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.
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 cliches about 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 you can expect dry conditions and sunny skies al month.

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.

Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos in California

You can find dozens of ways to celebrate the spooky season in California. Every theme park in the state (and many of the smaller attractions) host seasonal parties and events. You can go to festivals in most towns, or dig a little deeper to check out ghost tours and haunted place around the state. They're all in the guide to Halloween in California.

Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort: The so-called Happiest Place on Earth gets to be even more fun when they celebrate Halloween. You'll find rides transformed into holiday themes, seasonal foods, and cute decorations. Even better is the annual after-hours Halloween Party, which is the only time that adults can wear a costume at Disneyland.

It looks a little like Halloween, but Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time to honor your lost loved ones. It's a colorful celebration that lets you culturally immerse yourself in traditional and authentic Mexican traditions. You can celebrate in many parts of the state, but you will find many Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in San Diego and lots of ways to explore the Day of the Dead in Los Angeles.

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 California seldom 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

Things to do in California during October 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.

Water and air temperatures at the beach are still good for oceanside strolls and quick barefoot dips in the surf. 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 quickly 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 October.

October Events in California

  • JazzTrax Festival on Catalina Island sells out every year. Make plans a few months in advance to get your fill of "cool jazz."
  • 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: It's 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.

Things to Do in California in October

Travel Tips for October

  • Start making plans in August for the 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 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.
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