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The Golden State's Best Fall Road Trips

The Golden State's Best Fall Road Trips

By California.com
November 13, 2020

 As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Admiring the vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow on the trees; sipping on steaming pumpkin spice lattes; cozying up on the couch and reading novels by California's best Black authors—are these not the best parts of fall? With the arrival of autumn comes the time for a trip around the Golden State. Sightsee and unwind before the craze of the holiday season settles in.

The Best Fall Road trips

Whether you want to travel to remote regions, low-key beach cities, or charming mountain towns, there are plenty of places in the Golden State where you can celebrate the majesty of autumn and get away from it all. For magical castle tours, California fall foliage, and alpine lake activities, these are the fall road trips to take next.

Fall Foliage Road Trips to Take in Northern California

Take a scenic drive to the world-renowned Napa Valley to admire the contrasting hues of the vibrant leaves with the darker-hued grapes.

Napa Valley

Although Napa Valley draws crowds during harvest (late August to early October), visiting the region after the last of the grapes has been crushed may be the best time to soak in all the fun. From late October through November, the crowds begin to dwindle, leaving you as one of the few visitors touring the vineyards. Although Napa Valley is known for its world-class wineries, the region offers far more than just wine.

So, get ready to don your fuzzy sweaters, because it's time to view Napa’s colorful fall foliage. For the ultimate aerial view, visit Sterling Vineyards to take a ride in the aerial tram, which offers guests unparalleled 360-degree views of the valley. For a romantic date above the changing trees, go on a hot-air balloon ride with Balloons Above the Valley

Cruise along Highway 395 and take in the stunningly vivid foliage bordering the road.

Scenic Highway 395

Nothing beats a soothing drive through Northern California's fall foliage, and Highway 395 surely doesn't disappoint, especially if you're taking a trip with your S.O. With the cool breeze rustling the colorful leaves and encouraging them to fall all around you, Mother Nature's romantic vibes make this drive one of the best fall road trips for couples.

Mountain slopes dotted with vivid aspen trees make a quick escape to Mono County a must; the spectacular geological formations and unique landscape create an otherwordly feel. But don't just enjoy the view from the car. Head to Methuselah Grove within the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which is located just off the highway, to experience the sights, sounds, and feels of autumn in real-time.

Once you're done viewing the forest's jaw-dropping fall foliage, continue on to the Hot Creek Geological Site, where you can unwind in the spiritually healing powers of the hot springs. Before heading home, stop by Mammoth Lakes or take a quick detour to Yosemite National Park to experience even more beautiful landscapes. 

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Spend a weekend enjoying the breathtaking scenery of Lake Tahoe in the fall.

Lake Tahoe

No fall road trip list would be complete without the Golden State’s Big Blue. With the summer crowds gone and the busy winter days not yet in full swing, Lake Tahoe’s fall season is as perfect as it can get. The clear and crisp air paired with the colorful landscape of ever-changing trees makes for a dreamy autumn getaway.

The best way to see the stunning landscape? Take a hike. Head to Fallen Leaf Lake and walk around the 3.1-mile mountain lake offering spectacular views of the colorful trees in its reflection. For a shorter journey, try the 1.4-mile out-and-back Cascade Falls Trail. This hike is ideal for the entire family, including your furry best friend. If you want to admire the splendid fall views from the water, make your way over to Rent A Boat Lake Tahoe; grab your fishing equipment, too, and head to the lake for a secluded and relaxing fall fishing experience.

The best road trips for fall colors in Southern California

For a fun road trip with the family, head to Julian for apple picking and leaf-peeping.

Julian

In the 1800s, gold-seekers rushed to Julian in search of the precious metal. Although the gold ran out eventually, the small town survived the harsh times. Now, the charming city in San Diego County attracts visitors year-round—especially during the fall when it's prime apple-picking time. From Volcan Valley Apple Farm to Apple Starr Orchard, the choices are many and the apples are aplenty. 

Aside from munching on local Julian apples, touring the town is an absolute must. Go on a historical walking tour of Julian to see the historic landmarks that significantly shaped the town. You should also pursue the antique stores—such as Heartland Vestige—and local craft shops lining the town's Main Street. For another unique adventure, head to the California Wolf Center, a conservation facility dedicated to the conservation of wolves; go on a wolf tour to learn more.

Enjoy a secluded escape in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where starlit nights are even more magical in autumn.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Does anything compare to the beautiful landscape, gorgeous sunsets, and dazzling night skies found in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? The lack of light pollution makes this underrated state park one of the best places to visit on a fall road trip. Enjoy mild evening temperatures as you take in the sparkling skies and changing fall landscape. The park is located at the southern border of California, about two hours away from San Diego. 

Start at the visitor center for tips on exploring the land from local park rangers. The park’s 500 miles of arid desertscape make it a popular destination for four-wheelers and mountain bikers. The park’s trails are aplenty, too; a few of them connect to the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Quick day hikes include the two-mile, out-and-back Palm Canyon Trail, which is suitable for all skill levels. While exploring the path, take a break to savor a picnic streamside and enjoy the gorgeous surroundings. Trust us, you won't want your day to end, so pitch a tent and spend a weekend in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

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