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The Best Fall Getaways in Southern California

Are you looking for some of the best fall getaways in Southern California? Southern California offers a plethora of year-round destinations, making it an ideal place for a road trip at any time. However, fall stands out as a fantastic season for hitting the road because of the abundance of unique events and activities throughout the region.

In many parts of the Midwest and the East Coast of the United States, the transition to autumn is marked by the leaves changing color and a cool, crisp breeze in the air. In Southern California, our fall season is comparatively gentler, featuring less dramatic foliage changes and usually beginning in November. Nevertheless, Southern California remains a delightful destination, boasting many charming spots ideal for family-friendly fall vacations. Beyond the bustling cities and renowned beaches, these beloved destinations and cherished favorites offer unforgettable autumn getaways.

Before embarking on your journey, it’s a wise idea to research special events that may be happening in some of the local destinations you’re considering. Tailor your travel plans and incorporate local festivities whenever possible. Don’t forget to add some off-the-beaten-path experiences to create a well-rounded adventure.

If you have the luxury of an RV or are thinking about renting one, it’s an excellent way to explore Southern California, given the abundance of RV overnight spots available. Just remember to secure your spot in advance. Alternatively, if you’re looking for traditional lodging, while I often recommend Marriott for accommodations, don’t hesitate to explore my additional suggestions or consider Airbnb for a “home-like lodging” option.

Temecula: A Grape Harvest Paradise

As autumn transforms the vineyards into a picturesque canvas of warm hues, Temecula Valley beckons wine enthusiasts with the intoxicating scent of ripened grapes. This beloved destination is renowned for its various Grape Harvest Festivals and Grape Stomps, a time when the vineyards burst with activity. Here, you can savor exquisite wines, drift gracefully above the vineyards in a hot air balloon, and wander through the historic charms of Old Town Temecula. Recommended Stay: South Coast Winery Spa & Resort or Carter Estate Winery & Resort  


Anza-Borrego: A Desert Oasis

In the heart of Southern California, a desert paradise unveils its captivating allure in the fall at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This desert wonderland, often overshadowed, comes to life during the Borrego Days Desert Festival, celebrating local culture and traditions. Venture into the pristine desert, where the dark skies invite you to stargaze, hidden slot canyons beg to be explored, and colossal metal sculptures whimsically dot the landscape.
Recommended Stay: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground or Tamarisk Grove Campground

Catalina Island: An Island of Adventure and Celebration

Embark on an unforgettable journey to Catalina Island, where autumn unfolds with a unique blend of experiences. Be part of the vibrant Dia de los Muertos Festival, celebrating rich traditions. For the adventurous spirits, the island hosts the exhilarating Catalina Island Triathlon and Duathlon, alongside the Half Marathon and 10K, providing thrilling challenges against stunning island vistas. The season is also a culinary delight, with several island restaurants offering delectable Thanksgiving dinners.

From November through March, the Best of Winter Boat packages allow you to explore the island’s beauty at your own pace. Plus, don’t miss the JazzTrax Music Festival in October, adding the sweet sound of jazz to your island adventure. With cultural festivities, sporting events, musical celebrations, and serene seaside retreats, Catalina Island awaits as one of the best fall getaways of Southern California. I’ve lived there and it’s genuinely unforgettable.
Recommended Stay: The Inn and Mt. Ada, Hotel Metropole or Bellanca Hotel

Santa Barbara: Culture and Coastal Splendor

Santa Barbara, where Spanish charm mingles with California’s coastal allure, promises a captivating experience. Explore Spanish heritage and the vibrant arts scene in places like the Funk Zone. Enjoy family adventures at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Runners gather for the Santa Barbara Half Marathon, expanded to a weekend of live music and family fun. Discover local wines on the Urban Wine Trail, a collection of tasting rooms, allowing wine enthusiasts to explore and savor the local wineries in the heart of the city. With so many incredible restaurants, relish seasonal dishes by local chefs, indulge in sea-to-table delights, and picnic at scenic spots. Embark on horseback rides in picturesque landscapes and celebrate Oktoberfest at local craft breweries. It’s all about embracing the coastal splendor and cultural richness of Santa Barbara. Recommended Stay: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Hotel Californian or El Encanto

Paso Robles: A Blend of Wine, Lights and Aviation Thrills

In the heart of California’s Central Coast wine region, Paso Robles offers the perfect blend of wine and adventure. During the fall season, the vineyards are resplendent with ripened grapes, making it an ideal time to experience Paso Robles. Enjoy the famous Harvest Wine Month, where wine tastings, vineyard tours, and wine pairing events are abundant. Paso Robles, however, has more to offer than wine. Explore Sensorio’s Field of Lights, an immersive art installation featuring thousands of fiber-optic lights that create a mesmerizing, illuminated landscape. The Estrella Warbirds Museum is a must-visit for those intrigued by aviation history. It houses vintage aircraft, vehicles, artifacts, and memorabilia, making it an engaging experience for all ages.
Recommended Stay: Allegretto Vineyard Resort Paso Robles or Hotel Cheval

Lake Arrowhead: A Mountain Retreat for All

Lake Arrowhead, renowned for its serene beauty, transforms into a mountain paradise in the fall. Oktoberfest at the Lake Arrowhead Village is a delightful event filled with games, live music, and traditional German food. Hop aboard the Lake Arrowhead Queen Boat Tours and enjoy the community’s history and stories against the picturesque lake’s backdrop. However, the area offers more than just these well-known attractions. Wildhaven Ranch, a wildlife sanctuary, allows one to connect with indigenous wild animals while learning about conservation efforts. Adventure enthusiasts will relish the activities at SkyPark at Santa’s Village, an alpine-style amusement park in a stunning forest setting.
Recommended Stay: The Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa

Laguna Beach: A Cultural Escape

The picturesque seaside town of Laguna Beach is renowned for its artistic vibrancy. Laguna Beach hosts the Sawdust Art Festival, making it a hub for culture enthusiasts. While here, search for Giant Blue Whales on a Whale Watching expedition, enjoy beachcombing at Crystal Cove, and hike to the scenic viewpoints at Top of the World.
Recommended Stay: Surf and Sand Resort (dog-friendly) or Montage Laguna Beach

Ojai: Serenity and Artistry

Ojai, often dubbed “Shangri-La,” beckons travelers with its serene beauty year-round, but in the fall, you’ll experience vibrant foliage, cooler temperatures, and experiences that highlight the town’s natural and cultural splendor. Favorite activities include hiking, biking, and off-road jeeping, while families will appreciate the pleasant weather and unique activities. Explore the Rose Valley Falls Trail for a stunning 1.1-mile hike to a picturesque waterfall, take an olive oil farm tour, and visit Bart’s, the world’s largest outdoor bookstore. Cycle along the Ojai Valley Bike Trail, enjoy wine tasting at local wineries, and escape to the natural bliss of Ecotopia Hot Springs. Wrap up your day with a rejuvenating spa visit at Ojai Valley Inn. Other must-see attractions in Ojai’s Farmers Market and the Ojai Valley Museum of History and Art.

Located at the foothills of the awe-inspiring Topatopa Mountains, Ojai enjoys a unique geographical position, giving rise to a microclimate that strikes an ideal harmony between mountain protection and coastal proximity. Because of this too, Ojai’s sunsets are nothing short of magical. Frequently bathed in vivid shades of pink and purple, they’re affectionately known as “pink moments.” These moments are a breathtaking sight, as the sinking sun bathes the valley in a rosy, ethereal glow that leaves an indelible impression on all who witness it.                              Recommended Stay: Ojai Valley Inn and Spa and Ojai Rancho Inn

Joshua Tree National Park: A Desert Discovery

For those seeking a more adventurous experience, Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert is this hidden treasure right in our own backyard. Fall unveils the unique beauty of the desert landscape, where you can explore the Cholla Cactus Garden, witness the stunning views from Keys View, and immerse yourself in music and astronomy festivals under the desert’s dark skies.

Woman in a green dress in Cholla Cactus Garden Joshua Tree, one of the best fall weekend getaways in Southern California.

Carlsbad: Coastal Bliss in the Fall

As fall sweeps over the charming coastal town of Carlsbad, it bursts into life with vibrant colors, drawing beach enthusiasts and art lovers alike. Imagine the Carlsbad Music Festival, where live performances set the scene in an enchanting outdoor atmosphere. And if you’re a fan of Art in the Village, brace yourself for the equally fantastic Carlsbad Village Street Faire. Both these events immerse you in the cultural heart of the town. And speaking of immersion, the Oktoberfest Family Fall Festival is a must-visit – you can even snag some pumpkins for carving or baking while you’re there.

But wait, there’s more! Beyond the sun and sand, Carlsbad keeps some hidden gems. Uncover a unique museum that brings instruments to life, offering a fascinating journey into their history. For nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers, Batiquitos Lagoon is a haven teeming with diverse bird species and scenic trails. And the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park? It’s a window into the region’s rich heritage, set amidst stunning gardens.

All these experiences, along with leisurely coastal strolls and beachcombing, paint Carlsbad as a delightful destination for every generation.                                                                         Recommended Stay:

Big Bear Lake: A Mountain Playground in Fall

Big Bear Lake, a year-round gem, truly shines in the fall. This beloved destination, renowned for its outdoor offerings, hosts many captivating events. The lively Oktoberfest takes the spotlight, promising music, dance, and mouthwatering German dishes. On the other hand, the Big Bear Comedy Festival adds humor and entertainment to this charming mountain town.

While the lake draws many, there are hidden treasures to discover. The Castle Rock Trail delivers an unforgettable hiking experience, offering sweeping views of Big Bear Lake and its lush surroundings. For adventure seekers, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain provides an adrenaline rush as you zip down a concrete track in a sled. Big Bear Lake beautifully balances the wonders of nature with thrilling escapades, making it an ideal destination for every season.                    Recommended Stay:

Solvang: A Danish Delight with Bagværk and Wine

Solvang is an ageless charmer in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley, where Danish-inspired magic thrives year-round. The Danish Days Festival is a must-visit, whisking you into a storybook world with timeless music, vibrant parades, and delectable Danish delicacies. Start your adventure at local bakeries (Bagværk) with Danish delights like Æbleskiver. Explore the captivating Hans Christian Andersen Museum, providing insights into his life, including his early years, travels, and experiences as a writer.

For a serene interlude, take a leisurely hike to Nojoqui Falls, a tranquil oasis ideal for picnics. As part of the Santa Ynez Valley, wine enthusiasts will find their paradise here with unique local wine events, from vineyard tastings to gourmet pairings, set amid picturesque landscapes. Your visit to Solvang promises unique experiences, including encounters with curious ostriches and captivating explorations at the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art and the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. This destination delights every traveler with its cultural richness and culinary treasures.                                                                                                            Recommended Stay:

Julian, California: Exploring Autumn Treasures

Tucked away in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian is a true hidden treasure, showcasing its enchanting allure during the fall season. Families seeking an escape from the urban hustle and bustle will find solace in this quaint town. Julian is renowned for its annual Apple Days Festival, a celebration of the abundant apple harvest that lures visitors from both near and far.

Begin your journey with a visit to local apple orchards, offering the delightful experience of handpicking your own apples. Indulge in the goodness of freshly baked apple pies and apple cider, all while immersing yourself in the scenic beauty that Julian has to offer. For a picturesque adventure, set off on a horseback riding escapade through Julian’s tranquil countryside. Spend your afternoons leisurely strolling along charming Main Street, where local shops and cozy cafes await your discovery. Dive into the rich history of Julian with a visit to the Julian Pioneer Museum. Finally, unwind by embarking on a hike through the breathtaking Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, treating your eyes to panoramic mountain views that will leave you in awe.                    Recommended Stay:

San Luis Obispo: Where Culture Meets Coastal Beauty

Fall in SLO, or San Luis Obispo reveals cultural and natural wonders. Montana de Oro State Park boasts coastal beauty with tide pools and rugged cliffs, while the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market immerses you in local culture. And don’t forget the whimsical Bubblegum Alley, where chewed gum transforms into unconventional art. In SLO CAL, there’s something for everyone, from a vibrant music scene to outdoor adventures, historic sites, and culinary delights.

SLO CAL’s year-round favorable climate is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, with scenic hikes like Bishop Peak and Cerro San Luis. It’s also part of the Central Coast wine region, offering vineyard tours and wine tastings. Nearby Avila Beach and the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa provide diverse experiences, while art galleries and studios reflect the local arts scene. SLO’s extensive range of activities makes it a perfect destination for a memorable fall getaway.             Recommended Stay:

The Best Fall Getaways in Southern California

Are you ready to embrace the enchanting essence of Southern California in the fall? From the island of Catalina to the wine country of Temecula, from the quirky alleys of SLO to the artistic havens of Laguna Beach, our region offers a diverse tapestry of experiences for an unforgettable autumn getaway. It’s time to prepare for some of the best fall getaways in Southern California. Gather your loved ones, pack your bags, and dive into these local treasures, where the allure of Southern California truly comes alive in the fall.