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

Time for New Olive Oil at Kiler Ridge Near Paso Robles
Time for New Olive Oil at Kiler Ridge Near Paso Robles.

Betsy Malloy Photography

By November, parts of California begin to feel like winter is coming. In other places, it finally cools down just enough for you to know for certain that summer's heat is gone for the year. During the lull between Halloween and Thanksgiving, you can visit many major attractions minus their summertime crowds.

In November, snow is possible at high elevations, but not a high probability. You will be able to safely drive in most parts of the state without fear of hazardous road conditions. In most years, Tioga Pass between Yosemite and the Eastern Sierras often closes in November and won't re-open until well after the spring thaw.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Many people also get Friday off, making it a four-day weekend. If you're thinking of visiting California then, take a look at these things to do during the Thanksgiving holidays. Some of them can't be done any other time of year.

California Weather in November

It's impossible to make a general statement about California weather. The state is 800 miles long from north to south, and its elevations range from below sea level to well over 10,000 feet.

In general, coastal areas will have comfortable temperatures through November. The deserts will cool off enough to make them enjoyable. In the mountains, snow starts with the winter rains. That could be any time from late October to March and predicting that in advance is simply not possible. Ski resorts will make their own snow if they have to, and skiing season begins around Thanksgiving weekend.

Lake Tahoe will be cold by November with its lowest temperatures dipping below freezing at night and rising into the 40s during the day. Yosemite Valley will likely be warm enough that you won't need more than a light jacket.

You can get details of the highs and lows around the state in November (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.

Mother Nature may call for a day or two of rain during your trip. It might put a damper on your travel plans, but don't despair. Try some of these ideas for things to do on a rainy day in California:

What to Pack

In a state with California's geographic diversity, your packing list will vary depending on where you go and what you're doing. These are a few things to keep in mind.

By November, water and air temperatures at the beach will limit most people to oceanside strolls. The beach areas are always colder than inland, and they get even chillier when the sun goes down.

If you plan to spend time outdoors camping or hiking, pack light layers to stay warm and covered. And bring a couple of extras in case it's colder than expected.

No matter where your plans take you, pack plenty of sunscreen. Even when the sun isn't shining, its UV rays make it through the clouds. They can reflect off water and snow, and you'll still end up with a sunburn. If you're skeptical about that, any California skier can tell you about raccoon eyes. That's the unattractive look with lighter skin beneath goggles and red or brown skin around them where the sunblock should have gone.

November Events in California

This short list highlights some of the events in California that are fun to do in November.

  • Hollywood Christmas Parade: The stars come out for this annual parade, held on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It feels surprisingly like a small town parade - except all those people riding in those convertibles are real movie stars.
  • Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena: It started as a parody of the Rose Parade, and it's one of the zaniest, wackiest parades you'll ever see. Not only it is fun to watch (and free), but it's seldom crowded.
  • Dickens Fair, San Francisco: The weekend before Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a Dickens of a celebration at the Cow Palace. You might be excused for thinking you stepped into a time warp when you walk in the door of this fun celebration of Christmas past.
  • Mavericks Invitational Surfing Contest: The big wave surfing competition can happen anytime between November and March, but only when the waves are big enough.
  • Ridgecrest Petroglyph and Heritage Festival: If you’re a fan of Native American rock art and music, you may love this festival. It includes a rare opportunity to see the most extensive collection of petroglyphs in the Western Hemisphere. Other activities include concerts by big-name Native American musicians like R. Carlos Nakai and a traditional Cherokee Indian Hog Fry.
  • Napa Valley Film Festival: Where else can you find so many great films, along with world-class wine and food?

Things to Do in California in November

You can do a lot of things in California all year round, but these are a few that are especially fun in November.

  • Meteor Showers: November is the time for one of the year's showiest meteor showers, the Leonids, which happen mid-month. Find the exact date here. The best places to see them are far away from city lights and where there are few trees: Benton Hot SpringsJoshua Tree or Lake Shasta.
  • Whale Watching: Along the coast, you can see gray whales continue their migration south toward Mexico, and you may see fin whales too.
  • New Olive Oil: November is olive harvest season and the only time of year you can get "olio nuovo" (new olive oil). It's fresh, unfiltered, right out of the mill, wonderfully pungent, cloudy with unsettled particles, intensely green, and peppery. Bagging a bottle of this rare oil while it's fresh is a good excuse for a day trip or weekend getaway. Try one of these places, which have it and also offer tastings and tours: Kiler Ridge in Paso Robles and Round Pond Estate in Napa Valley.

November Travel Tips

  • If you plan to travel anywhere above sea level, you should know the requirements for snow chains. They apply to both personal and rented vehicles.
  • The Napa Valley Film Festival happens in November, but you need to start finding a place to stay far ahead of time. By late March most of the moderately-priced lodging in the area will be full.
  • Even if you just think you want to visit Death Valley in November, make hotel or campground reservations in September (or sooner). Pay attention to cancellation policies, and there's little risk if you change your mind later (as long as you remember to cancel in time). For more information, see the Death Valley camping guide and the Death Valley hotel guide.
  • If you want to go camping at a California state park in November, make your reservations six months ahead of time in May. Everything you need to know about that too-complicated process is here.
  • If you're planning to camp at Yosemite next October 15 through November 14, be ready at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time on June 15 to make your reservations online. For November 15 through December 14, mark your calendar for July 15. Get an overview and more options in the Yosemite camping reservation guide.