Summer in California is a dream of travelers around the world, and for good reason. The Golden State has it all: miles of sandy beaches, large mountain ranges, and plenty of scenic deserts. But after the summer crowds go home, many of the state’s best destinations become quieter, and the weather gets a bit cooler.
So if you can swing a weekend getaway this fall, you’ll have plenty of great options. Whether you’re looking for a quiet mountain town, a seaside hamlet, or a bustling city, there’s a destination to match your needs.
If your idea of a perfect fall getaway includes fall foliage and apple picking, then head directly to Julian. Located an hour northeast of San Diego and 2.5 hours southeast of Los Angeles, Julian has long been a favorite destination for Southern Californians.
Apple Starr Orchard, Calico Ranch Orchard, and Julian Farm & Orchard all offer the chance to pick apples. If you prefer your apples cooked into a pie, then you’ll want to visit Julian Pie Company. This family-owned business has been in operation since 1989, and today it’s run by the founders and their children and grandchildren.
Another apple product, Julian Hard Cider, is a popular beverage in town and can be sampled at Julian Station or the Miner’s Saloon. Check out their quirky ciders, including Pearnormal, Razzmatazz, Apple Pie, and Cherry Bomb.
When you’ve had your fill of apples -- or need to walk off all that pie -- head to the Volcan Mountain Trail. This 4.9 mile out-and-back hike follows an old road and provides great vistas.
Julian is also known for its charming bed and breakfasts, making it a lovely destination for a romantic getaway. Consider a stay at the Julian Gold Rush Hotel or the Quiet Mind Mountain Lodge & Retreat.
2. Catalina Island
You won’t find much fall foliage on Catalina Island, but you will enjoy a weekend getaway with fewer people and cooler temperatures. This island paradise is just a 1-hour boat ride from Los Angeles and Orange County.
After arriving in Avalon -- the largest town on Catalina -- spend some time exploring the shops along Crescent Avenue and the Green Pier. If you need a snack, pop into Scoops Homemade Ice Cream, which features some unusual but tasty flavors. Then head to the Catalina Island Casino for a short tour of this historic building that has nothing to do with gambling -- casino is the Italian word for “gathering place.”
You don’t want to leave Catalina without exploring the wilder parts of the island. In fact, 88 percent of the land here is protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Book a 2-hour tour to see the backcountry and possibly get a glimpse of bison. Or explore under the water in a submarine. If you’re looking for an indoor activity, check out the Catalina Island Museum to learn about the area’s history.
3. Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach, located about an hour south of Los Angeles, is well known for its summer art festivals, including the one-of-a-kind Pageant of the Masters. But with those events come crowds. If you can wait to visit until the fall, you’ll enjoy less crowded beaches, parks, shops, and restaurants.
A great way to start any visit to Laguna Beach is with a stroll through Heisler Park. This oceanfront park starts at Main Beach and winds above several secluded coves. Take the steps down to explore these coves or just continue enjoying the view from above. Sprinkled throughout the park are several sculptures by local artists.
If the weather is nice and you’d like to spend time relaxing on the beach, there are plenty of great options in Laguna. Combine a day at the beach with a workout and head to Thousand Steps Beach. The walk down to the sand is easy, but it will be tougher to climb up when you’re ready to leave. Fortunately, there are only 223 steps.
Main Beach is the perfect location if you want to be in the heart of the city. This beach includes sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, restroom and shower facilities, and even a playground for the grandkids.
Laguna Beach is home to several excellent oceanfront hotels and resorts like The Inn at Laguna Beach, which overlooks both Main Beach and Heisler Park. Farther south, La Casa del Camino is a boutique hotel housed in a 1929 building and featuring a terrific rooftop restaurant.
4. Mammoth Lakes
Fall foliage is abundant in Mammoth Lakes from Labor Day weekend until the first snow in mid-October. The fall is also a quieter time, since vacationing families head home after the summer, and ski season has not yet started. Consider heading to this small town located in the Eastern Sierra.
One of the best ways to experience the fall colors of crimson and gold is to hike along one of the creeks or around one of the many lakes in the region. The Convict Lake Loop is an easy 3-mile hike with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
If you’d prefer to drive, head a bit north to the June Lake Loop. Not only will you be impressed by the fall colors, but along the way you will encounter four deep blue lakes to appreciate as well. This 16-mile route will take about 30 minutes to drive, but hopefully you’ll allow more time to stop along the way at the viewpoints and grab a bite to eat.
The Village at Mammoth is a great place for accommodations and dining. Both The Village Lodge and The Westin Monache Resort offer upscale rooms, many with mountain views. When you’re ready to eat, head to Campo for rustic Italian fare or Gomez for delicious Mexican food.
5. San Francisco
During the summer, San Francisco draws visitors from all over the world. But what most of them don’t know is that September and October bring the best weather of the year to this Northern Californian city. So a fall weekend getaway to San Francisco is ideal.
Exploring this city could take years, so with limited time, you’ll want to focus your sightseeing on a particular section or neighborhood.
If you enjoy being close to the water, then the Fisherman’s Wharf area offers plenty of great activities and delicious food. Enjoy an early morning walk along the Embarcadero and watch the wharf vendors setting up their stalls, listen for the barking sea lions, and stroll through the Ferry Building before it gets busy. If you’re looking for a special meal, make reservations at Scoma’s, a restaurant well known for its fresh seafood. The Argonaut Hotel is close to everything and also offers views of the bay.
For a fun weekend of shopping, stay near Union Square. Here you’ll find all the big-name department stores, including Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, and more. Nearby, you’ll find the world-class San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, featuring seven floors of exhibits including paintings, photography, and sculptures. There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants in the area, but one of the best is Union Square Cafe. And for accommodations, head to The Westin St. Francis with its lovely views of the square.
6. Napa Valley
There’s no better fall destination for wine lovers than Napa Valley. With its gorgeous fall colors, this is an excellent selection in Northern California. Located about an hour northeast of San Francisco, Napa Valley is full of award-winning wineries, famous restaurants, and lovely hotels.
Needless to say, a trip to Napa should start with wine tasting. Fortunately, with 500 wineries to choose from, you’ll have plenty of options. One of the most popular stops is Beringer. The tasting room is located in the 1884 Rhinestone House, a Napa Valley landmark. If you’re a chardonnay lover, try the tasting at Cakebread Cellars. If you prefer champagne (technically called sparkling wine, since it is made in California), make a reservation at Domaine Carneros.
If you need a break from drinking wine, try a hot-air-balloon ride with Napa Valley Aloft. Soar over rolling hills and lush green vineyards. For an extra-special experience, add on a post-flight champagne brunch.
Foodies should definitely make reservations for a few of the most famous restaurants in Napa Valley, like Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc or The Restaurant at CIA Copia. Or for something more casual, head to the Oxbow Public Market, where you can sample a wide range of food from the area.
These are just a few of the myriad options for a fall weekend getaway in California. But each of these destinations will guarantee you plenty of fun activities, delicious food, and relaxing accommodations. You’ll return home rested and ready for the week ahead.