If you're looking for California places that are especially nice to visit during winter (December, January, and February), you'll find those listed below.
Some of them are too hot to visit in the summer but pleasantly warm in the winter months. Others are places to go to for winter snow play. Others put on some travel-worthy seasonal events or are good places to catch a meteor shower.
During most of the winter, you can enjoy the top sights without the crowds. That is except for the Christmas and New Year holidays. During that time, the top tourist destinations will be full of people.
Before you set out on a winter getaway, check the pros and cons of winter travel in California.
Go to Death Valley for Winter Warmth
Death Valley is hotter than the proverbial firecracker in summer, making it a place most people avoid. It finally cools off in the winter—but it stays warm enough to make it a great place to go if you're feeling a little too cold.
Winter is also the busiest time in Death Valley, and you may need to reserve a hotel room two to three months ahead of time to avoid coming up empty-handed. To get started with that planning, start by finding out everything you need to know about planning a Death Valley trip.
Enjoy Disneyland Without the Crowds
Winter is both the best and the worst time to visit Disneyland. If you want to enjoy the theme park without the crowds, wait until the year-end holidays are over.
After that, January and February are two of the best months of the year to go for short lines. If you can time your trip to avoid rainy days, you'll also enjoy the sunny California weather that Goldilocks might describe as "Not too hot, not too cold, but just right." Get started planning your Disneyland winter trip right now.
Visit Orange County for Christmas Festivities
It may be hard to believe this if you haven't experienced it yourself, but Newport Beach and neighboring Orange County towns put on some of the best Christmas festivities in Southern California.
They include a Christmas parade made solely of lit-up yachts and lighted homes that are best seen from the tranquil waterways that run behind them.
Newport Beach makes an excellent base for your holiday in the OC. Find out what you need to know to plan your Newport Beach getaway.
See Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove
In the winter, when the Monarch butterflies arrive, Pacific Grove earns its title as Butterfly Town. The sight of them taking off in the morning is one of those bucket-list-worthy things to do; a perfect reason to get started planning a trip to Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove is only one of many places to go for butterfly-watching. You can also find other places to see monarch butterflies in California.
Watch the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena
The Pasadena Rose Parade is one of the most spectacular parades in the country. It happens every New Year's day (except when the first falls on a Sunday, and then it moves to January 2).
This over-the-top extravaganza is a classic that's well worth planning a trip around. The parade also generates a lot more things to do, enough to keep you busy for several days, which are all detailed in the Rose Parade Guide.
Because the parade is so well-known, it's essential to start planning months ahead of time; use our Pasadena getaway guide.
Explore Yosemite in Winter
In the winter, you may be lucky enough to catch a snowfall in Yosemite Valley, or see Yosemite Falls frozen solid. And those are just a few of the things to do at Yosemite in the winter.
Winter is also the season for Yosemite's food and wine events, Yosemite Chef's Holidays, and the Vintner's Holidays. December brings out California's best Christmas celebration, the Bracebridge Dinners.
See Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo and Piedras Blancas
Every winter, thousands of northern elephant seals gather on the beaches, returning from an extended stay at sea. Within just a few short weeks, males fight to become the dominant bull, females come ashore, babies are born and weaned. The spectacle starts in late December and lasts a couple of months.
Look for Shooting Stars
Seeing a meteor shower is something that should also be on your bucket list, and California has some great dark sky destinations for watching them.
In December, the Geminid meteor shower happens mid-month, creating a multi-colored display of white, yellow, and even blue, red, and green streaks through the sky. Check the exact dates for this year.
One of the best dark skies spots to watch the showers in California is Death Valley. Or go anywhere that's far from city lights like Big Sur, Mendocino, and locations along Scenic Highway 395 in Eastern California.