Southern California may not experience the changing of seasons quite like other regions, but we do still have a handful of hidden gems where you can find fall foliage AND a few of our own autumn traditions to look forward to each year as well! From hiking adventures to cozy mountain escapes, the diverse landscapes of Southern California actually offer a plethora of options for fall exploration. Below are just a few SoCal destinations we love to visit during Autumn each year.
Idyllwild is small town in Riverside County in the heart of the San Jacinto Mountains. This magical little getaway destination is only about an hour from the Palm Springs area and yet at least 25 degrees cooler. And, the area boasts vibrant warm colors in November and is a winter wonderland come December! If you’re looking to get your fix of fall foliage, a cabin retreat to Idyllwild is the perfect escape.
2. Palm Springs
I may be biased living here but, the Palm Springs area really is an ideal location to visit during fall! Temperatures slowly drop from the rough triple digits of summer into perfect sunny and 75 weather during the day with wonderful chilly nights. One of the best fall activities to do around Palm Springs come mid-October is to hit the trails! The Coachella Valley is home over 100 different trails ranging from easy strolls to very hard and strenuous accents. From hiking up at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to finding water down in a palm oasis at Indian Canyons to trekking through slot canyons at the Indio Hills Badlands or Ladder Canyon, there are endless hikes to explore during fall.
3. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Another great location for hiking and scenic adventuring is Anza-Borrego. While the desert may not boast traditional autumn foliage, the cooler temperatures and blooming cacti create a distinctive and beautiful atmosphere. I highly recommend hiking through the hidden slot canyon!
4. Joshua Tree
Located just outside of the Palm Springs area, in the Hi-Desert region lies Joshua Tree National Park. The ideal time to visit Joshua Tree is, yep you guessed it, fall! With the limited cell service and a chill, desert atmosphere, Joshua Tree is a great place to disconnect from day-to-day life for a bit. Glamping or staying in unique airbnbs are a very popular way to experience the area. We love to make day trips and drive through the park or sit by a nice bon fire while camping just outside of the park at the Joshua Tree Dry Lake bed (free dispersed camping). Bouldering and rocking climbing are also huge recreational activities to do come autumn here that we’d love to try some day! Entering the park costs $30 for a 7-day pass and camping spots inside are limited, either first come, first serve or reserved/booked 6 months in advance.
5. Ocotillo Wells
As I mentioned in the beginning, many Southern Californians have their own fall traditions and off-roading is definitely one of them. Come mid-October, as the weather cools off, we enter into what many like to call “riding season”. A great place to disconnect, hit the dirt trails and enjoy riding season is in Ocotilllo. The area is an unincorporated area within the San Diego County, 3 miles west of Imperial County line, near Borrego Springs. Many like to dry tent camp or bring RV’s or trailers out with generators.
Glamis is another recreational area most begin visiting come fall for riding season. The area is renowned for its vast sand dunes, providing an exhilarating playground for off-road enthusiasts. Embrace the autumn air as you navigate the sandy terrain on dune buggies, ATVs, or dirt bikes. The contrast of golden sands against the blue sky creates a mesmerizing backdrop for adventure seekers. Fall evenings in Glamis also offer a spectacular display of stars against the desert sky. Camping enthusiasts can set up tents or RVs amidst the dunes, creating a cozy base for stargazing and sharing stories around a campfire.
The vineyards of Temecula come alive with warm autumn hues, creating a picturesque backdrop for a leisurely day of wine tasting. Meander through the rows of grapevines at renowned wineries like Wilson Creek Winery, Thornton Winery, and South Coast Winery. The tasting rooms, often nestled in rustic settings, offer a cozy ambiance to sample a variety of reds, whites, and rosés. Fall in Temecula Wine Country is also synonymous with harvest season celebrations. Many wineries host special events, such as grape stomping parties, barrel tastings, and harvest-themed dinners. These festivities provide a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the winemaking process and engage with the local winemakers.
8. Oak Glen
Another great place to find fall foliage is in a little town in the San Bernardino Mountains called Oak Glen. At 4000-5000ft above sea level, the area experiences all four seasons. Oak Glen is most famous for its apple orchards where visitors can pick fresh apples starting in September. I also highly recommend waiting in line for the famous mini freshly baked apple cinnamon donuts at Snow Line Orchards. SO GOOD!
Known for its apple orchards and charming small-town feel, Julian is a quintessential fall destination. Spend a day picking apples, savoring fresh-baked pies, and exploring the historic streets lined with autumnal charm. There’s also a few nearby trails I’d recommend exploring as well!
10. Big Bear
Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Lake is another charming mountain town that transforms into a picturesque autumnal landscape during fall. Take a scenic hike, enjoy the vibrant colors reflected in the lake, and savor seasonal treats in the charming village.
Our friends actually just bought a house in Wrightwood and we got to visit for the first time! It reminded me of a combination of Idyllwild and Big Bear. Tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains, Wrightwood is another charming mountain retreat, with a cute small town vibe. This picturesque town, surrounded by pine forests, provides a delightful combination of crisp mountain air, vibrant foliage, and outdoor activities.
And these are just 11 of many destinations to visit in Southern California during fall! For more Autumn fun also consider visiting pretty much anywhere in San Diego, because the beach is always a good idea.
Happy fall y’all and as always, travel on my friends!