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

October is whale-watching season: A humpback whale lunge feeds in clear view of a whale watching boat out in Monterey Bay, California.

 

Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Getty Images 

In spite of all those cliched views of California in the summer, October is actually one of the best times of year to visit. Weather is good almost anywhere, there's unlikely to be fog at the coast, and winter rains won't start until late in the month (if at all).

While the state may not be the best-known in the country for fall foliage, the golden-yellow aspen trees of the Eastern Sierras are an autumn highlight and typically at their peak in October. October may also be your last chance to travel over Tioga Pass from Yosemite before it closes due to winter snow build-up.

California Weather in October

The weather in California varies depending on what part of the state you're visiting. In general, the entire state is pleasant in October — highs range from the 70s to the low 90s, and lows across the state don't typically dip below the low 60s or mid-50s.

Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, starts getting cold with lowest temperatures dipping to near freezing (although highs stay in the 50s).

You can get details of the highs and lows around the state in October (and all year round) by consulting these guides to some average highs, lows, and more weather considerations in some popular tourist destinations, such as San DiegoLos AngelesDisneylandDeath ValleyPalm SpringsSan FranciscoYosemite, and Lake Tahoe.

What to Pack

Because there are so many things to do in California during October and they happen everywhere from the desert to the mountains, your packing list will vary depending on what you're doing. These are a few things to keep in mind.

By September, water and air temperatures at the beach make oceanside strolls and quick barefoot dips in the surf feasible, but you should know that the beach areas are always colder than inland and they get even chillier when the sun goes down.

If you plan on spending time outdoors camping or hiking, pack light layers to stay warm and covered (but ones that you can easily shed if it gets too hot), and bring appropriate footwear.

No matter where your plans take you, pack plenty of sunscreen, as the sun shines almost every day in September.

Things to Do in California in October

  • JazzTrax Festival on Catalina Island is so popular that it sells out every year, so you'll need to plan ahead.
  • Fleet Week, San Francisco: It's a celebration of the military fleet, featuring some impressive ships and an eye-popping air show.
  • Pumpkin Festival, Half Moon Bay: Home of that giant pumpkin contest you see every year in the media, with lots of fall fun.
  • Oktoberfest, Big Bear Lake: You know what Oktoberfest is all about - beer and more beer - and they've got it.
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco: This free event is held in Golden Gate Park and features tons of really excellent bluegrass-style performers.
  • Cambria Scarecrow Festival: More than 350 of the cutest, most creative scarecrows you can imagine line the town's streets.
  • Outstanding in the Field: Bringing the dinner table to the farm, this traveling event invites diners to enjoy and celebrate food, with the people who produce it, right at the source.
  • Western Film Festival, Lone Pine: More cowboy-filled western movies were filmed around Lone Pine than you can count and this festival celebrates them all.
  • Whale Watching in October: Gray whales start their southward migration, and you may also see blue whales, fin whales, and Minke whales.

    Travel Tips for October

    Start making plans in August for Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland. It may be the most fun time to go all year - and it's the best Disneyland bargain out there. Tickets go on sale early in August and the most popular days sell out fast.

    If you want to take the annual Point Sur Lighthouse Ghost Tour or a lantern tour of Old City Cemetery in Sacramento, buy tickets early in September. By the end of the month, they'll all be sold out.

    If you want to go camping at a California state park in October, make your reservations six months ahead of time in April. Everything you need to know is here.

    If you're planning to camp at Yosemite next September 15 through October 14, be ready at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time on May 15 to make your reservations online. For October 15 through November 14, mark your calendar for June 15. You can do that online or by phone at 877-444-6777 or 518-885-3639 from outside the US & Canada. Get an overview and more options here.