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Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

When is the best time to visit California?

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

There isn’t one best time to visit California — it’s a year-round destination. Much of the state attracting a pleasant Mediterranean climate, with warm, sunny summers and cooler wet winters.

Given the size of the region there are variations, with some areas attracting more extreme weather changes than others. Along the coast, the temperature rarely dips below 68°F, though even the hottest summer days are cooled by sea breezes.

Inland, the weather follows a more typical seasonal cycle, with dry summers, a colorful fall, cold (and, on higher ground, snowy) winters, and bright, temperate spring months ideal for exploring the outdoors.

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Month-by-month guide for traveling in California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Visiting California in January - March

The Californian winter months do vary from cooler coastal temperatures in San Francisco and the Bay Area to fine sunny days in the south of the state in Los Angeles and San Diego. This is a more affordable time of year to travel and many of the regional highlights are quiet with fewer visitors, though certain attractions do close. At higher altitude the snowfall creates ideal conditions for winter sports.

Events & Festivals

  • Migrating gray whales pass through the bay of Monterey.
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

Visiting California in April - May

As temperatures increase, the snowmelt on higher ground reveals hiking trails, forest canopies and wondrous national parks with Yosemite perhaps the best known and most popular. At this time of year waterfalls are at their most impressive with fierce, fast flowing water rushing over granite boulders then dropping into lush valleys below. Elsewhere, the beaches and theme parks of Southern California benefit from the onset of warmer days.

Events & Festivals

  • The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Palm Springs is now established as one of the biggest music events in the US.
  • The Tour of California is an internationally recognized bike race that loops through many of the state's most spectacular locations.
Santa Monica beach

Visiting California in June - August

Summer in California is consistently hot and sunny with all major attractions and sites open for business. In major cities the temperatures can reach over 86°F so visits to the beach are recommended. Additionally, Lake Tahoe, in the north of the state, has perfect conditions for kayaking, rafting and a cooling swim in the stunning clear water at this time of year. Although the weather is good, this period is also the busiest as it coincides with school vacations bringing crowds and peak season prices.

Events & Festivals

  • The Castroville Artichoke Festival of food and wine on the central coast is a hugely popular local event with tastings, demos and a colorful parade.
  • This Comic-con event has evolved into one of the largest pop culture festivals in the world, and takes place in San Diego.
Napa Valley vineyards

Visiting California in September - October

The fall period attracts a lovely mild climate and in some parts of the state, spectacular foliage. This is a great time to visit California's wine regions during the grape harvest time, known as 'the crush'. The San Francisco and North Coast regions, often shrouded in fog during the summer, typically see some of their sunniest days during the 'Indian summer'.

Events & Festivals

  • The annual grape harvest is in full swing in vineyards across California.
  • A two-week foodie festival promoting fresh local produce in Sacramento.
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Visiting California in November - December

The start of the winter period can be changeable with an increase in inclement days in certain parts of the state and lingering sunny days in others. Travel inland to the desert around Palm Springs for example and this is arguably one of the best times to visit. There are beautiful clear warm days while a visit to the central Californian coast would mean misty and cooler conditions.

Events & Festivals

  • Across the state, towns and cities prepare for the holiday seasons with numerous festive light shows and decorative displays.

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Travel advice

Practical tips for traveling to California, from social protocols to guidance on money matters, with a link to the latest US State Department travel advice.

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