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Best California Destinations During Winter

I’ll take sunshine and palm trees in the dead of winter anytime, but the magic of snow on redwood forests is pretty hard to beat. Part of the beauty of California is the state has a climate for all. Take your pick between these west coast dream towns.

For Winter Weather and Snow

  • South Lake Tahoe

  • south lake tahoe
  • Chances are, you’ve seen endless photos of Lake Tahoe in the summer. Kayaks in clear water, summer hikes and waterfalls, but this Northern California town thrives in the winter. Think of every dream-worthy ski town you’ve seen in Hallmark Christmas movies, that’s pretty close to South Lake Tahoe in the winter months. Good skiing, casinos, the most beautiful panoramic blue waters you’ve ever seen, winter hiking trails, and an all around good time awaits you in South Lake Tahoe.

  • Big Bear

  • big bear mountain
  • Visit Southern California’s most popular snowy hotspot! You don’t have to hit the slopes to enjoy this alpine destination. Zipline above the San Bernardino trails, get your bobsled on with the alpine slide, visit the Big Bear Zoo, snowshoe miles of trails, or simply enjoy a cozy weekend in Big Bear Village. There are plenty of options for families, friends, or couples. It’s also one of the more affordable mountain towns in California. Big Bear is conveniently located two hours from Los Angeles for those planning to fly into LAX.

  • Yosemite National Park

  • yosemite nationa park
  • Despite being known as a summer destination, a snow-covered Yosemite is absolutely worth experiencing. You’ll find there are some trails closed due to winter weather, but there’s still plenty of open trails and the snow-dusted redwoods are magical. The Horsetail Fall only flows during the winter, and if you’re lucky enough to be there in the middle to late February, you can catch what’s known as the famous Firefall. Visiting Yosemite in the winter is also the best way to avoid the major warm-weather crowds that pile into this famous national park.

  • Mammoth Mountain and Lakes

  • mammoth mountain lake
  • Yosemite’s Southern neighbor definitely competes with both Yosemite and South Lake Tahoe for the top winter spot in all of Northern California. Mammoth is a non-stop adventure of all kinds. Beautiful crystal clear lakes, some of California’s best skiing, snowmobile tours, and an Instagram-worthy mountain town full of breweries and shops. You’re sure to find more than you’re looking for here.

    For Sunshine and Beach Days All Year Long

  • Santa Barbara

  • santa barbara
  • This stunning Spanish-inspired town is sure to make you fall in love with California. Even the airport is dream-worthy. Surrounded by both sea and mountains, it’s the best of both worlds. Spend your days lounging by the beach, take on one of the many costal hikes, take a canyon horseback ride, explore the tile covered architecture or spend your day exploring a winery. Santa Barbara is a true paradise year-round, but a winter escape is sure to give you a taste of why Southern California is a dream.

  • San Diego

  • san diego
  • They don’t call it “America’s Finest City” for no reason. San Diego has a neighborhood for everybody. Looking for a park comparable to New York’s Central Park? Head to Balboa Park. How often do you find an entire zoo, museums, and a golf course in a park? If all these options worked up your appetite, San Diego is home to a plethora of authentic Mexican restaurants. Notable spots include the proud hippie beach town of Ocean Beach, lavish sights and homes in Coronado Island, bustling streets of Little Italy, lush fairways of Torrey Pines, and the endless coastal sights of Carlsbad. 

  • Palm Springs

  • palm springs
  • A lot of golf, desert mountain views, shopping, unique AirBnbs, and warm temperatures all year long? Head to Palm Springs. This desert climate is particularly nice to visit when you’re looking to escape frigid winter temperatures. It’s a big-time golf town with nearly 40 beautiful courses for golfers of all experience. This history-rich town is also known for very cool vacation rentals. Here are some unique spots for the full experience. 

  • San Clemente

  • san clemente
  • The gem of Orange County sure to fulfill your beachtown dreams. This is a city that’ll keep you happily planted in the sand for the entirety of your trip. January is the best time to take a whale watching tour from Dana Point Harbor, if you’re looking to get out on the water. Get your boutique shopping fix on Avienda Del Mar, have a beach bonfire after a long winter’s day, and enjoy a beach sunset from San Clemente Pier. T-Street will complete your fun-in-the-sun vacation with food trucks, picnic tables, San Clemente Beach Trail access and plenty of spots to watch the local surfers.

    Don’t sleep on these sweet spots of the west coast, and remember there’s even more to explore in between. Rain or shine, get active or relax, you’ll find it all in The Golden State.