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Best Time to Visit California | When to Go & Travel Tips

Best Time to Visit California | When to Go & Travel Tips

Thinking of visiting sunny Cali sooner than later? You need to know the ideal time to go for the perfect California experience! See the best time to visit California for optimal weather, cheap prices on accommodations, and fewer tourists in our guide. 

What’s covered: The overall best, cheapest, least busy, and worst time to visit along with helpful tips to make the most of your West Coast stay.

Planning your trip is easy when you know when to go and when to avoid making the journey! First up – why should you visit California? 

Why You Should Visit California

Over on the West Coast, diverse and beautiful scenery, famous landmarks, and unmistakably laid-back Cali vibes await you. Wondering what you can look forward to during a visit to The Golden State?

The list is long, but we’ll try and hit the highlights here. California is full of must-see sights and must-do activities that will delight even the most seasoned traveler. Here’s why you need to plan a visit!

Diverse Scenery and Landscapes

Gorgeous Palm Springs sunrise over a golf course during the best time to visit California

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California, being one of the largest states in the U.S., is home to a truly diverse range of landscapes and natural beauty.

It sprawls across the West Coast all the way from the Northwest Pacific down to sunny Mexico, encompassing amazingly diverse terrain and more national parks than any other state along the way. 

You’ll find dense forests full of towering redwoods and giant sequoias in northern California, rugged Sierra Nevada mountains along its eastern edge, and vast farmlands where perhaps the state’s dairy cows and cannabis farms are the most famous agricultural symbols.

The Mojave Desert covers the arid stretches of southeastern California, complete with the prickly cacti and tumbleweeds you’re picturing as we speak. 

Tranquil lakes, roaring waterfalls, rolling hills, rocky cliffs, fertile valleys, volcanic lava beds, and active fault lines dot the state’s amazingly diverse geography. If you appreciate natural beauty, you won’t find many states that rival California. 

The state borders the Pacific Ocean, which keeps much of coastal Cali’s climate (considered Mediterranean, with warm, dry summer and cooler, rainy winters) pretty mild and comfortable year-round.

The waters of the Pacific are comparatively cool, with sea temperatures hovering around 70F in the summer (southern California) and struggling to reach 55F along the cooler northern coast. 

Must-See Famous Landmarks and Drives

Mid-day view of the Golden Gate Bridge pictured during the best time to visit California

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California’s size means its home to some of the nation’s most famous landmarks, some you have to see in person to truly appreciate. From San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to Yosemite National Park, there’s a lot to cross off your travel bucket list in this golden state.

Popular sights include:

  • Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame (Los Angeles)
  • Hearst Castle (San Simeon)
  • Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)
  • Alcatraz Island Prison (San Francisco)
  • Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway)
  • Big Sur (Monterey County)
  • Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles)
  • Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35)
  • Napa Valley (Napa County)
  • 17-Mile Drive (Monterey County)

These are just a few of California’s most famous landmarks and scenic drives that draw millions to come and visit each year. Add to the list the many amusement and theme parks in the state (like Disneyland in Anaheim, or Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park) that will entertain and thrill your entire family! 

California is also home to 9 of the best national parks – the most in the entire U.S. These parks include Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Lassen Volcanic, Sequoia, Redwood, Pinnacles, Channel Islands, and Kings Canyon National Parks.

There are hundreds of scenic state parks and monuments throughout the state as well – a total of 280 state parks are here for your enjoyment. You’ll never run out of sights to see, scenic routes to drive, and parks to check out while you’re here. 

Celebrity-Studded Cities

Los Angeles pictured down Hollywood Boulevard during dusk during the best time to visit California

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It’s hard to keep a good thing secret, and some of California’s celebrity-studded cities and regions prove that point.

Home to sunny Los Angeles – L.A., the centerpiece of Hollywood and the nation’s entertainment industry – California is the premier place to spot celebrities, view their glimmering mansions in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and many of the filming studios and locations for your favorite blockbusters. 

While you can spot the rich and the famous while out and about in New York City, here you can have a chance encounter with Taylor Swift or Tom Hanks while dining al fresco on the sunny coast or shopping for organic goodiese at Erewhon Market.

Star-studded is an understatement for California, so if you’re out to spot your favorite stars “in the wild,” this is the place to do it. 

World-Class Shopping and Food

Baja Fish Tacos at a restaurant for a post on the best time to visit California

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You’ll taste some of the best cuisine with global influences and appreciate incredible shopping options in California, too. With dishes influenced with classic American, Mexican, Asian, Italian, and French flavors, those with a discerning palate will be in culinary heaven here.

From fresh Baja flavors studded with avocado, seafood, lime, and chili to good ol’ cheeseburgers and Michelin-star dining options, there’s a dish for everyone in California. 

Some of the best shopping in the U.S. is here as well. You’ll find a mix of eclectic shops and upscale boutiques to designer stores selling high-end fashion.

Thrifting and secondhand shops are popular here – Californians are big on reduce, reuse, recycle – so it’s easy to find great shopping on a budget.

With so many reasons to visit, the question isn’t whether you should go to California – it’s when! See the best time to visit California for your trip goals below. 

Overall Best Time to Visit California

For a piece on the best time to visit California, pictured is a dawn view of Joshua Tree Park in the desert

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  • June-August is the best time to visit California
  • Peak summer weather, little rain, and sunny skies
  • All parts of the state are accessible and in full swing

The best time to visit California is summertime from June to August. This is the peak tourism season for the state for good reason. Every part of the state is accessible, making hikes and outdoor adventures in the northern regions possible with mild, comfortable temperatures.

And while summertime is usually synonymous with oppressive heat, California’s mild climate means summer months are comfortable and warm without being stiflingly hot. 

The national and state parks are in full swing in the summer, with thousands of visitors arriving daily from June to August to enjoy the excellent sunny weather and temperatures at this time of year.

Swimming, relaxing on the beach, hiking, and walking the bustling cities are perfect activities at this time of year. Families planning to visit an amusement or theme park will enjoy the summer weather, nonexistent rainfall, and temperatures from June to August.

Be aware that the peak season is also the most crowded, so you’ll have more tourists flocking to the state and higher prices on flights, hotels, and rental cars when you go at the best time of year. 

Cheapest Time to Visit California

Photo of hot air balloons above Napa Valley during the best time to visit California

Cheng Cheng/Shutterstock

  • March-May is the cheapest time to visit
  • Mild spring weather with little rain in most areas
  • Cheapest prices on flights and accommodations

The best time to visit California on a budget is during the spring shoulder season from March to May. This period just before the summer crowds arrive features some of the lowest prices on flights and accommodations from hotels to Airbnbs.

With fewer travelers arriving ahead of the summer rush, hotels and airlines slash their prices to entice visitors to come on out. 

You’ll find cheaper prices wherever you visit at this time of year as tourist demand is lower at this time of year. Even theme parks like Disneyland drop their prices during the spring, with the lowest pricing taking place in May.

Tourists visiting Napa Valley will find much lower rates on accommodations and vineyard activities at this time of year as well. 

With the milder springtime temperatures throughout the state (though southern California may already feel like summertime), it’s a wonderful time to visit without breaking the bank.

And with little rainfall to ruin your plans, exploring the state’s many national and state parks for hiking and exploration is perfect in the spring. 

Least Busy Time to Visit California

Bixby bridge pictured during the best time to visit California with the sun setting over the ocean and rocks

Nick Fox/Shutterstock

  • October-March is the least busy time to visit
  • Late fall and winter weather is mild and rainier
  • Fewer tourists come to California at this time of year

The best time to visit California without huge crowds is October to March, which covers the late fall, winter, and start of spring.

Since the weather can be rainy and chillier than the spring and summer, fewer visitors choose to come to California during these months. That makes it the perfect time to visit without battling big crowds or paying sky-high prices! 

Central, eastern, and southern California are especially nice at this time of year. Temperatures in the south hover in the 90s, so it still feels like summertime through the fall.

In winter, southern California experiences highs in the mid-to-upper 60s – still great for beach days on the sand. You’ll find perfect sightseeing temperatures in L.A. during fall with highs around the 60s and 70s.

Add the lack of massive crowds, and it’s clear why this is a great time to go. If you’re going further north, expect cooler temperatures and a little more rainfall at this time of year.

Remember – any less than ideal weather conditions are precisely what keeps the bulk of tourists away for your peaceful, uncrowded stay! 

Worst Time to Visit California

Photo of the Santa Monica pier pictured during the best time to visit California

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You know the best time to visit for ideal weather, cheap prices, and smaller crowds. But when should you avoid going to California?

The worst time to visit California really depends on your destination and goals for the trip. Here’s a summary:

  • Summertime is generally the best time to visit California, but if you’re planning on visiting the Los Angeles area, it’s one of the worst and most crowded times to go (especially July and August). You’ll run into hotter temperatures up to 85F with muggy humidity levels around 81%.
  • If you’re heading to The Golden State for hiking and outdoor adventures, winter (November-February) may be the worst time to go. You’ll miss the gorgeous foliage and flowers that make hikes so scenic in the warmer months of the year, and bundling up for temperatures as low as 15F in the Sierra Nevada mountains and around 40F-50F along the coast.
  • Beachgoers will also find the winter months from November to February a less pleasant time to visit Cali as temperatures are too chilly to comfortably sunbathe (aside from the southernmost beaches) and the Pacific waters are generally too cold to swim in.
  • If you’re heading to California to check out wine country in hilly Napa Valley, the peak of summertime is the worst time to go (July and August). This is the rainiest period of the year, along with the most expensive and crowded. 

More Things to Consider

Rolling green hills outside a ranch in Fresno, California for a piece titled the best time to visit California

Gary C. Togoni/Shutterstock

So far, we’ve covered the best times to visit California and when to avoid planning your trip. Check out these helpful travel tips to make the most of your stay in The Golden State! 

  • BYOB – Bring Your Own Bags. Depending on where you live, you may or may not be used to bringing your own reusable bags for shopping. In California, you’ll need to BYOB to shop or pay a minimum 10 cent charge for paper, compostable, or reusable bags at the time of purchase. Single-use plastic bags are banned in the state, so stock up on reusable bags to make your shopping experience smooth. 
  • Prepare for a chill. Even in warmer summer months, cool breezes and chilly nights are a regular thing in most parts of California. Bring layers and a lightweight jacket for the cooler periods during your stay – the wonderfully mild temperatures can quickly become chilly overnight, especially if you’re camping or hanging out on a patio in the evenings. 
  • Southern California is best for beach trips. If you want the quintessential sunny, warm beach trip, head down to southern California for the best experience. There are beautiful beaches in central and northern coastal California, but the waters are colder and daytime temps won’t reach the same highs as southern Cali. Even in southern California, the sea temperature is chillier than you’d experience on beaches in the southern and southeast U.S., so keep this in mind.  
  • Plan to visit some of California’s parks. Even if it’s not your main purpose for the trip, you should try to squeeze in some time to visit a few of California’s state and national parks while you’re here. The hustle and bustle and of the cities are alluring, but the natural beauty in this state will leave you and your brood with lifelong memories (and excellent photo opportunities). You don’t have to trek out on blistering hikes or spend a week exploring one park – just get out and enjoy this state’s diverse, gorgeous scenery! 
  • Pay attention to weather hazards. California is a uniquely beautiful state, but it’s also home to some dangerous weather conditions and natural hazards. Numerous fault lines running through the state result in thousands of earthquakes each year (though many are too weak to notice). Wildfires rage in areas from Napa Valley to San Diego for an extended period, typically around March-April through October each year. Widespread droughts alternate with catastrophic flooding and landslides in parts of California, and tropical storms with damaging winds aren’t uncommon. Pay close attention to current weather hazards before your visit to stay safe!
  • Enjoy global flavors during your visit. California is home to a wide range of authentic and fusion global flavors with a twist. Make it a point to try as many different foods and global cuisines as you can while you’re there! From the state’s favorite food – burritos of all types – to yummy Thai, Italian, and Spanish dishes, you’re in for a treat when you keep an open mind for your daily eats!  

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit California?

Scenic view of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan during the best time to visit California

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Overall, the best time to visit California is summer, from June to August. It’s warm with little rainfall, everything is open and in full swing, and you’ll have tons of options for activities and parks to visit at this time of year.

Expect larger crowds and higher prices, but remember – this is when you’ll get the ideal California experience! For cheaper rates on flights and rooms, visit California during March to May.

Cooler temperatures, little rainfall, and rock-bottom rates on everything from flights to hotels and theme park entry make this time of year perfect for a low-budget trip. 

If you want to beat the crowds, go to California during October to March. Spanning late fall, winter, and the start of spring, you’ll be able to experience California sans crowds with mild weather that is still pretty warm down south.

Further north, it can get chilly at this time of year, so plan accordingly. You can expect cheaper rates when you visit in the off-season along with fewer tourists to deal with. 

California is a big state with lots to offer every type of traveler. From rugged mountains and stunning coastline to rolling hills and desert regions, California has a little taste of nearly every region on earth.

With mild weather year-round and some of the most diverse foods, shopping, parks, and landmarks in the country, you’ll fall in love with The Golden State the moment you arrive.