When people think about Southern California — they don’t typically associate this oasis of sand and sunshine with fall colors. However, there are plenty of opportunities to experience the coziness of autumn, apples, and pumpkin spice just a couple hours outside of Los Angeles. Here are some of the best destinations within a drivable distance of LA to experience sweater weather.
[Note: Travel and outdoor activities are currently permitted in Greater Los Angeles and California, but as always, be safe and remain mindful of safety mandates to protect yourself and others from transmitting COVID-19. Check local restrictions before embarking on your journey, and remember to wear a mask, stay six feet from other people at all times, and be respectful.
Some of these photos were taken over the last couple years in pre-COVID times, which is why I’m not masked-up in all of them…]
1.5 Hours: Oak Glen, San Bernardino Mountains
Seasons may not seem to alter in SoCal (great for when you want to hit the beach in November, but sad when you’d like to carve some pumpkins…) but luckily, 80 miles East of the big city and nearly a mile high up in the San Bernardino mountains is a small, quaint agricultural community named Oak Glen. Oak Glen’s bright red maple trees and historical atmosphere draw out a spirit of harvest themed fun in Southern California.
This fall wonderland is home to an abundance of family-friendly activities including apple picking, cider pressing, historical re-enactments, a down-to-earth country spirit — and plenty of fun for adults to experience such as hard cider tastings at the Oak Glen Hard Cider Company.
1.5 Hours: Temecula Wine Country, Southwestern Riverside County
What many might not realize about fall in wine country is that the leaves on the vines change color, too! After harvest, when the grapes have been picked and the seasons change, the leaves on the vines become a deep reddish brown color and fall to the ground — preparing for rebirth in the Spring.
Harvest time in SoCal wine country present ample opportunities to go wine tasting (September is Temecula Valley Wine Month), go for a bike ride, or stroll through the seemingly endless miles of vineyards. Visitors feeling especially brave, can rise to the sky on a hot air balloon ride for incomparable views of the valley and rolling vineyard hills for miles.
2.5 Hours: Big Bear & Bear Mountain, San Bernardino National Forest
From mid-October to early November in the rugged San Bernardino National Forest county, Big Bear’s trees turn to shades of gold, crimson, amber and yellow. The village’s fresh alpine landscape and crisp, cooler air are a refreshing contrast to escape from the high 80’s of October in LA.
Autumn is an amazing time for a hike in the surrounding mountains, or for exploring the village’s boutiques, restaurants, bars, and sweet shops to enjoy a fall treat. There’s even traditionally a Pumpkin Patch to explore at Bear Valley Farms, and a Pumpkin Smash Zipline Tour on which thrill seekers can Zipline and pumpkin drop — at the same time — as well as fall foliage segue tours (subject to COVID restrictions).
Images courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort.
3 Hours: San Luis Obispo, Central Coast
Autumn on California’s Central Coast means apple picking, hiking through the golden hills of San Luis Obispo County, and of course — a trip to local favorite, the Avila Valley Barn! This authentic barn and bursting u-pick pumpkin patch both offer a taste of rustic farm-life, and fun for visitors of any age (just ask all the college kids from Cal Poly SLO who are there, doing photo shoots!
There’s a field of sunflowers, a petting zoo, and autumn-themed cuisine such as roasted corn and sweet treats like ice cream, apple cider, apple cider ice cream floats, and apple pie. It’s an autumn wonderland to wander through and enjoy a quintessentially SLO experience.
3 Hours: Julian, San Diego County
Julian is a historical, old mining town which dates back to the gold rush of the late 1800’s — it’s a charming destination for experiencing that country, small-town feeling vibe. Julian is located just a few hours away from the major metropolitan hub of Los Angeles, and just an hour outside the city of San Diego.
In September and October, visitors can stop by a local apple orchard to pick apples and sample local apple varieties — or even get a slice of apple pie (à la Mode of course). There’s also ample amounts of open space to walk around, and peep the changing colors of the fall foliage. It’s an ideal destination to take a break from the rapid pace of bustling city life within an easy drive of urban living.
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