When to Go to California
California isn’t called the Golden State for nothing: this western USA destination is renowned for its accessibility and great weather year-round. But that’s not all, snow-seekers are at home here too, thanks to some of the best ski and snowboarding slopes in the country. When to go all comes down to what you want to see and do on your California holiday, which is why we’ve put together this handy guide to the region’s seasons:
Summer: June to August
Summer is peak season in California, so you can expect bigger crowds and higher rates to match – but don’t let that put you off. There’s a reason these months are so popular: they've got gorgeous weather, abundant festivals (related to wine in particular) and a plethora of high roads and wilderness trails that are often inaccessible throughout the rest of the year; like the routes to volcanic Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County and Lassen Peak to the north of the state. Nature abounds at this time of year too: take in the wildflower blooms on the Mendocino Coast or drive into the sequoia-fringed Kings Canyon – claimed to be the deepest in North America.
Best places to visit in summer:
- Los Angeles
- Sierra Nevada range
- Sequoia National Park
- Lake County
Autumn: September to November
With autumn comes milder temperatures and, with that, fewer crowds and better deals. It’s also the perfect time to take in California’s north coast regions and cities, which leave the fog of the summer behind and embrace a kind of Indian summer in the early months. San Francisco is best visited at this time of year – especially if you want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge without having your head in the clouds – followed by a trip to nearby Napa Valley for the grape harvest. Yosemite is quieter in autumn too and awash with the changing browns, reds and golds of autumn leaves; beware snow closures later in the season though.
Best places to visit in autumn:
- Yosemite National Park
- San Francisco
- Napa and Somoma Valleys
- Big Sur coastline/Pacific Highway 1
Winter: December to February
This is slope season in California. There is no better time to grab your skis (or your board) and head for the mountains: try Mammoth and the Sierra Nevada’s peaks. If the powder isn’t your thing, head south to San Diego for some winter sun and myriad water sports – we’re talking surfing, paragliding and stand up paddleboarding – or take the opportunity to visit Death Valley when it’s not quite so deathly hot.
Best places to visit in winter:
- San Diego
- Death Valley National Park
- Palm Springs
Spring: March to May
The Golden State turns a shade of emerald green in the spring, awakening nature, flora and fauna in abundance with the warmth of sun. Inland you can see blooming wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Sacramento, not to mention an abundance of birds in Joshua Tree National Park, including the ash-throated flycatcher and the western bluebird. For more wildlife, the Big Sur coastline (Monterey in particular) is a great spot to catch a glimpse of gray whales migrating north with their calves for the summer.
Best places to visit in spring:
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
For more California inspiration, browse our California holiday itineraries.