Spring in California: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

What's Special in California During the Spring

The view from the cliffs above Blacks Beach


Natalie Morton / Getty Images

Spring is one of the best times to visit California. The weather is mild and sunny, with generally fog-free days at the coast until May. It's the only time of year that the Golden State's predominant color doesn't match its name. Starting late winter and lasting through early spring, the arid coastal ecosystem comes alive in green. Wildflowers burst into bloom, blossoms turn fruit trees into pink and white clouds, and even the barren inland desert lays out a flowery carpet.

Throughout California, popular attractions and beaches tend to be crowded during the state's staggered spring break school schedule, which extends from mid-March through mid-April. You can avoid this by visiting early March, especially if you have a spring ski vacation in mind, or late April, if the beach is more your thing. During these time periods, hotel rates will be less expensive, and you'll find plenty to do, like visiting California's National Parks to experiencing bird migrations and flower fields abloom.

California Weather in Spring

The large state of California contains many different ecosystems, from forested mountains to Mediterranean coastal climates to the desert, making the weather vary depending on the region you're visiting. Snow can fall in the Sierra Nevada mountains well into April and, once in a while, ski season stretches into summer.

During this time, you will find some of the clearest skies of the year along the coast in March and April, especially in San Francisco. The rainy season ends in late February, yet can linger through April, especially in the northern regions. And, in Southern California, you may encounter summer-like weather, especially if you head inland a few miles.

California's Average High and Low Temperatures in Spring
   March  April  May
San Francisco 62 F (17 C) 49 F (9 C) 63 F (17 C) 49 F (9 C) 64 F (18 C) 61 F (16 C)
Sacramento 68 F (20 C) 47 F (8 C) 74 F (23 C) 49 F (9 C) 82 F (28 C) 54 F (12 C)
Los Angeles 70 F (21 C) 52 F (11 C) 73 F (23 C) 55 F (13 C) 74 F (23 C) 58 F (14 C)
San Diego 67 F (19 C) 54 F (12 C) 69 F (16 C) 56 F (13 C) 72 F (22 C) 62 F (17 C)
 San Jose 66 F (19 C) 47 F (8 C) 70 F (21 C) 49 F (9 C) 75 F (24 C) 53 F (12 C)
Pasadena 72 F (22 C) 49 F (9 C) 76 F (24 C) 51 F (11 C) 79 F (26 C) 55 F (13 C)

What to Pack

California's springtime days could vary in temperature by 20° Fahrenheit or more. The desert will be warm, but not too hot. The mountains will be cool, but you may be able to ski in a light jacket. And, the coastal marine layer will always make it cooler at the beach than it is slightly inland. That said, plan your clothing specific to the area you'll be visiting and check the short-range forecast before you go.

If you're visiting the cost up north, pack shorts, light pants, long sleeve layering pieces, and a waterproof windbreaker. For the southern coast, you can pack much of the same, but throw in a swimsuit, a sundress, and summer-like attire, should you get a streak of warm beach days. Ski pants, a ski jacket, thermal underwear, goggles, and a helmet will be needed if you're headed to the mountains to ski. And, desert goers will want to pack mostly summer-like attire: shorts, short-sleeved shirts, a sun hat, and a sweater or light jacket for the evening.

California Events in Spring

The state of California offers an extensive amount of springtime goings-on. From whale watching and public garden tours for nature lovers to history walks through a national park and film festivals for the culturally inclined. Check out the California spring getaway guide to get additional ideas for spring weekend or week-long getaways.

  • For a local's view of one of the most majestical national parks in the country, head to Yosemite Conservancy's Spring Gathering for a week of programming specific to the flora and fauna of the park. From March 23 to 27, 2021, you can join naturalists and conservationists for tours and history programs by contributing a mere donation of $25 or more.
  • Whale watching on the coast of California is a bucket-list endeavor. Each spring, the California grey whales migrate from the warm waters of Baja up the coast to their summer resting place in Alaska. Day tours can be booked out of San Diego, Orange County, or Monterey.
  • Witness the "Miracle of the “Swallows of Capistrano" each year in San Juan Capistrano on March 19, St. Joseph's Day. These insect-eating birds return to their nesting place after a long flight from their winter home in Goya, Argentina.
  • The San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the Americas. Taking place April 9 to 18, 2021, the festival will host drive-in and streaming programs. Book tickets on the festival's website well ahead of time for in-person events, as they may sell out.
  • Just north of San Diego sits the Carlsbad Flower Fields, a fifty-acre sea of ranunculus flowers that put on their best show for visitors every year. The flower fields reach their peak blooms from early March through May. Tickets can be reserved on the garden's website.
  • Skiers and snowboarders can watch or participate in a 30+ year event at Squaw Valley Ski Resort called Cushing Crossing. This pond-skimming competition that takes place each May comes complete with a celebrity judging panel and laughable spills.
  • Head to Death Valley for wildflower season. Each spring, and under the right conditions, the area shows a colorful display of gold, purple, pink, and white flowers. Check with the National Park Service before visiting to make sure the conditions are just right for viewing.

Some events, such as Cushing Crossing, have been postponed for 2021. Others, like The San Francisco International Film Festival, have slightly altered offerings. Please check with event organizers for up-to-date information.

Spring Travel Tips

  • Late rain, snow, and mudslides keep some California highways closed well into spring. Roads that may have seasonal closures include Tioga Pass in Yosemite (usually opens after April 15) and California's Highway One (which is especially susceptible to mudslides).
  • Make sure to visit places like the Anza-Borrego Desert and Joshua Tree National Park early in the spring and well before the temperatures soar to over 100° Fahrenheit.
  • The infamous "June gloom" usually returns to the northern and southern coasts towards the end of May. So if you're heading to San Diego or San Francisco, go early before this fog event rolls in.
  • The Lyrids meteor shower occurs each year in mid-April. If the skies are clear, some of the best places to see the show are Death Valley, Big Sur, and Mendocino.
  • The main entrances to Sequoia National Park are open year-round, but you will have to wait until later in the year to take the road to lower Kings Canyon, which stays closed until early summer.
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