Fall is one of the best times of year for a weekend getaway in California and the perfect opportunity for a quick escape before the holiday season sets in. Along the coast, summer fog dissipates and you can enjoy the clearest skies you may see all year long. The California places in this guide are especially fun to visit during September, October, and November. They may be places where you can see the fall foliage, taste the fruits of autumn harvests, or enjoy a seasonal activity or festival.
1. Napa Valley
Everyone thinks they should go to Napa Valley during the grape harvest, but as exciting as that sounds, it has its drawbacks. Until the last grapes are crushed, and their juice is on the way to becoming wine, winery staffs are too busy to give visitors as much attention as they can at other times of the year. Another reason to go to Napa in the fall is to see the foliage. In Napa, that’s grape leaves, not trees. After the harvest is over, the grape leaves in Napa Valley put on a colorful display that rivals what any trees in the state can muster.
2. Scenic Highway 395
The high desert east of the Sierras is one of California’s under-discovered areas. With eye-popping geological formations, you’ll see landscapes that look more like Mars than Earth and beautiful views in all directions. Fall is the time to start planning a getaway to Mono County. It’s the best place in California for fall color when aspen trees growing on the mountainside turn golden.
3. Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is far too busy in mid-summer for a genuinely enjoyable visit because it’s packed with tourists. In autumn, though, the crowds thin out, so if you plan a Hearst Castle getaway then, you will enjoy it more than during the busy times of the year. But even more important than that, Hearst Castle offers evening tours in the fall, which are by far the best way to see the Castle. During these seasonal tours, you can get a glimpse into life in the Castle during Hearst’s day, with costumed docents recreating a dinner party tableau.
In the 19th century, treasure-seekers rushed to Julian looking for gold. The plucky little gold rush town survived, and today, it has an attractive downtown and lots of old-fashioned charm. Nowadays people rush to Julian for red, green, and gold treasures instead: the apples that ripen in nearby orchards in the fall. Plan your getaway to Julian during that time of year, and you’ll find roadside stands around selling apple varieties you’ve never heard of. You can buy them ready to go, pick them yourself, and enjoy the fresh apple pies for sale at every cafe in town.
5. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is well known for its winter skiing, and in summer it’s packed with visitors hiking and kayaking. Between those two busy seasons, Tahoe quiets down, and the days are clear and crisp. It’s the perfect time for you to plan your Lake Tahoe getaway. Fall is also the best time of year for a leisurely drive around the lake. Fewer tourists mean less traffic to get stuck in. And the earliest snowfall is usually toward the end of November, which means the roads will be clear and easy to drive.