California Fall Getaways

Fall is one of the best times of the year for a weekend getaway in California and the perfect excuse for a quick escape before the holiday season sets in. Along the coast, summer fog dissipates, and you can enjoy the clearest skies you may see all year long.

The California destinations in this guide are places where you can see the fall foliage, taste the fruits of autumn harvests, or enjoy a seasonal activity or festival. They are all are especially fun to visit during September, October, and November.

01 of 08

Napa Valley: Harvest Time

VINEYARDS IN AUTUMN, NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
David W. Hamilton / Getty Images

Many people think they should go to Napa Valley during the autumn harvest, but as exciting as that sounds, it has its drawbacks. Harvest is the busiest time of year at a winery. Add an influx of excited visitors, and tasting room staff can get too busy to give visitors as much attention as they can at other times of the year.

Instead of going during harvest, plan your Napa getaway after the last grapes are crushed and their juice is on the way to becoming wine.

Instead of missing out, you'll get in on the best reason to go to Napa in the fall: to see the colorful foliage. In wine country, that's grape leaves, not trees. After giving up their harvest, Napa Valley grapevines put on a vivid display that rivals what any trees in the state can muster.

02 of 08

Scenic Highway 395: Best Fall Foliage in the State

Aspen Trees at Gull Lake in the Fall

© Betsy Malloy Photography

Fall is the time to plan a getaway to Mono County. It's the best place in California for fall color when aspen trees growing on the mountainsides turn golden. 

The high country east of the Sierras is one of California's under-discovered areas. In any season, its eye-popping geological formations make for landscapes that look more like Mars than Earth. Take a drive on Highway 395, and you will be busy gawking at beautiful views in all directions. 

In the fall, Mother Nature takes things up a notch. Eastern California is hands down the best of many places to see fall foliage in California. Cascades of aspen trees with their golden leaves quivering in the breeze are so beautiful that you will barely be able to believe they are real.

03 of 08

Hearst Castle: Evening Tours

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

Hearst San Simeon Historical Monument®, Department of Parks and Recreation

Autumn would be a good time to plan a trip to Hearst Castle just because it's less crowded than in summer, but that's not the only reason to visit in the fall.

This is the exciting part; In the fall, you can take an evening tour of Hearst Castle.

These tours are longer than the typical day tour and by far the best way to get a glimpse into life at the Castle during Hearst's day as you watch docents in 1930s dress move silently through the Castle's sumptuous rooms.

04 of 08

Julian: Apple Time

Hotel in Julian California
Richard Cummins/Getty Images

In the 1800s, treasure-seekers rushed to Julian looking for gold. The gold ran out, but the plucky little gold rush town survived. Today, it has an attractive downtown and lots of old-fashioned charm.

In the fall, people rush to Julian for red, green, and gold treasures: the apples that ripen in nearby orchards in the fall.

Plan your getaway to Julian during the fall, and you'll find roadside stands selling apple varieties you've never heard of. You can buy them ready to go or pick them yourself. And don't miss a slice of fresh apple pie. They're for sale at every cafe in town.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Lake Tahoe: Fall Foliage

Lake Tahoe in the Fall
Claver Carroll/Getty Images

Between the busy winter and summer seasons, Lake Tahoe quiets down, and the days are clear and crisp. It's the perfect time for you to plan your Lake Tahoe getaway. With the same activities available as summer, but without the crowds, Lake Tahoe can be absolutely fun in fall.

If you take a trip to  Lake Tahoe during fall, it's the perfect time for a leisurely drive around the lake.

06 of 08

San Francisco: Clear Skies, No Crowds

San Francisco Skyline on a Clear Day
Marco Simoni/Getty Images

If you want to see San Francisco under clear, blue skies and without having to elbow your way through crowds of tacky tourists, go in the fall. That's when the legendary San Francisco summer fog goes away. So do the crowds of tourists that can make all the tourist attractions overly busy. 

In fact, October is one of the best times to visit San Francisco, and it's never to too soon to start making plans for your San Francisco getaway.

07 of 08

Anza-Borrego Desert: Starry Skies

Night sky in the Anza-Borrego Desert in California.

 

Kevin Key / Slworking/Getty Images 

Because of its clear skies and absence of light pollution, Anza-Borrego State Park and nearby Borrego Springs are perfect for star-watching any time of year.

But in the summer it can be hot enough to send you running for the nearest air-conditioned space even in the middle of the night. 

If you plan your trip to Anza-Borrego in the fall, you can enjoy balmy evening temperatures while you take in those sparkling skies.

08 of 08

Gold Country

1897 Emporium in Jamestown, California Gold Country
Kai Schreiber/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Gold Country is one of California's earliest settled areas, in the foothills of the Sierras, scenic and full of history. Prospectors once flocked here to make their fortunes in the gold rush. Today, the gold is in the fall foliage along Highway 49.

Plan a getaway to Gold Country in the fall and you can also visit the orchards in Apple Hill, stop by a winery, go shopping for antiques or explore one of the area's several caverns.

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