18 Best Places to Visit in California During Winter

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Many people associate California with sun-kissed skin, palm trees, and beaches year round. But California, especially in winter, is quite dynamic, ranging from snow-capped mountains and pine tree forests to craggy beaches strewn with sea stacks and- okay, yes- maybe even some palm trees thrown in there. 

Regardless of what kind of getaway you’re looking for, whether it’s a skier’s paradise or a beach vacation, the Golden State has the perfect destination, just waiting to be explored. Here are the 18 best places to visit in California during the winter. 

woman walking across sand dunes in death valley in California in the winter

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Why Should I Plan a California Winter Getaway?

So we’ve established it’s not always daisy dukes and bikinis on top (sorry, Katy Perry), but most of the state does indeed experience a much milder, even Mediterranean-type winter. 

Except for the deserts found in the southernmost part of the state, it’s usually a bit rainier in the wintertime, with higher elevations areas, like the Sierra Nevadas, receiving snow. 

Couple walking through tree tunnel in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California in winer

That being said, thanks to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the temperatures throughout the state stay pretty moderate, rarely dropping below 40° at lower elevations and, in some areas, regularly exceeding 70°. This provides ideal temperatures for outdoor adventures, whether you’re exploring tidepools at the beach, hiking up a mountain, or sitting outside with your favorite glass of wine (hey, that’s an outdoor adventure, right?). 

So pack a rain jacket (like this one for men or this one for women) and let’s hit the road.

Woman walking through Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park in California in winter

Best Places to Visit in California During Winter

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

1. Solvang 

For a fantastic place to visit in California in winter, opt for the charming town of Solvang, for a weekend getaway full of beautiful scenery and great wine.

Solvang is in the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, with ample wineries to choose from and more affordable prices than Napa or Sonoma up north. You can explore some of the wineries, like Rusack Vineyards, on your own or book a tour, like this one, where you’ll be driven around by a local and knowledgeable guide (woohoo for built-in DDs!) to four of the best wineries in the area.

Beyond being a wine lover’s dream, it’s known as “Little Denmark” with Danish-inspired architecture throughout the town, from the hotels and shops to even adorable windmills. 

The biggest reason to visit Solvang in the winter, though, is to experience the holiday season. This town really comes to life during Julefest, a festival that runs from the end of November through December and includes a tree lighting ceremony, Santa’s Village, a holiday market, and more. Plus, the Danish town looks, like, real cute, all dressed up for the holiday season!

Windmill in Solvang, California

Blessedly, the weather in winter is mild, with a handful of rainy days here and there. Temperatures hover in the 50s-70s during the day, providing the perfect weather to check out some nearby hiking trails or sit outside at a winery, glass of vino in hand.

How to Get to Solvang: You can reach Solvang by flying into Los Angeles International (LAX), picking up a rental car, and making the two and a half hour drive northwest.

Where to stay in Solvang: For a great place to stay, The Landsby is a lovely hotel that really leans into those Scandinavian vibes!

Recommended by Kat of World Wide Honeymoon

2. Los Angeles 

Beat the winter cold by visiting LA and hanging out on the beach under some palm trees! 

Since Los Angeles has such incredible weather during the winter months (you can expect temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s), there is a ton you can do. In fact, exploring Los Angeles in the wintertime is actually more enjoyable since it’s not as insanely hot as it gets in the summer! 

Sunset in Los Angeles, California

One of the most unique things to do here in winter is go on a whale watching tour to see the gray whales, which migrate past LA as they make their way from the chilly waters of Alaska to the warm lagoons of Mexico. Other fun things to include in your Los Angeles itinerary are hiking to the famed Hollywood Sign or Runyon Canyon, both of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding Hollywood Hills.

For a different form of cardio, consider going for some shopping therapy on Rodeo Drive or even taking a Hollywood mansion tour via ebike!

View of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California

How to get to Los Angeles: Conveniently, LA has two major airports you can fly into- LAX and the Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR). 

Where to stay in Los Angeles: The Andaz West Hollywood, centrally located by the Sunset strip, offers a rooftop pool and a swanky onsite restaurant, so you can (at least, temporarily) live out your best Hollywood life.

Recommended by Sam from Find Love and Travel

3. Big Bear 

Looking for some winter wonderland fun in Southern California? Located just a short drive away from the bustling streets of LA, Big Bear somehow feels a world away, with towering evergreens and snow-capped peaks. 

In winter, the temperatures are mostly mild, with lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s and just enough flurries to offer perfect conditions to hit the slopes! Before heading out this way, make sure to check the road conditions and pack tire chains if there’s snow in the forecast.

Ski lift in Big Bear, California in winter

Big Bear is home to two ski resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, with plenty of options for both beginner or expert skiers or snowboarders. And when you need a break from skiing, there are other snowy activities, like tubing, alpine sliding, and snowshoeing, to try your hand at.

For a quick day trip, consider checking out some of the festive activities in the San Bernardino Mountains, like visiting Skypark at Santa’s Village in Lake Arrowhead. This charming holiday village is packed with alpine chalets, festooned with cheerful lights, that look more like they should be in the Alps than in Southern California, and, of course, Santa himself!

While you’re here, there are plenty of things to do in Lake Arrowhead, from hiking to cruising around the lake on the Arrowhead Queen.

Mountain slopes in Big Bear, California in winter

How to get to Big Bear: Fly into LAX and make the two hour drive east to this snowy wonderland.

Where to stay in Big Bear: Lean into the hygge vibes and book a cozy cabin at Noon Lodge, for a snowy California winter escape.

Recommended by Jen & Guy of The Evolista

 4. Palm Springs

Palm Springs is an iconic destination to escape the winter cold- in fact, the population of the city triples between November and March! Throughout the winter, you can expect daytime highs from the low to high 70s, with clear skies to enjoy the Coachella Valley. 

Windmills in Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs rose to fame as an escape for the Hollywood elite, like the Rat Pack, in the 1950s; ever since then, the town has retained much of its mid-century design and glamor. 

If you’re interested in this kind of architecture or history, there are plenty of do-it-yourself walking tours (or, if you quite literally don’t want to do the leg work, guided bus tours, like this one) to explore some of these amazing buildings. For example, you can gawk at the home where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla or the Twin Palms Estate, commissioned by Frank Sinatra himself. There’s even a piano-shaped pool in the backyard!

Alternatively, if you’re looking to work up a sweat while you’re in Palm Springs, take a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, known for its Seussian trees and enormous boulders. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden, a 0.25 mile trail that loops through a field full of beautiful cholla cacti (also adorably known as the “teddy bear cactus”).

Key's Views at sunset at Joshua Tree National Park in California

How to get to Palm Springs: Palm Springs conveniently has its own international airport, serviced by 12 airlines. Alternatively, you can fly into LAX and drive approximately two hours southeast.

Where to stay in Palm Springs: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is a posh hotel to make your homebase during your stay, with a firepit and hot tub to warm up during the chilly nights and a bar serving up hipster-esque cocktails.

5. San Diego

San Diego is a fantastic winter getaway destination- the weather is pleasant, with daytime highs in the 70s and clear skies. It is a good idea to bring along a few layers, though, given that the coast usually tends to be a bit cooler and cloudier than inland.

While San Diego is great to visit year round, Christmas in San Diego is particularly special. There are tons of holiday activities, like Surfin’ Santa pictures in Seaport Village, ice skating on the beach at the Hotel del Coronado, the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights in the San Diego Bay, and the December Nights Holiday Market in Balboa Park.

Cliffside in San Diego, California

Alternatively, if you plan to come in January through March, whale watching should definitely be on your bucket list. San Diego is also a great spot to observe the aforementioned gray whale migration- you can either just observe from shore or go on a whale watching tour, like this one or this one

How to Get to San Diego: The city is a breeze to get to, with the San Diego International Airport conveniently located right in the city.

Place to stay in San Diego: Overlooking the bay, the Marriott Marquis in the San Diego Marina is just steps from the hustle bustle of downtown, with views of the water and a convenient location just steps away from restaurants, shops, top tourist attractions, and nightlife. 

Recommended by Maria of San Diego Explorer

 6. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley famously holds the world record for the hottest air temperature ever recorded, a whopping 134°, but, thankfully, this sprawling desert landscape is much more pleasant to visit in the wintertime. In fact, temperatures are kind of perfect for having outdoor adventures here, ranging from the mid 60s to low 70s throughout the wintertime. 

Take advantage of the lovely weather to explore the myriad of diverse things to do in Death Valley. For example, kick off your trip by watching sunrise at Zabriskie Point, a uniquely pointy badland that towers at 823 feet tall over the surrounding hills of bentonite clay. 

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park in California

Once the sun has illuminated this iconic Death Valley landmark, you can start the 7.8 mile Golden Canyon loop trail from this overlook, which will take you past fields of striated badlands, towering canyon walls, and vibrant rock formations. 

If you’re more of a night owl, consider instead watching sunset from Dante’s Peak, accessible from the Dante’s View overlook via an easy one mile trail. From the viewpoint, you’ll be able to simultaneously see both the Badwater Basin salt flats (which, at 282 feet below sea level, are at the lowest elevation in North America) and the snow-capped peak of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States! How cool is that!

Couple watching sunset from Dante's Peak in Death Valley National Park in California

How to get to Death Valley: The park is located approximately four hours northeast of Los Angeles and two hours west of Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Where to stay in Death Valley: The Inn at Death Valley is smack dab in the middle of the Furnace Creek section of the park (where the most popular points of interest are located) and, is like, seriously swanky. There are fun extras to make your stay that much more special, like an outdoor fireplace and a heated pool that you can stargaze from. So much hot stuff… very on brand.

7. Cayucos

Cayucos is a small and charming coastal town located in San Luis Obispo County, California. 

It’s a great spot to get away in the winter, especially in November, when the crowds are few and the weather is milder. With highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s, you can wear shorts during the day and a jacket in the evening to keep warm. 

Despite its tiny size, there are many things to do in Cayucos. For example, if you’re a brave soul and don’t mind the extremely chilly water, slap on a wetsuit and catch some waves at Cayucos State Beach. This is a super popular spot with local surfers!

Surfer at Cayucos Beach in California

Nearby, you’ll find Main Street, where you can browse around antique shops, like Remember When, or head to the Candy Counter to satisfy your sweet tooth.

For more outdoor adventures, head to Estero Bluffs State Park for beautiful sunset views overlooking the Pacific Ocean or to explore the tidepools. There is a walking trail through the park providing sweeping views of the craggy shoreline and the dramatic sea stacks jutting out of the ocean.

Man walking along the beach at sunset at Cayucos, California

How to get to Cayucos: There are a few ways to reach Cayucos- either by flying into San Luis Obispo’s airport and making the 30 minute drive or arriving at either LAX or the San Francisco International Airport and driving two and a half hours to Cayucos. From either of these airports, you’ll see spectacular coastal views on your drive.

Where to stay in Cayucos: Check out the Shoreline Inn on the Beach, which is one of the only accommodations that’s right on the beach!

Recommended by Pafoua at Her Wanderful World

8. Malibu

Despite its proximity to Los Angeles, Malibu is a picturesque and quiet seaside area that still has plenty of small town vibes. Along the beautiful coastline, you’ll find stunning beaches, locally-owned shops, and world-class restaurants.

Point Dume in Malibu, California

While most people associate Malibu with its beaches, the water, come winter, is icy cold. Nevertheless, the views are spectacular and the weather pleasant, averaging around 70° throughout the winter season. It’s the perfect place to relax and appreciate nature. 

El Matador State Beach is a must-see here, with its dramatic cliffs and stunning rock formations jutting out of the sand. If you want to scramble up these rocks, bring proper shoes (for beach hiking, I love my Tevas and Justin is obsessed with his as well) and make sure to check the tide report beforehand. Many of them are inaccessible once the tide rolls in and it would be a decidedly not not great way to spend your vacation stuck on top of a cliff!

El Matador State Beach in Malibu, California

El Matador is a great place to spot wildlife, like sea lions and pelicans, and offers tons of tidepools to explore. And if you can, stay for sunset- it’s one of the best places in the entire state to watch the sun sink beneath the horizon!

If you enjoy hiking, the nearby Leo Carrillo State Park is home to a few trails where you can explore the coastal forests and find hidden sea caves tucked along the coastline. 

How to get to Malibu: You can easily reach Malibu by flying into LAX and making the hour drive north.

Where to stay in Malibu: Check out the Surfrider Hotel, which allows easy access to the Malibu Pier. 

Recommended by Monica of This Rare Earth

9. Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island definitely needs to be on your California bucket list. While it’s technically located in Los Angeles County, this island looks more like something you’d see along the Amalfi Coast of Italy rather than something you’d expect to find in LA, thanks to its rows of colorful homes and charming harbors. 

Harbor in Catalina Island, California

 You’ll likely arrive in the small town of Avalon, which has lots of quaint little shops and delicious restaurants, most of which are within walking distance of the main port. In fact, part of the charm of the island is that the main mode of transportation is by golf cart!

 The island is a wonderful place to escape the winter cold, given the weather is fairly warm (in the 60s) and sunny. Most of the activities on Catalina Island revolve around getting out on the water, like paddle boarding or kayaking. For something a bit more unique, take a submarine tour around the island, where you’ll be treated to views of underwater kelp forests and schools of hundreds of fish!

Colorful houses on Catalina Island, California

How to get to Catalina Island: The easiest way to get there is a short 1-hour ferry boat ride. You can take the Catalina Express ferry out of Long Beach for $77 roundtrip or Catalina Flyer out of Newport Beach for $78. 

Where to stay on Catalina Island: While you can rent a golf cart on the island, they’re pretty pricey- usually around $50 per hour. Instead, try booking accommodations in Avalon, where the majority of the island’s restaurants and shops are located, and where everything is within walking distance. 

One of the best options is the Hotel Atwater, which perfectly mixes its 1920s architecture with more modern touches and offers thoughtful perks, like sparkling wine upon check-in.

Tip: Want to see more of the island beyond Avalon but don’t want to rent a golf cart? Consider going on a guided tour, like this one, instead, where your knowledgeable guide will tell you about island life and bring you to some of the best spots for photos!

Recommended by JJ of Minivan Bucket List

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

10. Lake Tahoe

If you’re looking for a snowy wonderland, Lake Tahoe should be at the top of your list. The lake’s crystal clear blue waters are the most beautiful when the lake’s shores and its surrounding Sierra Redwoods are blanketed with fresh powder. 

Each year, Lake Tahoe gets an average of 400 inches of snow (!!!) but still somehow manages to get 300 plus sunny days of sunshine. This makes for great conditions for cruising down the slopes at one of the area’s whopping 15 ski and snowboard resorts. 

Ski resort in Lake Tahoe, California in winter

Even if you’re not a skier or snowboarder, you can take a gondola ride to the top of Heavenly Ski Resort, in south Lake Tahoe, where you will get a stunning view of the lake and the surrounding snowy peaks. The view from the top and during the ride up and down is jaw-dropping and well worth the ticket price.  

Alternatively, get your cardio on by strapping on some snowshoes- Fallen Leaf Lake is an awesome trail for beginners or if you’d rather have an expert help you navigate through the powder, you can join a guided tour, like this one.

Make sure to carve out some time to stop at the Village at Northstar, where you can go ice skating at their 9000-square-foot rink. You can relax afterward around one of their cozy fire pits and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

 After a long day of playing the powder, you can carbo load up at any of the eleven craft breweries in the area, with a couple of pints or a flight of their award-winning beers. 

Cabin at Lake Tahoe in California in winter

How to get to Lake Tahoe: Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport. After picking up your bags, the drive to North Lake Tahoe will take about 45 minutes in good conditions. 

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe: Head to South Lake Tahoe and book a stay at the Black Bear Lodge, which is brimming with rustic mountain lodge charm.

Recommended by Gabriel of Chef Travel Guide

11. Bishop

If you’re keen on outdoor adventures in the wintertime, Bishop is one of the best places to visit in California during the winter.

The town is primarily known for its stellar bouldering, where climbers can enjoy climbing rocks with a backdrop of the majestic snow-capped eastern Sierras. Climbing enthusiasts flock here year-round, but the cool yet comfortable temps in the winter make it an ideal winter climbing area in California. At higher elevations, like the Buttermilks area, you might encounter some snow, but otherwise, you’ll be able to find something to climb in the warmer and sunnier areas.

Woman bouldering in Bishop, California in winter

Beyond bouldering, you can enjoy a variety of excellent hiking and mountain biking trails around Bishop. Long Lake is a lovely day hike, but, since you may encounter snow and ice on the trail, be sure to pack some microspikes

After all that hiking and climbing, Benton Hot Springs and Keough’s Hot Springs near Bishop are a perfect way to warm up and soak your muscles at the end of a long day outside in the winter.

Couples' feet in a hot spring in Bishop, California in winter

How to get to Bishop: There are several ways to reach Bishop, ranging from the tiny Mammoth Yosemite Airport (30 minutes away) to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (3.5 hours), or Las Vegas (4.5 hours). 

Where to stay in Bishop: For a clean and affordable basecamp for your adventures, the Best Western Bishop Lodge will do the trick (plus, FREE BREAKFAST!). If you want to maximize your time in the great outdoors, you can also camp at the BLM Pleasant Valley Pit climber campground north of town for just $5/night.

Recommended by Allison of She Dreams of Alpine

12. San Francisco

There are plenty of things to do in San Francisco in winter, from exploring the city’s many museums and art galleries to hiking in Golden Gate Park.

 You’ll have lovely weather to wander around the city, thanks to the mild weather that rarely dips below the 50s. It can be a tad on the rainy side, though, so pack a rain jacket and umbrella!

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

 One of the most popular things to do in the city is taking a ferry to and touring the infamous prison of Alcatraz. Alternatively, consider a bay tour, where you’ll sail past the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and more as you learn about San Francisco’s history and culture.

 If you’re up for a hike, the 2.3-mile Batteries to Bluffs Loop provides absolutely epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s one of the best Instagram spots in San Francisco for a reason!

 If you’re visiting in December, there is also plenty of holiday cheer, with Christmas lights in Union Square and even some holiday light tours around the city.

Christmas tree in Union Square in San Francisco, California in winter
Tip: San Francisco is a very hilly city, so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to get your cardio on while scaling those hills!

How to get to San Francisco: The San Francisco region has two international airports, San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport. The city has excellent public transit, so it’s easy to get wherever you’re going in the city from either one!

Where to stay in San Francisco: Try to find accommodations in the Nob Hill neighborhood, like the sleek, yet cozy Stanford Court– basically every street in this neighborhood provides incredible views!

Recommended by Krisztina of She Wanders Abroad

13. Yosemite National Park 

Yosemite National Park is located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also the second oldest National Park in the US after Yellowstone!

This incredible natural space is some of the best of what America has to offer: filled with waterfalls, granite rock formations and towering mountains, Yosemite attracts crowds of visitors from all over the world. 

Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park, California in winter

Most visitors choose to explore the park during the spring and fall, but winter, with its breathtaking snowy scenery, should absolutely not be overlooked. Temperatures are on the chillier side, with daytime highs hovering in the high 40s to low 50s in the Yosemite Valley.

Accordingly, be sure to bring some warm layers (I love my Patagonia zip-up fleece for winter hiking). Thankfully, though, the park sees limited rain during this period of time and, with the sun, you may even need to shed a layer or two while you’re hiking! 

It’s worth noting that several of the park’s higher elevation hikes are closed due to heavy snowfall in the wintertime, although several of the most popular, like the Lower Falls Trail, the Mist Trail, Mirror Lake Trail or Valley Loop, remain accessible.

Yosemite Valley in California in winter

And the park’s wintery activities more than make up for any trail closures. For example, lots of travelers don’t know this but Yosemite actually offers the Badger Pass Ski Area, where you’ll find downhill skiing and snowboarding (yup, with ski lifts!), in addition to cross-country skiing, tubing, and snowshoeing. Alternatively, at Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley, you can ice-skate, with Half Dome towering overhead.

How to get to Yosemite National Park: The closest major airport is the San Francisco International Airport, which is a three hour drive west of the park.

Where to stay in Yosemite National Park: There’s lodging available within the park itself at Yosemite Village or Curry Village. For something a bit more affordable, the town of Groveland is a 30 minute drive west of the park and offers some reasonable, yet clean accommodations, like the Yosemite Westgate Lodge

Recommended by Nesrine from Kevmrc

14. Mammoth Lakes

If you’re looking for a getaway to a winter wonderland, Mammoth Lakes, a charming ski town nestled in the eastern Sierra Nevadas, is an excellent option.

Winter is on the chillier side here, with daytime temperatures in the mid-30s to low 40s and a chance of seeing snow blanketing the ground. However, given that Mammoth’s main draw is skiing and snowboarding, most visitors are usually quite excited about the cold! 

Man snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, California in winter

 Mammoth is home to two major ski resorts, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain. They collectively offer almost 200 different runs, with plenty of options for both beginners and experts alike.

Not only do the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains provide a spectacular backdrop while you’re hitting the slopes, but Mammoth also enjoys one of the longest ski seasons in the country, ranging from November all the way through May.

Woman lowering herself into a hot spring in Mammoth Lakes, California

If you’re not into downhill skiing or snowboarding, there’s still plenty of fun to be had playing in the snow, like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the nearby Inyo National Forest. 

After a long day adventuring outside, relax those aching muscles in one of the many natural hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, like the expansive Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, Hilltop Hot Tub, or Crab Cooker, which provides panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Nothing beats soaking in some toasty warm water, taking in the vistas of one of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges! 

Woman sitting in hot spring in Mammoth Lakes, California in winter

 If hot springs are your jam (I know they’re DEFINITELY mine!), Travertine Hot Springs is also worth adding to your bucket list. Located just an hour north of Mammoth Lakes, these pools make an excellent day trip from Mammoth Lakes.

Travertine Hot Springs are especially magical, come winter, given there’s a good chance they’ll be completely covered in snow! 

Travertine Hot Springs in California

How to get to Mammoth Lakes: There’s a teeny airport in Mammoth (Mammoth Yosemite Airport), but you’re more likely to score a better deal by flying into the major international airports nearby, Los Angeles (a 4 hour and 40 minute drive) or Las Vegas (a 5 hour drive).

Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes: The Westin Monache Resort is an excellent option in Mammoth, with extraordinary customer service, a heated pool plus TWO hot tubs, and a complimentary shuttle around town.

Travertine Hot Springs recommended by Mark and Kristen of Where are Those Morgans

15. Napa Valley

Located north of San Francisco, the Napa Valley is known for its many hillside vineyards, together with beautiful sceneries, historic charm, and tourist attractions. 

Wine glass in Napa Valley at Christmastime

In the wintertime, Napa Valley enjoys a good number of sunny days, with an average temperature of 50°F in the daytime. Winter is a great time to visit the wineries with fewer crowds- consider booking a tour, like this one, where a local guide will hand-pick three of their favorite local wineries, with lunch and plenty of tastings along the way.

If you’re not a wine lover, Napa Valley is one of the best places to visit in California during Christmastime, thanks to the region’s season festivities and abundance of holiday cheer. For example, there is a new ice skating rink at Dista Collina or you can time your visit with the annual Christmas Parade in Napa’s downtown. There are also plenty of hot springs in the area (mostly in private resorts) to warm up after a long day of exploring the rolling hillsides.

Row of grape vines at Napa vineyard in California

How to get to Napa Valley: Napa Valley is about 80 miles north of downtown San Francisco. While the easiest way to get here is by driving, there are also public transportation options, like taking a ferry and bus or a train.

Where to stay in Napa Valley: One of the most popular hot springs resorts is the Golden Haven Hot Springs Resort and Spa in the central Napa Valley, which offers pools fed by geothermal springs, soothing mud baths, and an incredibly friendly staff.

Recommended by Kenny of Knycx Journeying

16. Point Reyes

Winter is a particularly spectacular time to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore, given there are fewer tourists and it is easier to see whales, elephant seals, and sea lions playing in the offshore waters. Add in the scenic views of coastal bluffs, picturesque hikes, and moderate and dry weather and it’s no surprise that this small town makes the perfect winter getaway in California. 

Coastal bluff in Point Reyes, California

There is no shortage of Point Reyes activities during the winter. Explore the old Point Reyes lighthouse, which was constructed in 1870 to aid ships in navigating through the fog between San Francisco Bay and the northern lands. The famed S.S. Point Reyes Shipwreck (which dates back more than a century!) can be seen on your way to the lighthouse. 

Next, drive north to the Cypress Tree Tunnel, which is, well, exactly what it sounds like- a natural tunnel formed by beautiful cypress trees, planted all the way back in 1930. You can find this picturesque spot while driving towards the historic KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station. If you’re a photographer, try visiting during the morning golden hour, when the sunlight streams through the tree limbs.

Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes, California

How to get to Point Reyes: Point Reyes is about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. From San Francisco, you’ll take Highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge followed by the iconic Highway 1.  

Where to stay in Point Reyes: If you’re looking for a bougie stay, the Olema House is an excellent choice and feels kind of like the lovechild between a fancy country estate and a modern boutique hotel. It’s conveniently located a 15 minute walk from the national seashore.

Recommended by Trijit from Budget Travel Buff

17. Redwoods State and National Park

One of the most underrated times to visit the Redwoods State and National Park is wintertime, when the moody clouds make the coastal forests look that much more majestic and you’ll have the trails largely to yourself. 

Couple hiking through Stout Memorial Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park in California

Redwoods State and National Park is comprised of four parks, which are actually the only ones in the country that are jointly managed by the state and federal park systems. These parks, which span over 50 miles along California’s coast, house over 95% of the world’s remaining old-growth redwoods, the tallest living creature on the planet! In fact, the world’s tallest tree lies within the parks’ footprint and is just shy of 380 feet tall.

The best way to explore these ancient giants is by going on any of the spectacular hikes in the redwoods

For example, Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park will take you through groves of towering redwood trees and eventually, to a canyon with 50-foot walls, dripping with ferns. 

Another not-to-be missed hike is an easy loop through Stout Memorial Grove in the luscious Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, where there’s limited underbrush and nothing but 300+ foot redwoods, soaring overhead, as far as the eye can see.

Woman running down Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California

How to get to Redwoods State and National Parks: Thanks to their remoteness, the redwoods aren’t swarmed with visitors, especially come winter. That being said, you will have to put in a bit of legwork to get there. 

The closest international airport is San Francisco (5 and a half hours away) and Sacramento (5 hours and 50 minutes away).

Where to stay in the Redwoods State and National Parks: Trinidad Bay Bed and Breakfast will charm your socks off, with warm cookies at check-in, vistas of the Pacific Ocean, and a home-cooked three-course breakfast, brought straight to your room (you had me at warm cookies, guys).

18. Dry Creek Sonoma

Most people don’t think of visiting Sonoma during the winter time, but the mild climate and sparse crowds makes it an ideal getaway spot. While the Dry Creek region in western Sonoma County flies a bit under the radar, it’s nonetheless incredibly scenic. And, as an added bonus, as compared to most of the towns in the sprawling Sonoma region, Dry Creek offers more intimate and friendly vibes, with smaller scale wineries where you can actually meet the owners of the vineyard.

Just outside of the town of Healdsburg, the drive through Dry Creek is easy and flat with the beautiful valleys and vineyards stretching on for miles. The wine scene here is incredibly diverse, with bio organic wineries, vineyards with old growth zinfandels and pinot grapes, funky wine cave vineyards, and gorgeous gardens to explore. 

Vineyard in Sonoma, California

If you’re looking to do something more than partake in your favorite glass of vino, there are plenty of outdoor activities, like hiking, kayaking, and even outdoor yoga.

How to get to Dry Creek Sonoma: The closest airport is Sonoma County Airport, which provides direct flights through Alaska Airlines (fun fact- all fliers get to fly a case of wine home for free on these flights!). Alternatively, the closest international airport is San Francisco (one and a half hours away), followed by Sacramento (two hours and seven minutes) and San Jose (two hours and 15 minutes).

Where to stay in Dry Creek Sonoma: The River Belle Inn is the perfect homebase to explore Sonoma, with nightly wine and pizza happy hours, farm to table breakfasts, and relaxing views of the Russian River.

Recommended by Noel of the Mature Traveler


Phew – I hope that helps you pick one of the many awesome places to visit in California during winter! Do you have any questions about the destinations above or did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below!

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