Fall, in California? This state isn’t all warm weather and beaches, California has some amazing fall foliage… if you know where to look, that is! Leaf peeping in California is fun, and a little bit of an adventure. I live in San Francisco where it’s 65 degrees pretty much year-round. After 4 years here, I was really missing the changing seasons, so this fall, I decided to go fall foliage hunting to find the top spots in the state to view the changing leaves. Here’s where to find the best fall colors in California!
As you know, the time period when the leaves on trees start to change and hold color is hard to predict, and when it happens, it happens for a blink of an eye and then the fall foliage season is over. Thankfully, I learned after driving around California this fall, that each region starts changing color at different times, so no matter what weekend you have set aside to go leaf peeping, you should be able to find fall colors in California somewhere.
Real quick, before I dive into the list of the top 5 best places to find fall colors in California, make sure to follow me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul for daily travel and fashion inspiration! I’m constantly running around the state and the country finding the top hidden gems for you. Since I live in San Francisco, a lot of my adventures revolve around California, and because you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you live here, too. I promise that I know of cool places to see in California that you’ll love to know about. On that note…
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JUNE LAKE LOOP
June Lake is a tiny mountain town on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Mono County. You may have heard of Mammoth Lakes, a popular ski village. June Lake is about 45 minutes North, tucked under Carson’s Peak. June Lake Loop is the name of the ~16 mile road that loops around June Lake and takes you among fall foliage with a backdrop of either the lake and/or a mountain range. It’s really very stunning on some of the best fall colors in California.
I went up to June Lake with my friends and we were about 1 week too early to see the height of the foliage, but we caught the beginning of the changing colors. June Lake Loop is filled with a lot of aspen trees that turn bright yellow during the fall. Yellow is my favorite color, so I loved the patches of yellow we discovered around the town!
Read my full June Lake travel guide here to help you plan your visit!
Hope Valley is another top place to find fall colors in California. This season, it was actually my favorite stop along our fall foliage tour as we hit it right at the peak of changing colors. Hope Valley isn’t a town, it’s just a valley with a general store and most of the fall colors can be easily spotted either on the main road or from the main road. My recommendation is to start on the East Side and keep driving towards Kirkwood until the fall colors run out.
When we visited, we turned a corner and BOOM, there were all the fall colors. We drove for a bit and then turned another corner and BOOM, they stopped and all the trees were evergreen. You’ll find all the best leaves on HWY 88. As you’re driving West, keep an eye out on the right side of the road for a little brown cabin that’s tucked right under a bunch of orange, yellow and red trees. This is a popular spot to pull over for a photo because it’s too dang cute! Check out this photo on Instagram to see. Make sure to bring a zoom lens because it’s tucked back from the road a bit and you can’t walk up.
Read this post to see more of my photos from Hope Valley!
Have you heard of Plumas County? No? That’s ok – most people in California have never heard of this region. It’s so off the radar, that it’s sometimes referred to as the Lost Sierras. Plumas County is about 1.5 hours North of Truckee and has a fraction of the people that Lake Tahoe has, making it full of fall colors!
The main (tiny) town in the county is Quincy, which is known for lots of orange and red fall colors at the height of the season. It’s a charming little town that’s worth a visit on your way to Lassen National Park! When we visited Plumas County, we spent a few nights at the Greenhorn Ranch, a dude ranch in California where life is all about riding horses! It’s such a unique place and the best time of year to visit is fall when it’s not too hot, plus you’ll be rewarded with fall colors!
Read more about Plumas County and Greenhorn Ranch in this post!
Of course, you can’t talk about fall colors in California without including Lake Tahoe! While you won’t find huge patches of colorful fall leaves, you’ll get plenty of lone trees along the lake that are bright orange, yellow or red. We stayed at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe for a few days and I fell in love with all the little pops of colors on the edge of the lake. Paired with the blue water and fresh, crisp mountain air and Lake Tahoe easily become one of my favorite places to experience fall colors in California.
Read more about my trip to Lake Tahoe + see more photos in this post!
Napa Valley + Sonoma Valley
Last but not least is Northern California’s wine country! While you’ll be sure to find a few patches of changing leaves on trees in the valleys, the most interesting way to view fall colors is on grapevines! The leaves on grapevines actually change colors, too! It’s a lot of fun to visit during harvest season when it’s not as hot and the entire valley of Napa and Sonoma starts to be filled with reds and orange hues.I sadly don’t have a photo to share with you, but just trust me that it happens, ok??
Heading to wine country? Read my Calistoga guide here! This is the most Northern part of Napa Valley and sure to have some fall foliage on trees and vines!
I hope this has helped you plan a great trip to see fall colors in California! Overall, when in doubt, if you want to find fall foliage in California, you have head away from the coastline and go into the mountains. Do you have another favorite spot in California to find fall colors? Leave a comment below so we can all know about it!
Also, feel free to DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul at any time if you have more questions about leaf peeping on the West Coast.
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