The 7 Best Places In The San Diego Area To See The Fall LeavesSee + Do Pour the hot chocolate and hop in the car to tour the best spots for Christmas lights in San Diego!
Autumn may have officially begun on September 23rd but every San Diegan knows that it doesn’t truly start to feel like fall in Southern California until the calendar flips to November.
Slightly cooler temperatures –we know, most of the country would love to be in the 60s and 70s this time of year but us locals can still feel the “nip” in the air – and early sunsets make for the perfect combination to truly embrace the spirit of autumn.
While the city of San Diego and its abundant palm trees don’t offer much in the way of colorful fall leaves, there are several spots that you can visit within a few hours drive of the city to get your Instagram-worthy autumn photos.
Just an hour east of San Diego towers the 6,271-foot Mount Laguna in the Cleveland National Forest. The steady green of the Jeffrey pines provides a lovely backdrop for the changing colors of the black oak tree leaves. The 3.25-mile Sunset Trail offers a picturesque view of the forest or, for a quick and easy hike, check out the half-mile loop of the Kwaaymii Trail that starts at the visitor center. Either way, you’ll be treated to a vibrant display of autumn color.
You can’t go wrong heading up to Idyllwild any time of year, but the crisp autumn air is something special this time of year. Nestled up in the San Jacinto mountains, the drive is about 90 minutes from San Diego and will take you over 5,000 feet. Hiking, coffee shops, art galleries, and lots of great local restaurants and bars will welcome you to town!
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
The vibrant assortment of leafy oak trees and evergreen conifers makes for a striking backdrop for this annual autumn event that takes place about an hour and fifteen minutes east of San Diego. Thanks to an elevation of 5,000 feet, the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park enjoys a climate similar to Northern California, giving it a more drastic change of seasons. Choose from more than 100 miles of hiking trails among the 24,700-acre forest to get an up-close view of the fall foliage.
For a less remote destination to watch the leaves change colors, take a drive to the small mountain town of Julian. Located an hour and fifteen minutes east of San Diego, Julian is home to a gold mine, apple farms and arguably the best apple pie in the region, and maybe even the world. At 4,226 feet above sea level, Julian is a rare Southern California town that actually has all four seasons and autumn is undoubtedly a popular time to visit this historic town. Check out William Heise County Park or hike nearby Volcan Mountain to witness the fall foliage in all its glory.
Palomar Mountain State Park
Journey an hour and a half northeast of San Diego to discover the alpine forest of Palomar Mountain State Park. Along with cedar and fir evergreen forests, you’ll find the brightly colored fall leaves of the mighty oak trees. Stroll along 11-plus miles of trails at an average of 5,000 feet elevation to see all of the beauty this scenic place has to offer and don’t miss the incredible view at Doane Pond as it reflects the fall colors across its pristine surface.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Venture out of San Diego County to our northern neighbors in Riverside County to see the wonders of Mount San Jacinto State Park in Idyllwild. The two-hour road trip is worth the drive to see the spectacular ponderosa pines amid a colorful display of golden oak trees. Try the Deer Springs Trail for a moderate to strenuous 6.6-mile hike through the San Bernardino National Forest to an impressive viewpoint at the top of the 2,000-foot climb.
Big Bear Lake
At 2.5 hours northeast of San Diego, Big Bear Lake may be the furthest location on this list but it’s one of the best locations for fall leaves in Southern California. With an elevation of 6,752 feet, the leaves change a bit earlier here than other spots on this list but the higher elevation in the San Bernadino Mountains also mean the temperature feels a bit more like fall. The 7-mile moderate Pine Knot Trail offers a stunning view of the fall colors and the lake while the Castle Rock Trail is a less strenuous way to see the autumn beauty.
Many of these areas are at their peak during mid-November, with the higher elevations showing off their colors first, so pack up the car and head out for your Southern California fall adventure sooner rather than later. It’s time for a road trip!
We can’t wait to see your photos on Instagram – tag us!