When to Go

DESTINATIONS usa california when-to-go-25


When to Go

Because they offer activities indoors and out, the top California cities rate as all-seasons destinations. Ditto for Southern California's coastal playgrounds.

Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park are best appreciated in spring when desert blooms offset their austerity and temperatures are still manageable. Early spring—when the gray-whale migration overlaps with the end of the elephant-seal breeding season and the start of the bird migration—is the optimal time to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. Yosemite is ideal in late spring because roads closed in winter are reopened, and the park's waterfalls—swollen with melting snow—run fast. Autumn is "crush time" in all the wine destinations, both in the north and south. Ski resorts typically open around Thanksgiving (they sometimes remain in operation into June).


It's difficult to generalize about the state's weather beyond saying that precipitation comes in winter and summer is dry in most places. As a rule, inland regions are hotter in summer and colder in winter, compared with coastal areas, which are relatively cool year-round. Fog is a potential hazard any day of the year in coastal regions. As you climb into the mountains, seasonal variations are more apparent: winter brings snow (at elevations above 3,000 feet), autumn is crisp, spring can go either way, and summer is sunny and warm, with an occasional thundershower.


Mountains separate the California coastline from the state's interior, and the weather can sometimes vary dramatically within a 15-minute drive. On a foggy summer day in San Francisco, you'll be grateful for a sweater—but head 50 miles north inland to Napa Valley, and you'll likely be content in short sleeves. Day and nighttime temperatures can also vary greatly. In August, Palm Springs' thermometers can soar to 110°F at noon, and drop to 75°F at night. In Sacramento, the mercury hits the 90s and occasionally exceeds 100°F on August afternoons. Yet as darkness falls, it sometimes plummets to 40°F.


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