8 Places to go in Fall in Northern California

8 Destinations in Fall in Northern California
[Mammoth in the Eastern Sierras – YES California does have a fall, contrary to popular belief!!]
UPDATED: September 2019

FALL IS COMING PEOPLE. NOBODY PANIC. REMAIN CALM AND GET OUT YOUR SCARVES, BOOTS, AND CARDIGANS OUT IMMEDIATELY. THEN HEAD TO YOUR NEAREST PUMPKIN PATCH AS SOON AS YOU CAN. I REPEAT: EVERYBODY PLEASE. REMAIN. CALM.

But actually it’s impossible for me to remain calm because fall (or ~autumn~ as the fancy people call it) just happens to be MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE SEASON. In fact, I love it so much, that I even wrote a bucket list of all the fall activities I HAVE TO DO every year. I think it’s about time to revisit that, shall we?

Feel free to steal my ideas. I’ll allow it.

Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park in California
[Yosemite is obviously great to visit at any time of year, but I especially love it in the fall!]
It also just so happens that fall is the BEST time to travel (in my humble opinion) – prices are slashed, the crowds are gone, temperatures are lower (I HATE running around all day in the heat), and you don’t have to fight tooth and nail for accommodation.

And maybe in other places it’s freezing in autumn, but in Northern California, the weather is PERFECT at a balmy 60-80 degrees most of the time. Sometimes it can even climb up to over 80! Of course, this depends on where exactly you go (California is gigantic and spans many different climates, something I have to remind people often), but on average, I’d say that’s the temperature.

Napa is a great destination in the fall
[Wine country is another good one, well, because…wine]
In September, it’s still pretty hot, usually between 70-80 degrees. The weather in Northern California in fall in October is (IMO) PERFECT and between 65-75, and by November it’s cooling down and hovers around 65.

However, there are exceptions: San Francisco is never warm, places in the mountains will get snow in late October/November, and more inland it can still be in the 90’s. So definitely make sure to check the weather, and don’t just assume it will be perfect because it’s California!

So, what are you waiting for?! Grab your fall essentials and get to it! Here are my favorite places to visit in Northern California in the fall (and they ALL have some beautiful fall foliage for those of you that are leaf lovers like me):

GOLD COUNTRY IS APTLY NAMED (BECAUSE FALL FOLIAGE DUH)

Nevada City in Gold Country in California is a great fall destination
[Nevada City is hands down one of my favorite Gold Country towns]
Gold Country is probably one of my FAVORITE regions of California overall. I love the laid back vibes, historic buildings, and the numerous beautiful rivers and pine trees. You’ll also get some fall color here since you’re at the base of the Sierras!

Nevada City in Gold Country in California
[Nevada City again]
The Yuba River in Gold Country in California
[The Yuba River will probably still be warm enough to go swimming in in the fall]
My favorite cities include Sonora, Jamestown, Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City. Each is so pretty and will have those “Gold Country” vibes you’re looking for.

APPLE HILL IS EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE

Apple Hill near Placerville, California is a great fall destination
[LOOK AT THOSE PERFECT FALL VIBES!]
If you’re in the Sacramento/Gold Country area, please take a detour over to Apple Hill! I’m only semi-obsessed with it because it has all the best fall vibes.

You can go apple picking, wine or beer tasting, snag some apple cider, and eat all the good fall-related sweets (aka apple and caramel galore.) If you go in September or October, you can pick up a pumpkin (or 5) and do fun fall activities like corn mazes! And of course, there’s plenty of opportunities to buy local farm veggies and fruits and products, oh my!

THE MAMMOTH AREA IS EASILY THE MOST UNDERRATED

Temple Crag overlooking Second Lake on the Big Pine Lakes Loop in California
[Second Lake on the Big Pine Lakes Loop – the water really does look like that!!! Photo by Sabrina]
Mammoth is so SO underrated in my opinion. I feel like the only people that go are climbers or people that already live in California.

Pathway in Mammoth in California surrounded by mountains
[Mammoth is surrounded by mountains, mountains, and…more mountains]
Mammoth is beautiful enough on its own, but do you know what else it has? Aspen trees. And do you know what that means???

Fall color. Lots and lots and lots of it!! Which makes it one of the BEST places to go in fall in Northern California.

First Lake on the Big Pine Lakes Loop in California
[Mammoth being its underrated ass self – Photo by Sabrina]
Plus, snow probably hasn’t hit yet (as long as you go before November!) so you shouldn’t have to deal with winter driving 😉 (Every Californian’s worst nightmare)

Mammoth, California in the fall on the Big Pine Lake Loop with Temple Crag
[I know I posted this photo as the main picture but I had to put it in the post again because it’s so freaking pretty!!!!]
But in fact, I love Mammoth so much I actually wrote not one, but TWO articles on it!!! Here’s the first and here’s the second.

All you really have to do is drive up Highway 395 and experience the magic!

YOSEMITE IS A MAGICAL WONDERLAND

Yosemite Valley is a great destination in the fall!
[Yosemite being its magical self – Photo by Sabrina]
Well, it’s Yosemite. Do I really have to say more?

There will be a LOT less people (in the summer, the valley can feel a little like Disneyland), probs some fall color, and same as above – most likely no winter driving! Yay!

Yosemite Vally in Yosemite National Park on a foggy day
[Yosemite is just so so majestic] 
And who doesn’t love a good foggy fall day to add to the epic-ness of the cliffs?

View of Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park from the John Muir Trail (JMT)
[View of Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail (JMT)]
Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park from the bottom
[View of Nevada Falls from the bottom]
So I wrote a post on visiting Yosemite in the winter – but a lot of the same activities still stand except for the snow-related ones (although it can sometimes snow in October in the Valley!) I’d also add in hiking all the way up to Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail – it’s a beautiful hike with beautiful views!

WINE COUNTRY IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA

Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma County, California
[Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma County – obsessed with the pretty pink walls]
Wine country (Napa & Sonoma Counties) is great to visit any time of the year, but it gets HOT HOT HOT in the summer. In my opinion, it’s much better to go in fall so you look great in photos instead of having to convince everyone that the sweat dripping off your face is actually just highlighter.

View of vineyards from the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma County, California
[The view from the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma County]
Plus what’s better than getting dressed up in sweaters and scarves and boots (oh my!) and drinking all the wine you could ever want??? You’ll also get some fall colors from the vineyards – the leaves change from green to gold to red!

BE STILL MY HEART. Except it won’t. Because then I’d be dead. And I want to drink a lot more wine before I die. But anyways, you get my point.

The vineyards at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma County, California
[The vineyards at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards]
My favorite wine cities/towns are Napa, Sonoma, Healdsburg, and Geyserville – have fun! Of course, drive responsibly and don’t consume too much wine! Or do, and just stay the night 😉

SAN FRANCISCO IS ALWAYS COLD ANYWAY

San Francisco is a great destination during fall in Northern California!
[The Golden Gate Bridge and me – my next novel (oh wait, that implies I actually have a novel already)]
I mean, it’s always a good time to visit San Francisco because it’s pretty much always the same weather all the time (60 degrees and foggy.) So please, promise me you’ll bring a sweater no matter what the forecast. Tourists are always easy to spot because they misjudged the weather and end up having to buy one of those “I <3 SF” sweatshirts.

My favorite activities: Painted Ladies, Land’s End, walk or cycle along the Golden Gate Bridge, take the ferry to Sausalito, Academy of Sciences (and on Thursday nights you can go later in the evening and get drinks there! Plus no kids!), Haight & Ashbury, and Twin Peaks.

BURNEY FALLS IS A BUCKET LIST DESTINATION

Burney Falls in McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park in Northern California is a great fall destination!
[This photo was taken in June, but if I had been there in the fall, all the leaves would be different colors!]
This place really is so beautiful! Honestly, all of northern (northern) California will be so pretty in the fall because the trees actually change color there. And go see some redwoods at the Avenue of Giants while you’re at it!

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even continue north and drive up to Oregon – the fall colors will be amazing there, too!

LAKE TAHOE IS A REAL NICE LAKE

The Emerald Bay overlook in Lake Tahoe, California is full of pine trees, the lake, and mountains!
[The overlook of Emerald Bay – you see this view while driving in on the 89!]
UGH Lake Tahoe is probably one of my favorite places on the planet. Not just for its beauty, but for what it represents: a cabin in the woods, that pine-tree smell, evenings on the lake – you get the picture.

Kayaking through Lake Tahoe is a great way to see the lake!
[Kayaking through the lake is such a fun way to see all the things and not freeze your butt off in the water]
And in the fall, the lake is actually warmer than in July! It’s a cold ass lake to begin with, so if you happen to get an unseasonably warm fall day, get your butt in there for a swim! Or if you hate swimming a kayak is a good option, too. If you’re really feeling crazy, you can rent one of those cool clear-bottom ones.

There are plenty of stands of aspen trees in that area, too, if you’re wanting to get your fall foliage party started. Hope Valley is supposedly a great place to see it!

Echo Lakes in Lake Tahoe, California along the Lake Aloha Trail
[Echo Lakes along the Lake Aloha Trail]
I recommend checking out South Lake – the drive up on the 50/89 is gorgeous – and heading straight to Emerald Bay State Park. This is where you’ll see that pretty overlook of Emerald Bay everyone takes photos of. If you have time, park at the top (you can park on the side of the road for free or pay if you park in the main parking lot) and walk down.

Cabin on a lake in Lake Tahoe, California
[All I want is a cabin on a lake]
Once there you can visit Vikingsholm (an old house) and kayak to the island if your heart desires. Or, you can walk the Rubicon Trail which is beautiful!

There’s also a hike to Eagle Lake which is pretty, too. But to be honest, everywhere in Lake Tahoe is pretty, so you really can’t go wrong.

North Lake Tahoe in California is a great place to visit during fall in Northern California
[North Lake Tahoe – I love all the rocks]
South Lake Tahoe
[Another view of the lake – love the different colors!]
Make sure you also check out Sand Harbor in the North Beach area! It has a ton of pretty rocks jutting out of the water. The water is also super clear – this is where people tend to rent the clear-bottom kayaks.

I’ve eaten at the Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge multiple times, and the food is good plus you can sit outside overlooking the water. Also get their Hula Pie if you can – so good! You even get it half price on your birthday! I would know as I’ve actually celebrated both my 25th and 26th birthdays there haha.

Nevada City in California
[More of Nevada City]
I hope you enjoy your fall trip to California! And if you can’t tell I’m kind of obsessed with fall colors. As a native Californian we are alwayssss on the hunt for some good yellow golds and burnt oranges and crimson reds since they’re so rare to find normally.

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10 thoughts on “8 Places to go in Fall in Northern California

  1. This post really made me smile. I also love fall. My husband I had been thinking about doing a California road trip in the spring sometime in the next few years, but this makes me really wish we could do it in the fall!

    1. YES they are 2 of my favorite places, regardless of the season! Although fall brings nice colors and no winter driving lol.

  2. Wow this is such a good list of places to visit in California in the fall! Most of these places were not even on my radar at all. I love fall travel and had not considered California as an autumn destination. Mammoth looks amazing!

    1. Yes I feel like most people think of California for summer travel! But it’s totally underrated in the fall. 🙂 Mammoth is my fave!

  3. I hear you! Fall is the best season and I can’t wait to break out the sweaters and PSLs. This is such a lovely list. Northern California seems to have all the beautiful vistas!!

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