Golden yellow fall foliage in the Fab 40's in East Sacramento.
| |

Fall Foliage in California – Hidden Gem Towns with Colorful Autumn Leaves

Americans have a special nostalgic love for the fall season. As the crisp, cool air replaces the sweltering heat of summer, we eagerly embrace the opportunity to layer up in cozy sweaters, sip on pumpkin spice lattes, and relish in the comfort of warm soups and baked goods. 

The autumn foliage provides a colorful backdrop with a kaleidoscope of red, orange, yellow, and deep burgundy leaves. The love for this magical season is a reminder to slow down, appreciate living in the moment, and find comfort in the tapestry of colors that only autumn can provide.

Fall Foliage in California

California, often associated with its sun-soaked beaches and year-round warm climate, may seem like an unexpected place to find fall foliage. However, this diverse state defies expectations in its own unique way.

In Northern California, particularly in regions like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the high elevation and diverse range of tree species create pockets of stunning fall colors. Visitors can be surprised by the vibrant hues of aspen, cottonwood, and maple trees, painting the landscapes with fiery reds, rich oranges, and golden yellows.

Additionally, California boasts a Mediterranean climate, which means that even in the southern parts of the state, where autumn is less pronounced, some trees do undergo a subtle transformation, providing hints of fall’s beauty. If you live in Los Angeles or San Diego, I do have recommended fall travel destinations within a couple hours of roadtrip driving.

In these unexpected pockets of fall foliage, Californians and visitors alike can experience a taste of the classic autumnal charm amid the state’s more renowned sunny attractions. The key is to know exactly where to look, and also what time of year the colors are at their peak.

What months have the brightest fall colors in California?

Speaking from my own personal experience, the trees in California generally have the most bold and vibrant hues in November and early December. We like to think of the fall season beginning in September, or at least that’s when our minds start getting excited about the upcoming season. But in reality we have to wait about 2 months for the full fall foliage effect. While some early trees will begin pop in orange, red and yellow in October, I have found that the best time to make a photography trip is after Halloween.

The Fall Weather in California

Because the state of California has such diverse landscapes in different regions, the fall weather greatly varies in each county. If you are traveling to a new region during the autumn season, I highly recommend doing some research on what weather to expect in that particular area during your stay.

I grew up on the foggy coast in the SF Bay Area, and the fall season was actually the warmest and sunniest time of year (but it still rarely went above the 70’s). When you are looking at inland cities like Sacramento, the hot summer doesn’t begin to cool down until October. In Southern California, you’re looking at warm weather until late October or even early November. Unless you are up in the mountains, most areas of California don’t experience extreme cold temperatures until after Christmas.

What to Wear in Autumn in California

I can sum up your recommended California fall outfit in one word… layers! The weather during this time of year is very unpredictable, not to mention that it could change throughout the day. You may be looking at chilly mornings, followed by warm and sunny afternoons, and then finally the temperature may drop again in the evening. I know us gals who love the autumn season want to wear the chunky sweaters, colorful scarves and all things fair isle. But the reality is that you’ll have to wait for Thanksgiving to pull those items out of the closet.

Northern California Cities and Small Towns with Colorful Autumn Colors

Northern California, with its diverse geography and elevation variations, provides abundant opportunities for fall foliage enthusiasts. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, especially around Lake Tahoe and the Shasta Cascade region, boast striking displays of aspen, maple, and oak trees that attract leaf-peepers from near and far. In Gold Country, the fall foliage graces historic mining towns like Sacramento, Murphys, and Columbia with a vibrant and rustic charm, where the changing leaves add a beautiful backdrop to the region’s rich history and picturesque landscapes.


Starting with the city I currently call home, one of the biggest surprises we experienced during our first fall season in Sacramento was the rows and rows of colorful fall foliage all over the city. It seemed like the city planning made a point of planting the types of trees that turned the most brilliant colors. The best neighborhoods to explore during fall are Land Park, the Fab 40’s in East Sacramento and Midtown.

Chico and Butte County

I lived in Chico for 5 years while I completed my marketing degree at Chico State. I spent years enjoying the outdoors in this hidden gem town, and I have very fond memories of riding my bike through canopies of colorful trees.

Bidwell Park, nestled in the heart of Chico, California, undergoes a breathtaking transformation during the fall season, as its lush landscapes burst into a rainbow of vibrant colors. As the very hot Chico summer weather slowly gives way to the cooler days of autumn, the park’s majestic trees, particularly the towering oaks, maples, and sycamores, take center stage. Their leaves gradually shift to shades of red, orange, and golden yellow. Meandering along the park’s many trails, visitors are submerged into a whimsical autumn scene.

Small Towns in Butte County

As you drive the country roads in and out of Chico, you will come across many small towns in the surrounding area. Oroville, Paradise, Feather River, Durham and other towns have both historical downtowns and public parks filled with colorful trees. Even just driving down connecting roads like The Midway and Skyway will give you sweeping views of foliage.

Apple Hill in El Dorado County

Apple Hill is a vast rural region filled with charming family-owned farms that are open to public. In this area, the fall season officially begins Labor Day weekend with the apple orchards opening up for u-pick and many more activities. Families come to partake in hayrides through golden orchards, navigate through corn mazes, and celebrate the harvest season with all the popular fall foods.

For the folks most interested in leaf peeping, the leaves start changing in Apple Hill between mid-October to early December. In fact, the best fall foliage colors I’ve taken in Apple Hill was when we went to cut down our Christmas tree, which is always the day after Thanksgiving.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is known for its bright blue and crystal clear waters in the summer, but let’s not forget the rustic and vibrant fall colors. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures start to drop, the lush green forests that frame the crystal-clear lake begin to change into the new season. The scenery around this Northern California region transitions into a symphony of colors, with aspen, cottonwood, and maple trees painting the landscape with fiery reds, rich oranges, and golden yellows.

Whether hiking through the scenic trails, taking a leisurely drive along the shoreline, or simply gazing out from the lake’s edge, the colorful fall foliage provides a stunning and serene backdrop for outdoor adventures. The reflection of the foliage on the lake’s surface makes for amazing landscape photography.

Calaveras County

Calaveras County, located in the heart of California’s Gold Country, is a place of rich history, natural beauty, and small-town charm. Steeped in Gold Rush heritage, the county boasts a legacy of prospectors, miners, and adventurers who flocked to the area in search of fortune. Today, remnants of this storied past can be explored in places like the Angels Camp Museum and the preserved Gold Rush towns of Murphys and Columbia, where historic streets lined with vintage buildings transport visitors back in time.

Columbia State Historic Park is a well-preserved Gold Rush town that not only offers a glimpse into California’s history but also features lovely fall foliage. The vibrant trees complement the vintage buildings, creating a picturesque setting for your visit.

Take a scenic drive along Highway 4, also known as Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. You’ll traverse through picturesque landscapes, including diverse forests that showcase stunning fall colors.

And finally, Murphy’s is known for its vineyards, which turn a vibrant shade of gold in the fall. The rolling hills filled with vineyards is worth putting on your visit list.

Fall Foliage in Central California

Central California, with its Mediterranean climate, offers unique opportunities to find fall foliage. Areas like Paso Robles, renowned for its vineyards, display subtle but lovely changes in foliage as vine leaves turn golden, providing a different yet charming twist to the autumn experience. Additionally, to really witness fall foliage in Central California, its advisable venture inland to the scenic highways that wind through the rolling hills, as the coastal areas typically retain their evergreen foliage due to the mild coastal climate.

The Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains have surprisingly picturesque fall foliage. For visitors, you can find the color most prominently in some very specific areas.

Uvas Canyon County Park is a tranquil oasis renowned for its serene waterfalls, lush redwood groves, and diverse hiking trails. The fall foliage is a bit sparse, but it really pops against all the evergreen trees.

Patchen Pass offers a scenic drive through towering redwood forests and is known for its enchanting displays of fall foliage as the leaves change color in the autumn months.

Roaring Camp Railroads offers a nostalgic journey aboard historic steam trains through towering redwood groves, providing visitors a glimpse into California’s past. You can purchase tickets all the way into November, which will give you the best shot at catching the fall foliage at its peak.

Stevens Canyon Road in Santa Cruz winds through the lush woodlands of the Santa Cruz Mountains, providing a scenic route that reveals stunning fall foliage during the autumn season.

Paso Robles Wine Country

Paso Robles, renowned for its exquisite wine country and scenic landscapes, undergoes a captivating transformation during the fall season. The region’s fall foliage offers its own unique charm. The vineyards that dominate Paso Robles’ rolling hills begin to change their foliage from lush green to rustic shades of red, gold, and deep orange, creating a stunning patchwork of colors.

The mild climate of Paso Robles allows for an extended outdoor season, making it the perfect destination to sip wine amid the vineyards, enjoying the golden-hued colors and landscape.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, is a natural phenomenon celebrated for its iconic granite cliffs, pristine waterfalls, and breathtaking landscapes that draw millions of visitors from around the world each year. In the fall the park becomes a picturesque scene as the vibrant colors of changing leaves adorn its diverse array of trees, adding a new layer of beauty to its already stunning landscapes.

Fall Foliage in Southern California

Finding Southern California fall foliage requires a keen eye and knowledge of the region’s microclimates. While the area generally experiences milder seasons, some pockets of autumnal splendor can be discovered in higher elevation areas like the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, where you can encounter colorful displays of oak and maple trees amid the scenic beauty of the southern California landscape.


Julian, California, a charming mountain town nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains, has a special rustic appeal with its historic buildings, apple orchards, and community that preserves its Gold Rush heritage while offering a delightful escape for visitors seeking a taste of small-town Americana. Julian is famous for its small mom-and-pop pie shops, where locals and tourists alike bring home homemade pies crafted from the town’s abundant apple orchards.

During the fall season, Julian comes alive with a burst of warm and inviting colors as its apple orchards and surrounding forests showcase a stunning tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows, making it a picturesque destination for leaf-peeping and autumn enthusiasts.

Big Bear

Big Bear can be found nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. This popular year-round destination is known for its pristine lake, scenic mountain vistas, and a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. The best months to visit Big Bear for the fall season are typically late September through October and November, when the changing leaves paint the landscape with vibrant hues and the weather is pleasantly cool.

For those who enjoy a good hike out in nature, the best trails to see colorful fall foliage in Big Bear are the Towne Trail, Castle Rock Trail, Pineknot Trail and Bluff Lake Reserve.

Lake Hemet

Lake Hemet is one of the most hidden away outdoor recreational campgrounds in Southern California. Getting to this spot is about a 2 hour drive inland from either Los Angeles or San Diego. There’s a campground that sits right adjacent to the lake, and all around the lake shore there’s towering cottonwood trees that turn a bright golden yellow color. When the canopy of trees reflect on the lake water, it almost doubles the amount of color!

In conclusion, while California might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of colorful fall foliage, with a bit of planning ahead, one can discover stunning displays of autumnal beauty throughout the state. From the vibrant vineyards of Paso Robles to the iconic landscapes around Lake Tahoe and even unexpected gems like the Santa Cruz Mountains, California offers a diverse range of opportunities to witness the changing colors of fall. By keeping an eye on the timing, researching the best locations, and embracing the spirit of adventure, visitors can truly appreciate the unique and enchanting fall foliage that this sunny state has to offer.

A couple last tips, as part of your research process, I recommend checking out the California Fall Color Map to see a live snapshot of when the colors are changing. Also the California State Parks website has some recommended places to visit for fall foliage sightings.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *