Best Time To Visit California

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It’s easy to think of California as a summer destination, and if you had to describe California in three words, chances are, they might be ‘sun’, ‘sea’ and ‘sand’. However, California does have distinct seasons, and it’s such a diverse state that there are amazing places to visit year-round. All the seasons are so different, and the best time to visit California depends on what you want to see and do.

For example, visiting LA is perfect in the summer months of June through August, while Yosemite National Park is another popular summer vacation spot, but one that is better to explore in spring or fall to avoid the crowds.
If you’re searching for cooler temperatures and even snow, the best time to visit California is during winter, when temperatures can be as low as 48°F (8.8°C). Skiing in Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe is fantastic. Can’t decide when to go? Check out this guide for the best time to visit California to help you plan your perfect vacation.

Best Time To Visit California

California in Summer

best time to visit california Retro Style Postcard Of California WIth Palm Tree And Surfer
The best time to visit California for sun, surf and sea is summer.

Summer is a quintessential time to visit California as the warm weather makes it ideal for soaking up the sun, relaxing by the beach and catching some waves.

Although you may be tempted to visit some of the famous California attractions during summer, many places are more comfortable to explore at other times of the year.

Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Park are overcrowded and steamy in summer, and Death Valley becomes uncomfortably hot during the summer months.

It is best left out of your summer vacation itinerary if you’re a cool weather person.

Some of California’s well-known destinations should be left for other times but fortunately, there are many places in California to visit in summer.

With an average of 13 hours and 50 minutes of daylight in summer, there is plenty of time to see as many California sights as you wish.

Average Temperatures for LA County

  • June (Daylight hours: 14h24m, 61.4°F – 79.5°F 16.3 °C – 26.3 °C)
  • July (Daylight hours: 14h11m, 64.6°F – 83.8°F, 18.1°C – 28.7°C)
  • August (Daylight hours: 12h24m, 65.6°F – 84.8°F, 18.6°C – 29.3°C)

Five Things To Do In California In Summer

1- Sequoia National Park
best time to visit California Sequoia
The best time of year to visit California to see the sequoias is in summer.

Sequoia National Park is a fantastic idea if you are keen on doing a summer national park trip.

It is less crowded than the popular Yosemite, and with the trees comes some much-needed shade.

Wander through this breathtaking park ogling at some of the world’s largest trees.

There are spectacular mountain backdrops, beautiful vistas and deep canyons.

One of the reasons to visit in summer is that it’s the only time of year you can drive down into Kings Canyon.

2- Los Angeles
best time to visit California Los Angeles sunset on the beach with tall palms in silhouette
One of the best times to visit Los Angeles for a California vibe is in summer. Head to the beach.

OK, yes, LA is probably the most hectic California destination during summer, but it wouldn’t feel right to have a list of summer destinations without mentioning this legendary city.

There is something to do in LA no matter what season, but the beaches, ocean, and good vibes flourish during summer.

If you need to escape from the summer heat, visit LA’s wide array of theatres, museums and galleries.

3- Mono County

Mono County is an ideal California summer vacation spot, as the landscape is wild and diverse, and there are plenty of adventures awaiting.

While summer tourists flock to nearby Yosemite, the rest of Mono County is begging to be explored.

Check out the Travertine Hot Springs for relaxation and beautiful landscapes.

Barney Lake is a picturesque mountain-backed lake with a small lakeside beach.

It’s a lovely spot to swim in the lake for a cooling break from the California heat.

4- Pismo Beach
best time to visit california beaches cliff, trees and sunset
Enjoy a Pismo Beach sunset while driving Highway 1.

Pismo Beach is on California’s central coast and is popular for its fun-filled atmosphere, ocean views, and great food. If you’re into surfing, you’ll love checking out the waves.

No visit to Pismo Beach is complete without eating their famous clam chowder.

Stop by Splash Café for some of the best clams in town, and then continue exploring Pismo Beach.

5- Lassen Volcanic National Park
best time to visit California Lassen Mountain Stream
Kings Creek is a mountain stream that flows through a meadow at Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California. While snow can be seen on Lassen Peak (the largest plug dome volcano in the world), the best time to visit this California national park is in summer.

Of all California’s National Parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of those you may not have heard of.

It’s an ideal summer destination and a place that geography and geologist enthusiasts will appreciate for its lakes, waterfalls, and geothermal pools.

Bumpass Hell is an incredible geothermal area that features boardwalk hiking trails.

Emerald Lake and Helen Lake are picturesque destinations, especially if you head out early.

Top tips:

best time to visit disneyland California
There’s no best time to visit Disneyland in California but try to stay clear of the school vacation breaks.
  • As summer is the peak tourist season in California, it is best to book accommodation in advance.
  • Go prepared, especially if you plan on hiking around national parks (don’t forget to carry sun protection, water and a hat).

For more California ideas, see:

California in Autumn

best time to visit southern california
Autumn sunrise over redwood trees at Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, California, USA

Like many places across the United States, California experiences a vibrant change in colour when autumn begins.

Although California’s autumn temperatures are lower than summer, they are still pleasant.

The cooler temperatures and the lingering Californian summer sun make for an ideal time of year to visit the state and explore.

These five destinations are perfect to add to your California itinerary when visiting in autumn.

These autumn destinations are breathtaking, and they are often less crowded.

  • September (Daylight hours: 12h22m, 64.6°F – 83.3°F, 18.1°C – 28.5°C)
  • October (Daylight hours: 11h19m, 59.9°F – 79.0°F, 15.5°C – 26.1°C)
  • November (Daylight hours:10h23m, 52.6°F – 73.2°F, 11.4°C – 22.8°C)

Five Things To Do In California In  Autumn

1- Yosemite National Park
best time to visit california national parks mountains in the background with a stream in the foreground at sunset
There’s no best time to visit California if your aim is to see the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park. The park is beautiful all year round although summer can be rather crowded.

Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most famous parks, and for a good reason, it’s beautiful.

Photographers will love visiting Yosemite during autumn because of the colourful foliage.

Shots of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls are utterly breathtaking, with burnt orange colours in the foreground and it’s the perfect time to visit for stargazing.

The Leonid meteor shower is a spectacular sight and a real highlight of visiting in November.

2- Death Valley

Try frying an egg on your car bonnet in Death Valley in summer! The weather during this season is too hot and sticky for comfort.

Visiting Deat Valley in autumn is far more enjoyable as temperatures are still warm, but you won’t sweat as profusely as in summer.

The sky is also usually clear during this time, making for better photographs.

3- San Francisco
best time to visit san francisco California distorted fish eye perspective from Pier 14
San Francisco cityscape with Ferry Terminal at sunrise from Pier 14. One of the best times to visit California if you’re planning on going to San Francisco is in the fall.

The popular California cities are accessible year-round, but autumn is a great time to visit San Francisco as the sticky summer heat disappears, allowing you to enjoy your city break.

In autumn, a great reason to visit San Francisco is to visit the farmer’s markets, so head to the San Francisco Ferry Building for some of the best seasonal local produce.

As well as the popular city attractions, there are also several festivals held in San Francisco during autumn, such as the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Gold Gate Park.

4- June Lake
best time to visit California Mono Lake unusual shapes of columns
Mono Lake California with its Tufa columns.

In Mono County, June Lake is a lovely California destination to visit in autumn to admire the contrast between the fiery copper trees and snow-capped mountains.

There are four lakes in this area of Mono County, and you can take a driving loop to see them all.

5- Santa Barbara

Another top city in California to explore in the fall is Santa Barbara.

Autumn in Santa Barbara is generally still warm and feels like summer, though you’ll want to pack a sweater for the evening.

With autumn comes, activities abound, and there’s the opening of farmer’s markets, pumpkin patches and the vineyard harvest.

Alameda Park or the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens are ideal spots for a picnic.

Top tips:

best time to visit california wine country fall colours in a vineyard
If you’re looking for the best time of the year to visit California’s vineyards, try fall for the incredible colours.
  • Check out local events during your stay, as there are many seasonal activities.
    There are pumpkin shows, thanksgiving events, farmer’s markets and autumn festivals. Don’t miss out.

California in Winter

best time of year to visit california snow-covered trees and ground in Yosemite
Yosemite is a wonderland in winter.

Travel to California during winter to go skiing or snowboarding.

While average temperatures for LA can be as low as 48°F (9°C) and as high as 68°F (20°C) in other areas, you’ll need your winter thermals.

Never underestimate a Californian winter, some mountain passes are closed during the season, and you should always plan ahead.

  • December (Daylight hours: 9h53m, 48.3°F – 68.7°F, 9°C – 20.3°C)
  • January (Daylight hours: 10h08m, 48.5°F – 68.1°F, 9.1°C – 20°C)
  • February (Daylight hours: 10h59m, 50.3°F – 69.6°F, 10.1°C – 20.8°C)

Five Things To Do In California In Winter

1- Mammoth Lakes
best time to visit California Mammoth Lakes snow-covered lake and mountains
The best time to visit California’s Mammoth Lakes is in winter, for incredible views such as the frozen Twin Lakes and Mammoth Rock.

Mammoth Lakes is a fantastic year-round resort, but if you’re looking for a winter ski vacation, this is the place to go.

Mammoth Mountain is a popular skiing resort in the Eastern Sierra corridor, about a five-hour drive from LA.

There’s skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiles, and cross-country skiing; you name it, there is a winter activity for you at Mammoth Mountain.

Mammoth is a fantastic place to learn how to ski, and there’s plenty of terrain for experienced skiers too.

2- Lake Tahoe
best time to visit California Lake Tahoe snow covered mountains and trees
One of the best times to visit Lake Tahoe, California, is winter.

Lake Tahoe is one of the best places in California to visit during winter if you’re looking for snow, as the area receives around 215 inches (5.4 m) of snow each year.

There are several decent ski resorts to choose from and plenty of winter activities for non-skiers.

One of the highlights is the scenic gondola ride at Heavenly Village, which provides breathtaking winter views of the Lake Tahoe area.

Stay in the Southern Lake Tahoe area for easy access to the park and mountain resorts.

3- Mendocino
best time to visit California Mendocino County waves crashing against rocks
Waves crashing against the rocks in Mendocino County, where the best time to visit for a Californian coastal experience is in winter.

Mendocino County is an ideal winter destination in northern California and a coastal county that is a beautiful vacation spot.

Mendocino is famous for the incredible sunsets that, in winter, are otherworldly.

Vivid oranges and red skies form over the ocean during winter.

If sunset views and gorgeous coastline aren’t enough of a reason to visit Mendocino during winter, then you may want to go for the whales.

November to April is grey whale migration season and the prime time to see the whales off the California coast.

4- Bodega Bay, Sonoma County
best time to visit California Bodega Bay waves on sand
The best time to visit California’s beaches may be in summer but if you head to Bodega Bay in winter and you will be suitably impressed.

Bodega Bay is a spectacular winter destination as the Sonoma Coast is still sunny and warm, even in winter.

You can explore the coastal beaches and have a quick dip in the ocean.

The start of whale watching season in winter adds to the excitement.

Enjoy delicious local seafood, and al fresco dining may even be possible due to the agreeable winter weather.

5- Palm Springs

In summer Palm Springs is stiflingly hot but visit during winter, and you’ll have a much more pleasant trip.

In winter, the temperature is far more agreeable for hiking, and you’ll have the chance to enjoy fantastic Palm Spring views.

Top tips:

  • Know your temperatures as each location may require a different wardrobe entirely. Palm Springs can still be steamy while at Lake Tahoe you’ll need to wrap up. 

California In Spring

best time of the year to visit california flowers at sunset
The best time to visit northern California for wildflowers is in spring.

Spring is a favourite time of year in California as the blossoms, colours and fresh feel in the air make it a delightful time to explore.

Californian spring weather depends on where you are visiting.

There can be snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and skiing is still possible while, at the same time, in Southern California, you might still be able to find conditions that resemble summer.

  • March (Daylight hours: 11h57m, 51.6°F – 69.8°F, 10.8 °C – 21°C)
  • April (Daylight hours: 13h02m, 54.4°F – 73.1°F, 12.4°C – 22.8°C)
  • May (Daylight hours: 13h56m, 57.9°F – 74.5°F, 14.3°C – 23.6°C)

Five Things To Do In California In Spring

1- Joshua Tree National Park
best time to visit California Joshua Tree hiker carrying backpack along a trail
Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) on the Stubbe Springs Loop in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

This famous park is usually very busy during summer but head there in spring and there will be few people.

Not only can you enjoy this impressive tree-covered park without the constant chatter, but the nights are also longer, so stargazing is a great activity to choose.

With spring comes the beautiful wildflowers, which you can enjoy in the Joshua Tree National Park.

Hiking trails are abundant and there are excellent rock-climbing spots that are more enjoyable to tackle in the spring temperatures.

2- La Jolla

La Jolla is a beautiful seaside neighbourhood outside San Diego with a spectacularly rugged coastline.

If you visit La Jolla, you’ve got to check out the caves from a kayak as its spring temperatures are perfect for water activities.

A picnic on the cliffs overlooking spectacular beaches and ocean views is a relaxing way to spend a spring day.

3- San Diego
best time to visit san diego California buildings and palm trees
A spring day on the streets of San Diego.

San Diego is a fantastic destination no matter the season, but the colours seem to pop in spring, even in the city.

If you’re in San Diego, you’ve got to check out the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch just north of the city, where the lines of flowers are fragrant and colourful.

San Diego is a coastal city to enjoy outdoor dining during spring, with many waterside restaurants serving up great food with the view.

4- Santa Clara

Santa Clara is another underrated Californian city that is enjoyable to visit in spring, with public parks, museums and nature reserves.

Watch a game at Levi’s Stadium, which is the home base of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers.

5- Napa Valley
best time to visit napa California vines in spring
One of the best times to visit California’s wine country is in spring.

Springtime in Napa Valley is the best time to visit as the vineyards turn a vibrant yellow and fruit trees, such as plum, apricot and quince, are flourishing.

The Napa Valley Arts in April is a great exhibition that showcases around 40 artists from the surrounding area and a perfect spring activity.

Top tips:

best time to visit California Mount Lassen
Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in Mount Lassen Park and the main area of upflow of steam and discharge from the Lassen hydrothermal system. Mount Lassen is an active volcano in Northern California.
  • Some areas, particularly around Yosemite, can experience road closures well into spring, so it’s always best to plan accordingly.
  • It’s best to visit cities such as San Francisco and San Diego during early spring before the notorious summer fog rolls in.
  • Some places may be busier during the spring break between mid-March and April so plan to beat the student crowds.

Are you itching to travel somewhere but can’t decide where or when to go? These posts might help:

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harriet comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!