Many parts of California don’t get to experience the vibrant orange and crimson leaves that fall this time of year, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to catch a glimpse of these fall colors in the Golden State. In fact, California offers plenty of leaf-peeping opportunities — you just have to know where to look. These ten places rival the autumnal New England hillsides and will make you realize you don’t need to head out of state to see some of these gorgeous colors. So grab a friend, hit the road, and get ready to soak in the dazzling sights of fall.
This famous lake isn’t just for summer swimming or winter skiing. In the fall, various locations around the lake offer stunning displays of bright colors. Plus, the colors look even better when nestled beside blue water and clear skies. There’s no harm in wandering around the area to explore the different types of foliage, but there are certain spots that are tried-and-true for fall colors. Hope Valley, located south of Lake Tahoe, is lit aglow from golden quaking aspens. To get the perfect of these golden trees beside the water, head to Zephyr Cove on the eastern edge of the lake. Another bonus of visiting Lake Tahoe in the fall? You can witness the epic sight of kokanee salmon swimming up Taylor Creek to spawn.
If you want a taste of fall colors and crisp apples and cider, check out the agricultural area of Oak Glen. While it may be a simple one and a half hour drive east of Los Angeles, Oak Glen sits 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level. That means the location experiences four true seasons and the changing leaves that come with fall. While you can catch some color here, the real draw is the abundance of apples. Try heirloom varieties you’ve never had before, or grab a fresh apple cider donut.
June Lake Loop
Located off of Highway 395 near Inyo National Forest, the June Lake Loop is a magical 16-mile drive not far from the great Yosemite National Park. Just hop off of 395 and onto State Route 158, and you’ll be hit with gorgeous colors situated next to numerous lakes and mountains. The quaking aspens are partially attractive in this area, with white bark and yellow, waving leaves. If you want to head off the road for a scenic trek to a gorgeous mountain lake, you can hike to Parker Lake.
This rural county has renowned fall colors that are viewable via road or trail. The county makes it easy to check out the foliage in the different areas with a guided map. Be on the lookout for the golden leaves of cottonwood and willow, as well as the crimson leaves of dogwood. Some hotspots to visit include Feather River Canyon, Indian Creek, and Frenchman Lake.
Malibu Creek State Park
If you live in Los Angeles and are looking to spot some colorful foliage close to home, check out Malibu Creek State Park. Located about a 45-minute drive from downtown LA, this park offers numerous hiking trails in the Santa Monica mountains. Keep an eye out for large sycamore trees, whose big leaves turn a vibrant yellow in the fall.
The old Gold Rush area town is a delight to visit during autumn due to a variety of trees planted by past residents. Streets are lined with historic Victorian houses and quaint shops, making the area perfect for a casual walk or leisurely drive. Some tree species you’ll be able to see include majestic red maple, birch, and oak.
This quaint little town in San Diego county will take you a world away from the hustle of city life. Located in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian still maintains some of its Gold Rush history with a charming Main Street and a slower pace of life. Here, you can grab locally grown apples or an apple pie, stroll around, and bask in the hillsides dotted with dark green pines and changing colors of deciduous trees.
While many only associate vineyards with wine, the grapes that make the wine still have to grow somewhere! It is on these grapevines that we are given a unique opportunity for a different kind of leaf-peeping. Grape leaves typically turn shades of orange and red in the fall, so you can sip on some wine while enjoying the show. Along with spotting colors in the vineyard, you can also catch some changing colors on the area trees.
Few places rival North Lake during peak fall colors. Located near the town of Bishop in the Bishop Creek Valley, the area around North Lake is filled with brightly-colored aspen groves. It’s easy to view the colors by car while driving along North Lake Road. If you’d like to explore the area on foot, you can hike along the Piute Pass Trail and other nearby paths. For a real treat, spend a night outdoors at the North Lake Campground.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite rarely disappoints, and this stands true when it comes to fall foliage. That said, some areas of the park offer better color than others. Tuolumne Meadows offers excellent views of golden hillsides coated in quaking aspen. To find fall colors at a lower elevation, head to El Portal Road. This road runs beside the Merced River and offers gorgeous views of maples, dogwoods, and poison oak.
Once you head to one or more of the spots listed above, you’ll be able to tell any skeptic that California does offer gorgeous fall colors! But don’t wait too long, because these vibrant hues won’t stick around forever.