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As forests shed their emerald green leaves and don hues of red, yellow, and orange, sunny SoCal gets in the pumpkin spice mood. We’re setting aside our swimsuits and getting ready for sweater weather. Whether you’re vibin’ with a full-on autumn road trip or an intimate fall picnic at a nearby park, there’s no denying that the season brings forth a new sense of peace and relaxation. Take a break from your fall baking or Halloween shopping and head out to see the vibrant fall foliage of Southern California—it’ll have you fallin’ in love with the region all over again.
Whether you want to take a scenic L.A. drive to the surrounding mountains or venture to the lush parks and forests near San Diego, SoCal has no shortage of destinations to admire the autumnal foliage and celebrate the season. Here are the best places to view fall colors in Southern California.
The 8,215-acre Malibu Creek State Park offers one of the best displays of fall foliage in Southern California. Located in Calabasas, the state park explodes with red, orange, and yellow as the leaves gradually reach their peak colors. Given the park’s rolling tallgrass plains, vibrant wildflowers, oak savannas, stunning canyon vistas, and dramatic peaks, it’s not surprising that people call it the Yosemite of SoCal. Pack a picnic to enjoy here, and hike the trails while soaking in California’s fall colors.
Covering over 700,000 acres of scenic wilderness, the Angeles National Forest protects large areas of the San Gabriel Mountains and Sierra Pelona Mountains. With developed campgrounds and several trails for hikers, cyclists, and off-road vehicles, the forest is as diverse in its entertainment opportunities as it is in its appearance and terrain; oak woodlands gradually give way to pine- and fir-covered slopes in the higher elevations. The change in scenery and arrival of the fall foliage in this Southern California forest exemplifies the stunning solitude of the quiet wilderness areas. The lovely landscape and breathtaking natural environments make it difficult not to fall in love with the Angeles National Forest.
The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden boasts the most vivid fall foliage in Southern California. Offering a variety of landscapes for your enjoyment, the arboretum is absolutely lovely in autumn, with beauty and tranquility flowing throughout the place. Each themed garden is uniquely designed and is a wonderful place to take in the wonders of nature. While the plant collection is phenomenal, the trees and other species are equally majestic and striking. Leaf-peeping in SoCal has never been so colorful.
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Immerse yourself in some of the best fall foliage Southern California has to offer at Idyllwild Nature Center. Providing a variety of environmental education programs that focus on mountain ecology, habitats, and flora and fauna, the nature center is a must-visit on your trip to Idyllwild. The nature center is a wonderful place to go with children, offering delightful walking trails and a museum. With stunning fall foliage all around you, you'll immediately experience a sense of serenity and relief here.
Oak Glen Preserve is among the best preserves with spectacular fall foliage in Southern California. Featuring over 2,000 acres of tranquil natural beauty, the preserve is tucked away in the foothills of the imposing San Bernardino Mountains. As you walk the area, you’ll find the Southern California Montane Botanic Garden. This 909-acre expanse offers two scenic trails that take you to the best spots for leaf-peeping. Soak in the California fall colors as you stroll by tranquil ponds and groves of trees. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the everlasting beauty and the fond memories you’ll make here.
Located less than two miles from Lake Arrowhead, Grass Valley Park is SoCal’s best-kept secret. Offering a multitude of opportunities for a wonderful afternoon picnic, the members-only park is just the place to visit to admire the fall colors in Southern California. As the crisp weather provides a pleasant ambience for visitors to enjoy, the resplendent trees of autumn gradually let go of their russet leaves. It’s hard to resist spending a day in the beautifully landscaped grounds of Grass Valley Park, especially when there are designated barbecue areas, a children’s playground, picnic tables, and of course, breathtaking scenery.
One of Los Angeles County’s largest and most popular parks, Whittier Narrows Recreation Area is a 1,492-acre destination in South El Monte, offering a wide range of activities for people of all ages—it’s equipped with baseball and soccer fields, BMX tracks, three lakes, community gardens, and many more amenities. Within the recreation area is the Whittier Narrows Nature Center, a 400-acre sanctuary of riparian woodland, which is home to many plants and animals native to wetland communities. It's never a bad idea to spend a day at this park.
Located in northern San Diego County, Palomar Mountain State Park is abundant with large pine, fir, and cedar trees, making for stunning fall foliage. The invigorating mountain air energizes you while the surrounding views of the kaleidoscopic colors take your breath away. With 1,862 acres of natural wonders, the state park features a number of exciting outdoor adventures. Camping, picnicking, hiking, and trout fishing are popular activities here. Providing diverse adventures for locals and visitors, Palomar Mountain State Park is a must-visit place to admire California’s fall colors, so don’t hesitate to take the beautifully scenic San Diego drive.
The highest point in San Diego County is Hot Springs Mountain. Boasting spectacular vistas of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial Counties on a clear day, the mountain rises to an elevation of 6,535 feet. Naturally, this tree-studded mountain offers an incredibly vibrant hike through Southern California's fall foliage. Picture this: a variety of conifers spread amongst deciduous black oaks, with leaves changing into ruby reds and golden yellows; who wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of that? Hiking and driving to the peak are both possible. As you reach the peak, the hot springs emerge from the mountain and the panoramic views greet you.
One of the best places to take in California’s fall colors is William Heise County Park. The 929-acre park is also one of the few in San Diego County that receives snowfall each year—something you might not expect in the town of Julian, located only 60 miles from San Diego. Composed of oak, pine, and cedar trees, William Heise County Park boasts 11 miles of picturesque hiking and equestrian trails; so, if you’re seeking a wilderness experience while soaking in the California fall foliage, you now know where to visit next. If you want to spend more than a day here, take advantage of the cabins and campsites so you can wake up amongst the autumnal hues.
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