The 8 Best California Winter Getaways

Winter in Yosemite National Park
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

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.

01 of 08

Go to Death Valley for Winter Warmth

Road going to Death Valley from the west
Betsy Malloy Photography
Death Valley, CA, USA

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.

02 of 08

Enjoy Disneyland Without the Crowds

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland

Betsy Malloy Photography

1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA
Phone +1 714-781-4636

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.

03 of 08

Visit Orange County for Christmas Festivities

Newport Beach Harbor Boat Parade
fortherock/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
Newport Beach, CA, USA

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

04 of 08

See Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove

Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove
logjayge/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Watch the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena

Watching the Rose Parade
Adapted from Prayitno/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
391 S Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105, USA
Phone +1 626-449-4100

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.

06 of 08

Explore Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite in Winter
Betsy Malloy Photography
California, USA
Phone +1 209-372-0200

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.

07 of 08

See Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo and Piedras Blancas

Elephant seals at Ano Nuevo

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

1 New Years Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060, USA
Phone +1 650-879-2025

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.

You can see the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park during a getaway to Santa Cruz, or stop by the breeding colony at Piedras Blancas on a trip to Hearst Castle.

08 of 08

Look for Shooting Stars

Meteor Over Mt. Whitney
Tony Rowell/Getty Images

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 SurMendocino, and locations along Scenic Highway 395 in Eastern California.

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The 8 Best California Winter Getaways