The Golden State is a major tourist destination year-round, so choosing the best time to visit can be a challenge. Come during the summer to enjoy spectacular beaches, or head to the Sierra Mountains in the winter for snowy fun on the ski slopes. Whether you book your California vacation rental in trendy Los Angeles, or stay in Napa and Sonoma Valleys for winery tours and tastings, California offers the getaway of a lifetime no matter the season.
Visiting California in the Summer
California has some of the best beaches anywhere in the world, so booking a vacation rental near the water for your summer getaway is a great start to a memorable vacation. Whether you choose the Central California coastline with a waterfront condo at Pismo Beach, a Los Angeles-based trip with a home base in Malibu or Santa Monica, or a vacation to the stunning beaches and bays of San Diego, you have a wealth of options for fun, sun, and activities. If you’re a surfer, bring your board along to catch the waves at Newport Beach’s famed Wedge surf break, or rent a board from Quivers or Zach’s in Huntington Beach, SoCal’s “Surf City.”
If mountains are more your style, California has plenty of options that welcome you during the summer as well. Head to the twin parks of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park to drive deep into Kings Canyon, a drive that’s only open during summertime. Hiking Mt. Lassen at Lassen National Park is also best in the summer, or head deep into the desert to Death Valley to watch the Perseid meteor shower that shows up like clockwork every August.
Visiting California in the Fall
In the fall, tourist crowds leave California as school gets underway, and daytime fog lifts around the San Francisco Bay Area and other Northern California locations. Fall foliage in the Sierras isn’t as spectacular as back East, but if you book a vacation rental in Mono County in the Eastern Sierras, you’ll be treated to breathtaking displays as the aspen trees turn golden; Lake Tahoe also boasts some noteworthy fall colors. Head to the Gold Rush town of Julian to enjoy apple-picking season, or plan a trip to Yosemite National Park in November to enjoy the lack of crowds as you gaze upward at the Leonid meteor shower.
The Central California coast offers some special treats during the fall. Hearst Castle opens its night time tours that give you a unique glimpse into the luxurious life of the 1930s; these tours are especially intimate because they’re so small, so book your tickets early. Also in the fall, millions of monarch butterflies descend for their own winter vacation, especially in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, as well as the Ellwood Main Monarch Grove just north of Santa Barbara.
Visiting California in the Winter
People visit California for two major reasons during the winter: to get to the snow or to get away from the snow. If a ski vacation is what you have in mind, head to Mammoth Mountain or Lake Tahoe to take advantage of world-class skiing. Squaw Valley, just over the ridge from Lake Tahoe, was even the site of the 1960 Olympics, and your vacation rental in South Lake Tahoe also puts casinos like Caesars Palace and Harrah’s, just over the state line in Nevada, within easy reach for nighttime fun. Yosemite National Park is also breathtakingly beautiful during the winter; book far ahead to get a spot at the park’s famous Bracebridge Dinners.
If warmth is more what you had in mind, you’ll find it even in January and February in Southern California. Head to Pasadena on New Year’s Day to see the Tournament of Roses Parade up close and personal. You can buy tickets for the bleachers in advance, or you can do what the locals do and head to Pasadena with folding chairs on New Year’s Eve to claim a curbside spot for parade viewing – and sniffing, because, you can smell the roses as they pass by. Wintertime, after the holidays have passed, is also an ideal time to visit the Disneyland Resort. Weather is still typically delightful, and crowds thin out, making your theme park adventure less stressed and more enjoyable.
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Visiting California in the Spring
All California bursts into bloom in the spring, making the state a beautiful place to vacation no matter where you choose to book your vacation rental. The California poppy goes crazy each spring in the Anza-Borrego Desert, with people coming from miles around to marvel at the orange wonderland spread before them. The flower fields of Carlsbad also show off during the spring, making it an ideal time to plan your family trip to Legoland. While you’re in San Diego County, pick up a Go San Diego card that gives you discounts at all San Diego’s major attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the San Diego Safari Park.
Spring is also an ideal time to visit the desert in California. Head to Palm Springs to enjoy blissfully perfect weather before the summer heat sets in, and put your golf clubs on your “What to pack” list, since the area is home to dozens of top-flight courses. Finally, San Francisco starts to warm up in the spring, making it a great time to visit attractions like Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, and more.
The Best Time to Visit California
Because California is so huge, and because its great weather makes it a year-round destination, it’s hard to choose the best time to visit the state. Each season has something to make it stand out. Because of its contrast with most of the rest of the nation, wintertime stands out the most strongly. You can avoid the cold weather that attacks the rest of the country while still having many outstanding ski resorts available should you be in the mood for snow, and prices, including airfare and rental car prices, tend to dip during this season.
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