We’ve found the very best places to see fall colors in California to embrace autumn to the fullest.
I’m not great at photography, but my fall foliage pics always turn out great.
Something about the light on the brilliant yellow leaves against the bluebird sky seems to just work.
When I lived in Michigan, we had autumn colors galore, and I sure do miss those crisp and chilly days.
Now that I live in California, I’m finding there to still be tons of great spots for leaf peeping.
I knew we had some good ones, but I was surprised when I discovered just how many fantastic places there are for fall activities in California.
Most people think of Maine or Vermont when it comes to seeing the change in seasons, but that’s just silly. California fall foliage is gorgeous and abundant if you know where to look.
Below, I’ve created the ultimate guide to finding fall color, no matter where you are in the state. Yes, you can enjoy autumn colors in the southern part of the state and the coast, too!
In addition to listing the areas by region, I’ve given you some resources to track the changing leaves and some pro tips for a good leaf season.
Read on to get your fall color frenzy on!
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Table of Contents
California Fall Color Map
Bay Area & Central Coast
Peak Season: Mid-October through November
Fall leaf colors in the Bay Area come from a variety of sources.
In the wine-growing regions, the grape leaves turn stunning shades of yellow and orange. In more forested areas, you’ll see big-leafed maples and oaks.
As if you *needed* another reason to visit the Napa Valley, this wine country area has stunning autumn colors among the vineyards.
In addition to the grape vines, many property owners have planted trees specifically for leaf peepers.
You should also stroll through Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Napa Valley State Park is one of the hot spots for peepers because of its abundance of black oaks and big-leaf maples.
If you want a bird’s eye view of the area, take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards with Aloft Napa Valley.
Read our guide to the best restaurants in downtown Napa.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Just north of San Francisco in Marin County is Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
This park offers a gorgeous mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, including their famous coastal redwoods.
Look for stands of oaks and madrones on the Cross Marin Trail, an excellent spot for a bike ride.
While in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out Golden Gate Park for some beautiful fall foliage as well.
The park features a Japanese Tea Garden, an arboretum (both places are great for fall foliage), and the California Academy of Sciences.
Read our complete guide to the best things to do in San Francisco.
Sacramento, otherwise known as the “City of Trees,” is a super spot for golden trees in fall.
There are hundreds of thousands of trees in Sacramento for you to enjoy. Look for liquid amber trees (gosh, that name, right??), ginkgos, scarlet oaks, and Chinese pistache trees.
Land Park, East Sacramento, and Midtown are all good places to start with for fall foliage.
While in town, check out the Big Crush Harvest Festival offered by Amador County Wineries, which happens for two days in October.
Read our guide to the best things to do in Sacramento.
Henry Coe State Park
Henry Coe State Park, located on the eastern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is the biggest state park in the region and a South Bay getaway.
In fall, you can see vibrant yellow fall colors in the maples here. Henry Coe State Park is always open. There’s just a small fee of $6-8 to visit for the day.
Another benefit of Henry Coe is the quiet. Even in peak color season, this park tends to remain a peaceful refuge with little in the way of man-made development.
Healdsburg (Sonoma County)
North of Santa Rosa on Highway 101, Healdsburg in Sonoma County is another wine country must-see for California fall foliage.
For more fall colors, take a horseback ride with Sonoma Valley Trail Rides and visit the Bartholomew Estate Vineyards.
You can also do a three-mile (hour and a half) hike through this winery to see the madrones, oaks, and grapevines as they change.
Santa Ynez Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley is one of the best spots on the Central Coast for experiencing that California fall color to the fullest.
The valley has over 100 wineries to explore, with the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail being the most famous here. Flaco Lake is also very picturesque, with bright yellow willows.
Peak Season: Mid-September through October.
The Sierra Nevada region is unquestionably the hot spot for California fall colors.
One of the best ways to see this area is by doing a Highway 395 road trip, which runs north and south from Lake Tahoe to Death Valley.
There are a million places for fall leaves in Bishop.
Bishop, California, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, is the start of excellent leaf-peeping along Highway 395.
In Bishop, you can explore Bishop Creek Canyon, which is full of cottonwood trees, aspens, and willows.
Bishop Creek Canyon splits into a North Lake section and a South Lake section, and while both areas are gorgeous, the South Lake section is a bit less traveled.
Rock Creek Lake is a small lake worth checking out for fall color too (especially along the Rock Creek Canyon Trail).
While you’re in Bishop, stop at Erick Schat’s Bakkery, which is the best place I’ve ever been, not to be too dramatic.
Lake Sabrina is part of Bishop Creek Canyon, and yes, I’m giving it its own section. The best time to hit up Lake Sabrina is mid-September to early October.
Craggy peaks cloaked in yellow aspen surround this gorgeous lake in the North Lake fork of Bishop Creek Canyon.
On the way to Lake Sabrina, you’ll drive North Lake Road, lined with stunning foliage in fall. You can also camp in the North Lake Campground, managed by Inyo National Forest.
Yosemite National Park
It’d be hard to ignore California’s biggest outdoor attraction when talking about autumn colors. In Yosemite National Park, fall leaves paint the canyon walls in Yosemite Valley.
Although much of the park is forested with evergreens, which don’t turn color in winter, the valley floor does have groups of aspens, black oaks, and dogwoods.
And these all put on a bit of a show around October.
One of my favorite getaways is the little mountain town of Mammoth Lakes.
The Mammoth Lakes basin is an excellent place for fall color because of the high number of aspen trees.
Situated north of Bishop and south of June Lake, this Mono County gem features hundreds of miles of hiking trails and alpine lakes to explore.
Convict Lake is a trendy place for colorful leaves and is easy to drive up to. Convict Lake is just south of town on Highway 395.
Just north of Mammoth Lakes in Mono County is June Lake.
June Lake is smaller than Mammoth but features many cute places to eat, tons of hiking trails, and the June Lake Loop–one of the most scenic gems in the Eastern Sierra.
The June Lake Loop is a 16-mile scenic drive, otherwise known as CA-158, that will take you by some fantastic fall foliage.
While in June Lake, be sure to have a picnic by Grant Lake, the biggest lake in the June Lake Loop. Silver Lake is another lake not to miss for a hike or some water activities.
The town of Sonora and the drive over Sonora Pass (aka CA-108) are great locations for fall season colors.
Sonora has some nice fall leaf colors, plus there are some lovely apple cideries in town. We visited Indigeny Reserve last fall and had a blast taking pictures on their super cute farm.
Good fall foliage viewpoints along Sonora Pass include:
- Sardine Meadow
- Leavitt Falls Overlook
- Leavitt Meadow Overlook
Note that the best fall color on Sonora Pass is on the eastern flank of the mountains as you head toward Highway 395.
We can’t leave Lake Tahoe off our California fall color tour. Gosh, where to even begin?
Backpackers can eat their fall color hearts out on the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 60+-mile trail around the circumference of Lake Tahoe.
Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe also offers terrific aspen gazing. Plus, the general store at the lake has kayak rentals.
Apple Hill, near South Lake Tahoe along Highway 50, has many little farms, wineries, harvest festivals, and apple orchards.
The Mount Rose Highway Summit in North Lake Tahoe is an easy drive with amazing views of Lake Tahoe plus lots of golden colors.
We have LOTS of practical info for Lake Tahoe.
Truckee, CA is just north of Lake Tahoe in Nevada County. The fall leaves turn brilliant orange and yellow in early to mid-October in this charming mountain town.
There are tons of popular hiking and trail running locations around Truckee, Tahoe National Forest, Donner Memorial State Park, and the Desolation Wilderness.
In 2021, Truckee Trails Foundation built a new ADA-accessible trail (love that–inclusion matters!)–the Ridgeline Nature Loop, which begins at the Sawtooth Trailhead.
Grover Hot Springs State Park
Grover Hot Springs State Park is just south of Lake Tahoe and Hope Valley (another beautiful location for California’s fall color).
It was closed the last time I passed through, but it’s open again now!
Aspen trees are the stars of the show here. Camp and enjoy the 102-degree hot spring pools and then take a short drive to Hope Valley for more fall color frenzy.
You can also grab a bite to eat in nearby Markleeville. Check out Cutthroat Brewing Company.
Read our guide to the best hot springs in California.
Northern California [Far North & the North Coast]
Northern California has a lot of iconic spots for leaf peeping–below are a couple of my favorites.
McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park
McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park near Cassel, CA is best known for Burney Falls. Bursts of autumn foliage frame this 129-foot-tall series of cascades in fall.
Mid-October is the best time to see fall foliage here. Big leaf maples, redbuds, white and black oak, dogwoods, vine maple, and Oregon ash put on a show.
While in the area, you can also explore the nearby Shasta Trinity National Forest for even more hiking trails.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Another spot to check out for fall foliage in Northern California is Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Even though the park is known for its evergreen redwoods, you’ll also find deciduous trees like dogwoods and maples.
Drive the Avenue of the Giants or hike by the Eel River to enjoy the fall leaves here.
The best time to enjoy California fall in this neck of the woods is mid-October to mid-November.
Peak Season: September through November
Southern California isn’t just palm trees and sandy beaches. You can find California fall colors too if you know where to look!
Julian, CA is a well-known spot for Southern California’s fall colors.
Julian was once a prosperous gold mining town just over an hour east of San Diego. Now the town is famous for its apple orchards and apple picking.
Check out the best Julian fall colors on the Canyon Oak Trail, which is just 1.65-miles long in William Heise County Park, for a nice fall color show in October.
You can also check out this list of apple orchards in Julian for a fun side excursion.
Read our guide to the best things to do in Julian.
Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino Mountains offers many fall foliage hiking opportunities.
My first recommendation is the Woodland Trail. This short 1.5-mile loop begins at the Big Bear Discovery Center and gives you beautiful lake views.
Other scenic trails to explore for autumn foliage include:
- Town Trail
- Castle Rock Trail
- Pineknot Trail
The California fall season here is short! Mid-October through early November is the best time to see the colors change.
Lake Arrowhead (a lake and a community) north of San Bernadino offers an opportunity for an urban California fall experience.
Simply driving around the lake is an excellent way to see the colors.
Trails for fall foliage near Lake Arrowhead include:
- Heart Rock Trail (1.3 miles)
- Arrowhead Pinnacles (7 miles)
- Nature Loop at Lake Gregory (2.5 miles)
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County is one of the biggest state parks in the area at 24,700 acres.
About an hour and fifteen minutes east of the city, this park sits at about 5,000 ft of elevation, offering cool autumn temperatures.
Trails to explore in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park include:
- Stonewall Peak Trail
- Oakzanita Peak Trail
- Cuyamaca Peak via Azalea Glen Loop
As it’s so close to a big city, there are also tons of autumn activities to participate in.
The San Diego Zoo hosts an Autumn Festival from early to late October and a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in late October.
Tips for Seeing the Best Fall Colors in California
Keep Tabs on Fall Color Trackers
Fall color in California can be stunning but also fleeting. Keep an eye on these fall color trackers for the best chance of catching the trees in their prime.
Many county tourism offices will post updates on autumn colors, too.
Have a Backup Plan
I feel confident if you use the tools I provided above, you’ll have success with your California fall foliage quest.
However, it’s never a bad idea to have some other things planned in case that dreaded cold spell snaps off all the pretty leaves before you can get there.
Be Prepared for Icy Roads
Fall in California happens in stages, but if you’re visiting an area after late October, be ready for snow or ice on the roads!
Also, remember that some High Sierra locations (Yosemite National Park, Sonora Pass, Lake Tahoe) may close their roads seasonally or temporarily during ice storms.
Check the conditions of the roads here.
Plan for Fire Season
Bleh! It wouldn’t be a California travel blog without talking about fire season, would it?
Unfortunately, fire season, which goes from approximately July-November, is something you need to expect in California.
Wildfires impact air quality, making it sometimes dangerous to breathe outside, diminishing your photo quality, and overall leaf-peeping abilities.
See Frontline Wildfire Defense for a live fire map.
FAQs About Autumn in California
When is fall in California?
Fall in California comes at various times, depending on the region.
The High Sierra can start their fall as early as September, while Southern California and coastal areas may be closer to November.
You can usually expect peak fall foliage around October, but remember that every year is different and an unexpected cold snap can change things quickly.
Does California have fall colors?
Yes! California has many places to view fall foliage, especially the Eastern Sierra and wine country. There are several places to track California fall colors.
Many county tourism websites keep trackers, plus you can use the Google Maps California Fall Color Map.
Where is the best fall foliage in California?
You can usually find the best California fall colors in places with quaking aspens, dogwoods, sassafras, maples, and some oaks.
The eastern Sierra Nevada, especially north of Bishop, CA to Lake Tahoe in Mono County, tends to have excellent fall colors.
Where can you see fall colors in Southern California?
Julian, Big Bear Lake, and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park are great places for fall foliage in Southern California.
Generally, these areas are higher in the mountains, where the climate favors deciduous trees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in six states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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