As a traveler, winter is always an exciting time. The chilly weather and snow-covered landscapes make for a beautiful, wintry scene. And when it comes to winter destinations, California is definitely up there on my list. In winter, when the days are short and chilly, there are plenty of amazing places that will keep you entertained and comfortable. So if you’re looking for the Best Places to Visit in California in Winter, here are 12 great options.
Best Places to Visit in California in Winter
1. Yosemite National Park
Located in the heart of Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, including the iconic Yosemite Falls, which plunge more than 2,000 feet (610 meters) from the top of Yosemite Valley. But the park has much more to offer, including towering sequoia trees, alpine meadows, and granite cliffs.
During the cold winter months, Yosemite National Park transforms into a snow-covered paradise. The average temperature in Yosemite Valley is a chilly 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius), so make sure to pack your winter coat.
One of the best things to do in Yosemite is go skiing or snowboarding at Badger Pass Ski Area. This popular spot offers beginner-friendly slopes as well as more challenging terrain for experienced skiers and snowboarders. Other winter activities in Yosemite National Park include ice-skating, sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try your hand at snow tubing or paragliding.
Keep in mind that many of the roads in Yosemite National Park close in winter, so you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to get around. And if you’re planning to hike any of the trails, make sure to check the conditions before you go. Some of the trails may be inaccessible due to snow and ice.
Whether you’re looking to get active outdoors or just take in the stunning scenery, Yosemite National Park is definitely one of the top attractions in California in winter. Just make sure to book your trip well in advance and prepare for some chilly weather.
2. Napa Valley
Napa Valley is best known for its world-class wines, but there are actually many things to do in the region during winter. This is a great place for wine lovers or those looking for some wintertime relaxation. During wintertime, the average temperature in this region is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius), so it’s best to bring a light jacket or sweater.
One of the best ways to explore Napa Valley in winter is on a hot air balloon ride. There’s something magical about floating over the vineyards and taking in sweeping views of the snow-capped mountains.
Another great activity in Napa Valley during winter is a visit to one of the area’s many wineries. There are dozens to choose from, but some of my favorites include Silver Oak Cellars, Spring Mountain Vineyard, and Robert Mondavi Winery.
If you’re not a fan of wine, don’t worry. There are plenty of other things to do in Napa Valley. You can explore the many charming towns in the region, go hiking or biking in one of the many parks, or sample the local cuisine at one of the excellent restaurants.
There are also several world-class hotels and spas in Napa Valley that are perfect for a relaxing weekend getaway. My top recommendations include the Solage, Meadowood Napa Valley, and the Auberge du Soleil.
So if you’re looking for things to do in California in winter or simply want to escape the cold weather, Napa Valley is a great destination. With its picturesque vineyards, world-class wines, and charming accommodations, it’s easy to see why this region is so popular with tourists.
3. San Diego
Another top destination in winter is the bustling city of San Diego. Known for its gorgeous beaches and year-round sunny weather, San Diego is the perfect place to escape the cold and enjoy some winter sun.
In winter, the average temperature in San Diego is comfortable, 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). That said, it’s not uncommon for the mercury to dip into the 50s Fahrenheit (about 10 degrees Celsius) at night, so you may want to bring a sweater or jacket.
There are plenty of tourist attractions in California in winter, and San Diego is no exception. One of the best things to do in San Diego is exploring Balboa Park, a sprawling 1,200-acre cultural area filled with museums, art galleries, and lush gardens.
If you’re looking for things to do in San Diego in winter with kids, visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which houses more than 3,500 animals of over 800 species. And if you’re a fan of outdoor activities, don’t miss the opportunity to go hiking, biking, or golfing in one of the many beautiful parks in San Diego.
San Diego is also home to some of the best seafood restaurants in California, so make sure to sample the local cuisine during your visit. And if you’re looking for a great place to stay, I highly recommend the boutique Hotel del Coronado. This historic Victorian resort is just steps from the beach and features stunning ocean views, multiple dining options, and easy access to public transit.
All in all, there’s something for everyone in San Diego, making it one of the best places to visit in California in winter.
4. Sonoma County
Sonoma County is best known for its world-class wines, but there’s much more to this region than meets the eye. Located just north of San Francisco, Sonoma is a region filled with natural beauty and diverse attractions. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or just a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life, there’s something for everyone in Sonoma County.
Some of the best things to do in Sonoma County include exploring the stunning beaches along the coast, hiking through picturesque forests and canyons, and enjoying local wines at one of the many vineyards.
I recommend starting your visit at Sonoma Coast State Park, a pristine coastal park that offers stunning views and excellent hiking opportunities. During wintertime, you can see migrating whales from the cliffs at Bodega Head, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a California condor or two.
After exploring the coast, be sure to head inland and explore the redwood forests of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Here, you’ll find towering old-growth redwoods, miles of hiking trails, and a beautiful Visitor Center that offers information on the local plants and animals.
And, of course, no trip to Sonoma County would be complete without a visit to one of the many wineries in the region. I visited the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a beautiful winery, and resort located in the heart of Sonoma Valley. With its stunning grounds, delicious wines, and unique amenities (like a movie theater and swimming pool), this is a must-see.
5. San Francisco
Of course, I can’t write about the best places to visit in California in winter without mentioning San Francisco. This iconic city is best known for its picturesque Victorian houses, colorful streetcars, and steep hills.
Although it’s located in Northern California, San Francisco has a relatively mild climate, with average winter temperatures ranging from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius). However, fog is common during this time of year, so be sure to bring a jacket or scarf.
One of the best things about the foggy weather is that it creates an ethereal atmosphere in the city. The best place to enjoy the views is from Twin Peaks, two hills that offer sweeping panoramas of San Francisco.
If you’re looking for things to do indoors in San Francisco during winter, the best place to visit is the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The museum features fantastic collections of art from around the world, including ancient Mesoamerican artifacts and exquisite textiles from Asia and Africa.
Other great tourist attractions in San Francisco during winter include riding a cable car through the city’s historic districts, shopping at Union Square, and exploring Chinatown.
Of course, no visit to San Francisco in winter would be complete without enjoying a bowl of hot clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. This classic dish is the perfect comfort food for a cold day.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
Another great winter destination in California is Joshua Tree National Park, a sprawling desert wilderness area known for its unique and captivating rock formations.
In winter, the average temperature in Joshua Tree National Park is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). However, it’s best to be prepared for some cold nights and hot days. The best way to explore the park is on foot or by bike, as most of its roads are unpaved and rough.
The park is named after the iconic Joshua tree, a type of yucca plant found in abundance throughout the park. During winter, these majestic trees are covered in snow, creating a breathtaking landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
As one of the top tourist attractions in California in winter, this park offers plenty of things to do and see. For those looking for a fun day outdoors, the park features numerous hiking trails, rock climbing routes, and scenic drives. In addition, Joshua is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, coyotes, and desert tortoises. Winter is the perfect time to see these animals in their natural habitat.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, I recommend the Joshua Tree Inn, which is located right in the heart of the park. This charming motel offers comfortable accommodations, delicious local cuisine, and easy access to hiking trails, climbing routes, and other outdoor activities.
Joshua Tree National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone spending time in California in winter. With its unique landscape and abundance of things to do, it’s sure to be a trip you’ll never forget.
7. Los Angeles
If you’re looking for a winter getaway packed with entertainment, look no further than Los Angeles. Famous for its vibrant film and music industries, as well as its beautiful beaches, Los Angeles is a city bustling with energy and excitement. And best of all, the average winter temperature here is a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), making it one of the best places to visit in California in winter.
One of the best things to do in LA during the winter is to explore the many tourist attractions. From world-class museums like the Getty Center to famous Hollywood landmarks like the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theater, there’s plenty to keep you busy in LA. And if you’re a fan of outdoor activities, you’ll find no shortage of things to do. In addition to its many beaches, Los Angeles is home to a number of large parks perfect for hiking, biking, and picnicking.
Of course, no trip to LA would be complete without some time spent shopping. From high-end designer stores on Rodeo Drive to bargain finds at Melrose Trading Post, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in LA’s many shopping districts.
And if you’re looking for a place to stay, I recommend the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel, located in the heart of Beverly Hills and just steps from Rodeo Drive. With its elegant architecture, attentive service, and plush rooms, this hotel is perfect for a winter getaway to sunny LA.
8. Big Sur
For a true winter wonderland experience, you can’t beat Big Sur. Located on the ruggedly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur is an ideal destination for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone looking to get away from it all.
Big Sur is best known for its dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as its abundance of hiking trails, campsites, and coastline. While the area can be visited year-round, winter is truly the best time to explore Big Sur.
In winter, the temperatures in Big Sur are mild, with an average high of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius). Most days are clear and sunny, so you can enjoy majestic ocean views without the sweltering heat of summer.
There are many things to do in Big Sur, but one of the best is simply to drive along Highway 1 and admire the stunning views. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop at Bixby Bridge, a popular spot for photography, and take a short hike to McWay Falls. This beautiful 80-foot waterfall flows directly into the ocean. You can go whale watching, visit the iconic Hearst Castle, or soak up the sun on one of Big Sur’s many beautiful beaches.
Big Sur is also home to some of the best camping spots in California. If you’re looking for a unique and memorable experience, consider camping out in this beautiful wilderness area under the stars. Just be sure to pack all of your supplies and plan for potential weather changes.
If camping is not your thing, I recommend going to Ventana Inn & Spa, a luxurious resort with stunning ocean views. The inn offers a variety of amenities, including an on-site spa, heated outdoor pool, and many hiking trails. So whatever your interests, you’re sure to have a fantastic time in beautiful Big Sur.
9. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is one of the best places to visit in California in winter if you’re looking for someplace warm and sunny. This desert oasis is famous for its mid-century modern architecture, luxury resorts, and golf courses.
In winter, the average temperature in Palm Springs hovers around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 degrees Celsius), making it the perfect destination for outdoor activities. Whether you want to explore the scenic desert landscape, go hiking or cycling, or simply enjoy some time by the pool, you’ll have plenty of options in Palm Springs.
Some of the best things to do in Palm Springs in winter include visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This ride offers breathtaking views of the desert from an aerial tramway that climbs over 8,000 feet up Mount San Jacinto. You can also venture out to the Indian Canyons to explore the beautiful oasis and palm tree groves in this picturesque desert preserve.
Other popular tourist attractions in Palm Springs include the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Palm Springs Air Museum, and the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza.
And if you’re looking for a unique shopping experience, make sure to visit the Palm Springs flea market. This outdoor market features more than 100 vendors selling everything from antiques to handmade jewelry.
When it comes to accommodations, there are dozens of great hotels and resorts to choose from in Palm Springs. For a truly luxurious experience, I recommend the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage. This five-star property features two championship golf courses, a world-class spa, and stunning views of the Coachella Valley.
I’d also like to recommend a visit to Anaheim, the home of Disneyland and one of the best family vacation destinations in California in winter. With its sunny weather, Disneyland is a must-visit destination for families. But still, the park really comes to life during wintertime, when crowds die down and holiday decorations take center stage.
In addition to Disneyland, Anaheim is also home to Disney California Adventure Park, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott’s Berry Farm, which are all great places to visit in winter. And if you’re looking for things to do that are a bit more low-key, you can also check out the Anaheim Packing District. This is a trendy food hall with over 20 different eateries, or the Anaheim GardenWalk, a sprawling outdoor shopping and dining area with dozens of restaurants, shops, and bars.
Anaheim is also home to a number of top-rated hotels, including the luxurious Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. Featuring a Bavarian-inspired design with handcrafted European artwork, this upscale hotel is the perfect home base for exploring Disneyland Resort and all that Anaheim has to offer.
So if you’re looking for fun things to do in California in winter, be sure to add Anaheim to your list. You won’t be disappointed.
11. Sequoia National Park
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, look no further than Sequoia National Park, one of the tourist attractions in California in winter. Located in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park is best known for its giant sequoia trees, which are among the largest living things on earth.
In winter, Sequoia National Park is blanketed in snow, making it the perfect place to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding. You can go hiking through its lush forests, explore the awe-inspiring Crystal Cave, and marvel at the stunning views from Moro Rock. And if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, don’t miss the opportunity to go skiing or snowboard down one of the nearby peaks.
Remember to bring warm clothes and a good pair of boots. The roads into the park are often icy and snow-packed, so I recommend renting a 4WD vehicle if you’re planning on doing any driving.
There are a few lodges and hotels inside Sequoia National Park. However, these fill up quickly in winter, so it’s best to book in advance. There are also several campgrounds inside the park that remain open year-round, although they may not be accessible if the roads are snowed over.
12. Lake Tahoe
Rounding out my list of best places to visit in California in winter is the breathtaking Lake Tahoe. This iconic mountain lake, straddling the border between California and Nevada, is best known for its pristine natural beauty. With crystal-clear blue waters, snow-capped mountains, and lush forests all around, it’s no wonder Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
During winter, the average temperature at Lake Tahoe is a brisk 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). While this might sound cold, the fresh mountain air and abundant sunshine make it feel much warmer.
Lake Tahoe is best known for its skiing and snowboarding opportunities, but there are plenty of other things to do in Lake Tahoe during winter. For example, you can go ice skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing at one of the many parks in the area.
Another popular activity is to visit one of Lake Tahoe’s local wineries and sample some of their award-winning wines. If you’re looking for accommodations during your trip to Lake Tahoe, I recommend staying at the Marriott Grand Residence Club. This luxurious resort offers breathtaking mountain views and private balconies, as well as multiple on-site dining options, a spa and fitness center, and outdoor heated pools.
I hope you enjoyed this list of the 12 best places to visit in California during winter. If you’re looking for a fun and festive getaway, these destinations are perfect for you. From snowboarding in the mountains to check out holiday lights in the city, there’s something for everyone. Have you been to any of these spots? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below.