Labor Day isn't the end of summer weather in California, but it does mark the end of the summer travel season as families get geared up for the coming school year.
The last big holiday of summer is one of the nicest long weekends of the year. By then, coastal June Gloom is over, and most California coastal locations get some of the best weather they will get all year long. Inland, temperatures start to decrease from their summer highs. Mountain passes are free of snow, allowing road trips to Eastern California.
All in all, Labor Day is a perfect time for going to a festival or for a long weekend getaway. With all of its pluses, it's also a time when planning is essential.
Great Labor Day Getaways in California
In Palm Springs, Death Valley and the rest of the California desert, the thermometer is likely to still top out at well more than 100° F on Labor Day weekend, too hot for most of us to even think about going there.
However, you can still find places to go, and you can get a little further away from home if you have three days off. These are a few places that would make a great Labor Day getaway:
- Catalina Island: It's usually a weekend destination but an extra day on Catalina is always welcome, and you don't have to worry about driving home in that awful end of holiday weekend traffic - you just take the boat instead.
- Eureka: It isn't the town with the quirky sheriff and the talking house you saw in the TV show, but Eureka, California is a charming little place on the northern coast that's filled with lovely Victorian-style homes.
- Houseboating: For a fun end-of-summer blowout, grab some friends and rent a houseboat on Lake Shasta or go houseboating on the Sacramento River Delta. It's a fun way to enjoy the end of summer, cruising around, swimming, and having a barbecue on the deck.
- Mount Lassen: This volcano last blew its top in 1915, but you'll still find plenty of fire and brimstone simmering beneath the surface. And some magnificent scenery all around. Labor Day weekend is the last good time to go before the roads close because of winter snow.
- Mendocino: Pretty scenery and relaxing surroundings make "Mendo" a nice place to rest up after a busy summer. And it's far enough north that an extra day to make the trip will be a big help.
- East of the Sierras on California Route 395: Before Tioga Pass from Yosemite closes for the winter (which can happen as early as November), take a quick trip over the Sierras to Mono County. Visit the mother lode of ghost towns and one of California's most scenic lakes.
- Take a Scenic Drive: Any of the seven California routes that will make you swoon (or more than one linked together) would make a perfect weekend trip.
Places to Avoid
Some places get so crowded during Labor Day weekend that you might think you would lose your mind coping with the crowds. They include all of the major theme parks, museums, and beaches.
Hotel search site Trivago says San Francisco and San Diego are among the busiest cities in the country over the holiday.
If you're an Angeleno, it's actually an excellent time to stay home instead of driving somewhere and getting stuck in apocalypse-level traffic getting back home. As a bonus, it might only take 25 minutes to get across town. And you won't have to wait in long lines for brunch.
Labor Day Fireworks
Independence Day is the traditional time for fireworks, but quite a few places in California also have them over Labor Day weekend. If you are near any of the big theme parks, check their websites for holiday displays. And you don't need a ticket to see them. Instead, go nearby and find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky above.
Top Labor Day Festivals in Northern California
- Fort Bragg: The Paul Bunyan Days festival is named for the bigger-than-life logger and his giant blue ox. They say it will take you back to the days of the Wild West.
- Sonoma County: Taste of Sonoma is a food and wine festival that showcases the county's agriculture and its vintners.
- Sausalito: The Sausalito Art Festival is a juried show with high-quality artwork and crafts, along with food and wine. It runs all three days of the holiday weekend.
- Apples in the Sierra Foothills: Labor Day weekend marks the opening of most Apple Hill Ranches. You can pick your own or buy some to take home.
Labor Day Festivals in Southern California
- Los Angeles: The Taste is one of LA's many delicious festivals, with lots of local celebrity chefs and bartenders on hand.
- Pomona: The Los Angeles County Fair lasts most of the month, but it starts around Labor Day and is a great way to say goodbye to the summer.
- Hollywood: The Hollywood Bowl season is nearing an end in September, but they still have concerts through Labor Day weekend.
- San Pedro: The annual Conquer the Bridge 5-Mile Race will take you running over the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
- San Diego: The annual U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge takes place over Labor Day weekend, making it an even more entertaining time to go to the beach.
Labor Day on California Highways
Snow seldom happens as early as Labor Day, and all of the California mountain passes should still be open.
The California Highway Patrol always increases their presence during Labor Day weekend, especially on the major highways. On the busiest roads (Interstate Highway 5, US Highway 101), you might see dozens of troopers in a few hundred miles, out doing speed checks.
In Southern California, it's common to encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles during any long weekend. And while SoCal is often ridiculed for its traffic jams, traffic analyst Inrix says San Francisco may even worse. It ranks in the top 10 in the country for Labor Day traffic snarls. To avoid the worst of those delays, plan to leave before lunch on Friday, then linger at your destination and return home in the late evening.
Labor Day weekend is also one of CalTrans highway department's favorite times for road projects, which may include major closures. To check for road closures, call 800-427-7623 or visit their website.