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

What's Special in California During the Spring

Mountain Dogwood at Yosemite in Spring

Betsy Malloy Photography

If you're thinking of visiting California in the spring, you picked one of the best times to go. Weather will often be excellent, and the coastal areas are mostly fog-free until May. If you avoid spring break, you'll find even the most popular places less crowded, Hotel rates tend to be lower in spring than in summer or during the holidays, too.

Spring is also the season when California is at its most beautiful. It's the only time of year that the Golden State's predominant color doesn't match its name. Starting in later winter and lasting into early spring, everything turns green. That is, most of the time. In drought years, you may see less green even then.

After a rainy winter, wildflowers burst into bloom, blossoms turn fruit trees into pink and white clouds, and sometimes even the most barren deserts put out a flowery carpet.

When schools are on spring break, the popular attractions are more like summer. That is, very crowded. Because of staggered school schedules, spring break can extend from mid-March through April.

California Weather in Spring

Spring weather varies. Snow can fall in the mountains as late as April in some years. And once in a while, ski season stretches well into summer.

You will also find the clearest skies of the year along the coast and especially in San Francisco.

The rainy season ends by February in most years but can linger through April. Unfortunately, it varies too much to give much guidance months ahead of time.

What to Pack

In a single day, you could be in conditions that vary by 20 degrees or more. The desert will be warm but not hot. The mountains will be cooler, and it's always cooler at the coast than it is inland.

The only thing about all that uncertainty is to know that you might need anything from snow gear to shorts. Then check the forecast for a few of your destinations a few days before your trip to find out what you should take.

Where to Go in California in the Spring

Yosemite is scenic in spring when the winter snow melts, and the waterfalls are in full flow. It's also less crowded than in summer. Here's what to do at Yosemite in the spring.

Palm Springs is without a doubt a great time to visit in the springtime before it gets so hot that without feeling like your eyelashes are sweating. Use this guide to plan a getaway to Palm Springs.

Death Valley weather is most comfortable in spring. In some years if conditions are favorable, you'll find flowers blooming there, too.

Spring is also a good time to go to Anza-Borrego Desert and Joshua Tree National Park before the temperatures soar into the 100s.

San Francisco is also an excellent time to visit in spring before the crowds (and summer fog) arrive. Find more things to do in San Francisco.

Things to Do in California in the Spring

March begins the nesting season for blue herons and snowy egrets. To find the best places to watch them, use this guide to seeing the herons and egrets.

The Lyrids meteor shower occurs in mid-April. Some of the best places to see it are Death Valley, Big Sur, Mendocino, and locations along Scenic Highway 395.

Whale watching in spring is especially good. California grey whales can be seen at many points along the coast, making their annual journey from Mexico back to Alaska. Check the California whale watching guide.

The swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano: It's a surprising thing, but every year the insect-eating birds show up on March 19, St. Joseph's Day, after flying from their winter home in Argentina.

Flowers and Wildflowers

Flowers are everywhere in California in the spring. Besides the flowers growing wild, you can also visit flower growers and public gardens to see the spring blossoms.

Wildflowers depend on the year's rainfall and temperature patterns, which makes recommending the best place to see them nearly impossible. These are some of the most promising areas.

The Carlsbad Flower Fields just north of San Diego are more reliable than looking for blooms in the wild. There, a fifty-acre sea of ranunculus flowers put on their best for visitors every year. The flower fields are at their peak from early March through May. Find out more about the Carlsbad Flower Fields here.

California's public gardens are an obvious spring choice. Try The Huntington near Pasadena for camellias or Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden for rhododendrons. Read this for a more detailed list of California's public gardens.

Spring Events in California

Spring Travel Tips: California Driving in Spring

Late rain, snow, and mudslides keep some California highways closed well into spring. Roads that may still be closed include:

Tioga Pass in Yosemite may open anytime after April 15. It all depends on when they can safely get all the snow cleared away. For an overview of Tioga Pass read this.

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.

California Highway One is especially susceptible to mudslides and closures during rainy winters. A big slide can keep the highway closed for months. Here's what to do when that happens.

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