face masks because they’re ethically made with sustainable materials and budget-friendly.
  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in mid-range boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). Depending on the destination, we also love staying in AirBnBs. We’ve also used TrustedHousesitters as both hosts and travelers.
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance.
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit. When we book a rental car, we use RentalCars.com to find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover? Use Stasher to safely store your luggage while you’re running around. Be sure to use the code PW10 for 10% off your booking!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!



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