The Best Time to Visit California in 2023 (By a Local)
The most popular time to visit California is between June and September, when the weather is perfect for the beach and summer music festivals are in full swing. California has good weather year-round, however, so when you visit depends on what you would like to see and do.
I was born and raised in Southern California but have visited almost every county of the state. I have lived in the mountains, by the beach, and in the desert so I have first-hand experience of the absolute best times to visit California. There are many factors to consider to determine the best time to visit California and I’m here to help!
Where you go in California is as important as when you visit due to the different geographic climates and characteristics of each region.
In this post I’ll tell you what you need to know to get the most out of your California trip.
Table of Contents
- When is the Best Time to Visit California?
- The Best Time to Visit California to Avoid Crowds
- The Best Time to Visit California for Cheap Prices
- The Best Time to Visit California for Families and Kids
- The Best Time to Visit California For Hiking & Beaches
- The Best Time to Visit California for a True Hollywood Experience
- California Travel Seasons
- California Weather and Climate by Region
- Tips for Visiting California
- FAQs About When to Visit CA
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When is the Best Time to Visit California?
In general, summer is the most popular time to visit California. California has great weather year-round, however, so any month you choose to visit is a good time.
Visiting California at the perfect time depends on what you want to do, where you want to go, and how much time you have. You may experience higher prices and larger crowds if you visit during peak season, though of course there are reasons why the summer months are popular.
In the following sections, I’ll help you determine the best time to visit the golden state depending on the weather, tourist crowds, prices, and when to go hiking and surfing.
The Best Time to Visit California to Avoid Crowds
California’s peak tourist season is in the summer months of May-September. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of tourists visit California in the summer to surf the Pacific Ocean, go hiking, visit California’s national and state parks, and explore the many fun things to do in LA, in San Diego, and in the coastal cities.
If you want to avoid heavy California traffic, you should visit California in the off-shoulder seasons of fall and spring. There will be fewer tourists at this time so you will be able to better enjoy your California experience.
The Best Time to Visit California for Cheap Prices
Businesses usually jack up the prices when they know tourists are coming to town. Although there are many fun activities in California in the summertime, the summer months are generally the most expensive time to visit California.
Hotels, restaurants, and shops will be more expensive from June until mid-August, so keep this in mind when budgeting for your big trip. Explore California in the fall, spring, or winter if you want to save some bucks while on vacation.
I recommend visiting California from April-May or September- late November to find the best travel deals and accommodation prices.
You should visit in the summer if California beach cities are on your itinerary, however. Many tourists travel to Huntington Beach at this time to witness some world famous surfers compete in the U.S. Open of Surfing. Check out our guide to the top beaches in Southern California for more inspiration.
The Best Time to Visit California for Families and Kids
If you will be visiting California with your kids, I recommend planning your trip for the fall, from early September to early December. This way you will avoid the high season crowds and have a more pleasantly memorable trip with your family.
If it’s your first time to California with your family, then you will want to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, one of the top attractions in Orange County. Fall is a great time to visit Disneyland because the weather is perfect and the park is elaborately decorated for Halloween and Christmas.
To get planning, check out my guide to the best things to do in California for families with kids.
The Best Time to Visit California For Hiking & Beaches
Most visitors travel to California for the famous California beaches such as San Diego’s beautiful beaches or the central coast beaches of Santa Cruz and Big Sur. Whale watching and other beach activities are the most refreshing in the summer.
Hiking trails in Northern California are spectacular in the summer but otherwise rainy and cold in the other three seasons.
You may cook under the hot summer sun in Southern and Central California, however. I recommend hiking in lower California in the winter, fall, and spring for safer and more comfortable temperatures. See our list of the top hiking trails in California to find a hike that’s right for you.
The best time to visit California’s national parks also depends on the region. Many national park roads, such as Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park, are closed from winter until spring due to heavy snow. There may also be road closures in Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Redwood National Park so check conditions beforehand.
The Best Time to Visit California for a True Hollywood Experience
There wouldn’t be movies without Hollywood. Many tourists make sure Hollywood is on their itinerary for their first California trip due to its worldwide popularity.
Visiting Hollywood is extremely crowded in the summer months when kids are out of school and parents take vacation time off.
You should visit Hollywood in April, May, September, and late October for a true Hollywood experience.
I recommend visiting Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Studios, the Chinese Theater in LA, and the Nokia Theater for the best Hollywood movie experience. Check out our guide to what to do in Hollywood for more inspiration.
You may also be in town during a movie premiere where celebrities walk the red carpet of the Nokia Theater or other famous LA buildings. Do your research ahead of time to try to snag a ticket or advanced screening to the movie premiere or event.
California Travel Seasons
Summer in California
Summer is the most popular season to visit California. Here are some popular California itineraries to consider:
- 🍷Northern California Wine Tasting – Popular summer activities for the whole family include biking over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, going paddle boarding in Lake Tahoe, hiking a 14,000-foot mountain in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and going wine tasting in Napa Valley.
- ☀️ Southern California Beaches – The south experiences some very hot summers, so most summer activities are catered around the beach and water sports. It is the perfect time to stroll down the Santa Monica boardwalk or go whale watching from Long Beach.
Fall in California
Fall can be a great time to visit California. It’s an especially great time to explore our ultimate California road trip itinerary. Here are some trips to consider in fall:
- 🛍️ Palm Springs – I recommend visiting the famous Palm Springs area in the fall when the over-100-degree temperatures cool down. The Palm Springs Thursday night street market is worth checking out. You can stroll around with an ice cream cone and watch street artists create beautiful graffiti art. See our guide to what to do in Palm Springs for more.
- 🎄 Yosemite National Park – A fall trip to Yosemite is more enjoyable than in the summer. There are fewer crowds and cooler daytime temperatures. Get there just in time to experience the fall leaves changing colors!
Winter in California
Visiting California in winter is a unique experience. Here are some common California winter trips:
- ⛷️ Skiing & Snowboarding – California’s winter months experience freezing temperatures despite its reputation for warm weather. It’s time to take out the warm clothing and hit the Californian ski slopes at Big Bear Lake or Lake Tahoe.
- ❄️ Winter Mountaineering – Winter mountaineering in California’s snow-capped mountains is filled with adrenaline. Make sure to visit the Sierra Nevada mountains or the San Gabriel mountains from early November until late spring for ideal winter sports conditions.
- ☀️ Death Valley National Park – Winter is an ideal time to visit Death Valley National Park because the summer temperatures are unbearable. Death Valley, California is one of the hottest deserts in the world.
Spring in California
Spring can be a good time to visit California for exploring the cities in California or taking in festivals:
- 🌸 San Francisco – This is an agreeable city in the springtime when the weather starts to warm. I recommend visiting San Francisco’s park festivals and exploring the attractions in San Francisco rain-free during the spring. See my full guide to when to visit San Francisco.
- 🗺️ California State Parks – Most Southern California state parks, such as Anza-Borrego, experience a flower super bloom in the springtime. This is a beautiful sight but be aware of large spring break tourist crowds.
- 🎷 Coachella Valley Music Festival, Indio – Coachella is one of the biggest multi-day music festivals in the world. It takes place typically the second or third week of April and sees hundreds of thousands of participants each year.
California Weather and Climate by Region
The weather is perhaps the most important factor to consider when planning your trip to California. You will most likely encounter cold temperatures and many rainy days if you visit Humboldt County in February.
On average, Northern California is around 80 degrees in the summer and early fall months. This is the ideal time to visit because winter and early spring can sometimes drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the evenings.
Central California is very dry in the summer months. Temperatures can reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, so you will want to plan your trip for the mild weather seasons of spring, fall, and winter.
Southern California has good enough weather for surfing year-round. Summers can often surpass 100 degrees, spring, and fall average about 70 degrees, and winter temperatures only fall to about 50 degrees.
Tips for Visiting California
Visit California’s National Parks Early
National Parks became increasingly popular in the post-COVID world, so you will want to get to the parks early. You should also go during the week and have your campsites reserved ahead of time for smoother sailing.
California has 9 national parks, which is more than any other state. You don’t want to miss out on the superb scenery and spectacular foliage at parks like Redwood National Park and Sequoia National Park.
👉 Pro Tip: Visit National Parks early in the morning and on weekdays to avoid crowds
Avoid Popular Beaches
Southern California beaches such as Huntington and Laguna in Southern California are incredibly popular but also unbelievably crowded. If you venture a bit off the beaten path, you might discover some hidden beach gems in the San Francisco Bay area or around Santa Barbara.
A serene beach experience also depends on the month you go to the beach. If you go during the school holidays and summer break then the beach is sure to be packed. California beaches have good weather year-round and I highly suggest going to the beach in any month besides June-August.
Travel on Highway 1
Highway 1, AKA PCH, is a beautifully scenic route that follows the coast from San Juan Capistrano to San Francisco. If beach cities are on your California itinerary, you will want to travel on PCH for the most picturesque and Instagram-worthy route.
You will witness jaw-dropping sheer beach cliffs in Big Sur and stop at small beach villages like Santa Cruz along the way.
🚗 Where to Rent a Car: California is huge! Almost every visitor from out of town needs their own car to get around. Check out Discover Cars for the best deals on California rental cars.
Shop Around for the Best Prices
Although the summer months are the most expensive months to visit California, there are almost always deals available. Shop on Groupon for discounted activities and excursions and compare the prices of a few hotels and motels before deciding on your accommodation.
You will also save a ton of money by cooking your own meals. A fancy dinner is refreshing every once in a while but will definitely add up over time.
Some hotels have a stove but if yours doesn’t, buy cereal and fresh fruit for breakfast and sandwich ingredients for a cheap but tasty lunch.
Don’t Plan Too Much
While you certainly need to have some structure or plan when visiting a new area, try not to plan too much of your trip out beforehand.
This way, you won’t be too devastated if things fall through or something gets canceled. This is also a great opportunity for you to ask the locals about visiting non-touristic places in California.
I’ve found some of my favorite locations and accommodations by asking the locals.
FAQs About When to Visit CA
What is the cheapest month to visit California?
The shoulder seasons in California are the cheapest months to visit. These include April-May and September-October.
What is the hottest month in California?
California’s hottest month is July. The average high is 86 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low is 71 degrees. August is the second hottest month with an average daytime temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
What is the best month to visit Los Angeles?
The best month to visit Los Angeles is in the shoulder tourist season from April-May and September-October. There is less road traffic at this time, better quality air, and fewer crowds.
Where is the best weather in California?
Santa Barbara has been repeatedly voted the best weather in California. The temperature is moderately sunny all year round and there are seldom rain storms in the Santa Barbara winters.
Is December a good time to visit California?
December is a great time to visit California. While most of the other U.S. states are layering up in their cold weathered gear, California experiences sunshine all year long.
Temperatures rarely drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the south and 20 degrees in the north. As a result, California is one of the hottest winter states.
👉 Read Next: Best Time to Visit San Diego
I hope you found my guide helpful on the best time to visit California! You truly can’t go wrong visiting the state at any time of the year but the absolute best time to visit depends on what you want to do and where you want to go.
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