When is the Best Time to Visit California?
California is a great place to visit any time of the year. The Golden State has a lot to offer for everyone, and you are guaranteed to enjoy your trip regardless of the time of your visit. But certain activities or attractions are best enjoyed at particular times of the year, particularly if you want to avoid peak times for tourism or enjoy certain kinds of weather.
We tend to visit California in the summer, but have now had a holiday to the state at many other times of the year. General advice is that the best time of the year to visit is in the spring during April and the fall in September or October, as it won’t be as crowded but the weather will still be very pleasant. If you are after hot weather then Pal Springs sees the highest temperatures over the summer, but you’ll still get lots of sunshine in northern and southern towns and cities between June and September.
If you are thinking of visiting California but not sure when to go, here are my recommendations for each month.
California in January
California in January enjoys pretty cool weather, with an average high temperature of 15°C and an average low of -5°C. This will vary across the state, with generally milder weather in the south and lower temperatures in the north, particularly in the mountains. Chances of rain also vary, but most places will see at least several days of heavy, wet weather or even snow.
Most areas in California experience the off-season for tourism in January, except the snowy areas like Lake Tahoe. Events like the Palm Springs International Film Festival bring people to the Los Angeles area, and the Joshua Tree National Park will start to see more crowds during this month.
Visiting California in January offers an abundance of excellent attractions to explore. Head to the Big Bear Lake, a mountain resort perfect forwinter sports activities such as skiing, snowboarding and sledging. Check out the Palm Springs aerial tramway, where you can glimpse the most incredible mountain views and take up some winter activities. Mount Laguna is also a great time to visit in January, especially if you’re fond of adventurous activities.
California in February
In February the weather in California is generally damp, with cooler temperatures leading to fewer crowds. Daytime temperatures have a high average of around 15°C across the state, with lows running between 8°C and 11°C. There’s more rainfall in February than at the start of the year, but still a fair amount of sunshine and dry weather to balance it out.
February is off-season in most parts of California unless you’re visiting Lake Tahoe, which is usually filled with skiers. Visit Chinatown in San Francisco to witness the lively lunar new year celebration, or soak up as much sun as possible at this time of year by staying in Palm Springs.
February is also a great month to explore California’s wildlife. You can go whale watching at Point Reyes National Seashore, see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, or watch Monarch butterflies flit along the coast between Mendocino and San Diego.
California in March
March marks the decline of the cool winter weather in California and welcomes the arrival of a dry and hot summer. There are still fewer tourists this time than later in the year however, making it an excellent time to explore the Golden State.
The desert areas will start to heat up in March, marking the end of tourist season in these parts of California. Elsewhere, the average high temperature will be between 16°C and 19°C, with typical lows of around 9°C.
March is the best time of year to visit Southern California, which enjoys very pleasant weather whilst the snow is melting and the flowersstart to bloom in the valleys. However, popular spring break destinations like Disneyland and Yosemite tend to get very crowded during this time, so be wary of booking a trip to one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.
California in April
Depending on which areas you visit, the weather in April in California is highly variable. The temperature could get incredibly hot in the desert, reaching up to 31° degrees in Palm Springs and the surrounding desert. But in San Francisco and some other regions in the north, the temperature has an average of 17°C, with fair chances of rain and even frost and ice in areas of high elevation.
When visiting California in April, be mindful of the spring break tourist crowds. The state is packed with events across the month suitable for all tastes, whether you’re planning to attend music festivals, cultural activities, explore national parks, and more. The most famous festival you can witness in California this month is the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, famous for its celebrity attendees.
April is also the best time to visit California’s national parks, where you can go camping or hiking. But make sure to pack layers to keep you warm, as temperatures in Yosemite or Joshua Tree occasionally still drop to freezing at night.
California in May
California enjoys pretty warm daytime temperatures overall in May, although this does depend on which part of the state you plan to visit. Lake Tahoe can still sometimes see lows of 3°C, whilst Death Valley can get extremely hot, going over 38°. The Pacific Ocean will start to warm up in spring, but some people will still find it cold to swim, although beaches along the coast will still be busy.
Being close to the Mexican border means California turns especially festive in May due to Cinco de Mayo. People will also be flocking to the beach cities for Memorial Day Weekend, so expect the beaches to be crowded.
In May, some of the best things to do in California are whale watching and witnessing the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, which is best observed away from crowded cities, such as Lake Shasta and Joshua Tree. National parks such as Joshua Tree and Yosemite will experience high numbers of visitors during this time however, so be prepared to see plenty of other travellers.
California in June
In June, California’s weather ranges from comfortably warm to very hot during the day in most places, ranging from 24°C to 40°C in some parts of the desert. Chances of rain are pretty low, so you can be confident that you’re going to get hot and sunny weather almost wherever you are.
June is the best time to visit California beaches and mountains to drink your fill of the state’s brilliant outdoor scenery. California’s famous national parks, including Yosemite, tend to see their largest crowds in June, so if you’re after a solitary hiking trip this may not be the best time to visit. June is also the best time to visit California for local fruit, so if you have the chance check out the many farmer’s markets and get a taste of the state’s freshest produce.
San Francisco hosts the world-famous pride parades and events dedicated to LGBTQ people in late June, so expect the city to be incredibly busy around this time. Popular attractions like Disneyland will also be busy this month, with many families coming for an early summer holiday before the real peak in July and August.
California in July
July is California’s hottest and driest month, especially in the desert and the southern and central areas of the state, with average temperatures usually around 40°C. Therefore, when visiting California in July, head to the coastal areas to escape the intense heat and enjoy much more bearable highs of 29°C in Los Angeles and 19° in San Francisco.
In July, the best things to do in California will depend on which area you will visit. In Northern California, check out its farmlands and visit the rodeo in Salinas or take part in the Gilroy Garlic Festival. If you’re visiting South California in July, head to the beach regions to soak up as much sun as possible out on the sand, in places such as in Santa Monica. Don’t miss the chance to witness beach events like the US Open in Huntington Beach, where world-famous surfers compete out on the waves.
July is the peak season for tourists visiting California’s national parks. If you want to explore a national park in July, it is better to head to Kings Canyon National Park, as it has a smaller crowd than Yosemite.
California in August
Similar to July, most areas in California are hot and dry in August. It’s the peak of summer, and many places see their highest influx of tourists for the whole year who all arrive to make the most of the heat and minuscule chances of rain.
August is the best time to visit California’s wineries, so most visitors to the state head to Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Most wineries start harvesting grapes in August until October, so it’s a great time to sample the first of the season’s produce and enjoy the atmosphere of these luxurious areas of California.
Many school districts in North America resume classes in mid-August, so popular vacation spots like Disneyland will see fewer crowds as the month winds down. Campgrounds, forests, and lakes will also be quieter at this time, but remember that August is when wildfires often begin. The safest plan, therefore, is to avoid the parks and stay close to the beaches instead.
California in September
Temperatures start to drop in California in September, making this month the turning point for the weather in the state. High temperatures in the daytime average at around 21°C across most parts of the state, occasionally reaching the high twenties on sunny days and usually dropping to around 14°C at night.
September is viewed by many as the best time of the year to visit California, particularly during the middle or later part of the month when tourism levels are lower but the weather is still relatively warm and dry.
With Labor Day activities kicking off in September and early Halloween celebrations ending it, this month is also one of the most action-packed times to visit California. In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Fair takes place, considered one of the state’s biggest county fairs. Late September is also the best time to visit Disneyland California, as the lead up to Halloween begins and you will find the famous theme park transformed into holiday themes with festive and spooky decorations all around.
California in October
October is one of the best times to visit California if you don’t like extreme heat, with comfortable daytime temperatures averaging around 18°C to 20°C in most places. Places at higher elevations will be cooler, especially in the evening and early morning.
When visiting California in October, be mindful of wildfires, as these are common during this time of the year.
The best thing to do in California in October is to attend fun Halloween events at various places all over the state. Visiting Disneyland is also fun since the park will be brightly decorated in fun Halloween and fall-themed decor. For classic seasonal experiences, visit a pumpkin patch or celebrate the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with the locals.
California in November
Temperatures drop across California in November as the rainy season begins. Towards the end of the month, you should expect light showers most days, but temperatures will average around 17°C in most places, so it won’t be too cold to spend a long time outdoors.
Whale watching is a really popular activity in California in November, where you can witness grey whales migrating south towards Mexico. November is also a great time to watch football and witness fun Thanksgiving celebrations across the state. During Thanksgiving week, many people will be travelling to visit families which can make transport systems very busy, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to visit early in the month.
California in December
There are so many brilliant things to do in California in December. From enjoying the last of the surfing season on the Southern California beaches to skiing in the mountains, December is definitely one of the best times of the year to visit California if you’re looking for a variety of things to do.
While the weather varies depending on which part of the state you visit, California generally enjoys a comfortable temperature for the entire month of December. Daytime averages hover around 15°C, dropping to almost freezing in the northern areas of the state and staying warmer in the south. December is quite a wet time of the year, so be prepared for regular showers in most parts of the state.
Many Californian cities will be at their prettiest in December, with major buildings and streets decorated with colourful ornaments for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations. Head to San Diego to participate in the city’s festive Christmas celebrations, witness the rose parade in Pasadena, spend an evening on Olvera Street in Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas, or take a trip to Disneyland to enjoy the park’s many festive holiday events.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to the best time to visit California and my top recommendations for what to do each month. You can read more suggestions for your itinerary in my guide to California here.
Mrs. O x