California looks to be a land of eternal summer, with year-round sunlight and outdoor activities. In truth, much of the state (excluding Southern California and the deserts) has winter weather, albeit it is milder than elsewhere in the country.
California enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Winter in California delivers rain and snow to the Sierra Nevada. Less winter rain in Southern California. Winter rain is rare in Palm Springs and other arid places.
Visitors may enjoy the winter weather in Palm Springs or the summer weather in San Diego and Los Angeles. Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes are other popular winter locations. Northern California’s cultural hotspots like San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Mendocino provide enough to do in the winter.
Get inspired by our selection of the greatest winter destinations in California.
Palm Springs has always been a popular winter resort. In the 1920s, sophisticated resorts began catering to Hollywood celebrities in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.
Palm Springs, California, is a two-hour trip (approximately 100 miles) from Los Angeles. The gorgeous surroundings and peaceful atmosphere will appeal to sun seekers.
Palm palms shake in the wind against the stunning San Jacinto Mountains. Tropical sky and daytime temperatures in the mid 70s Fahrenheit make December, January, and February ideal vacation months. The desert environment means the sun shines practically every day (the average is 350 days of sunshine).
The greatest resorts in Palm Springs have pools, sundecks, golf courses, tennis courts, and expensive spas. Palm Springs also offers hiking, gourmet cuisine, and shopping.
Visitors flock to winter festivities. A film festival that showcases films from over 60 nations in January. The red carpet ceremony for the Film Awards is a highlight of the festival.
Modernism Week takes place in mid-February. Every night there are parties and live music during this 11-day festival.
If you enjoy beautiful mountain views and downhill skiing, Mammoth Lakes should be on your winter travel agenda. The Mammoth Lakes region is a popular off-the-beaten-path getaway in California.
Due to its high elevation, Mammoth Lakes gets snow early. Ski season normally starts in late November. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area receives roughly 400 inches of snow every year at its 11,000-foot top.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is one of the top ski resorts in California, with over 3,500 acres of terrain and 150 alpine ski runs. The Mammoth Lakes region offers a wide range of hotel and dining alternatives.
Mammoth Lakes is also known for its hot springs, which attract many winter visitors. Bridgeport’s Travertine Hot Springs are natural geothermal ponds on BLM land. This public hot springs facility is free to visit. Bishop has hot springs.
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs offers bed and breakfast accommodations with access to natural mineral water hot springs on a 1,255-acre family-owned ranch near Benton. The inn featuresbungalows, cottages, and camping areas with private hot tubs. The inn’s property is protected by a conservation easement.
San Diego, California’s southernmost city, has year-round sunshine. Winters are warm, with sunny days and 66°F average highs. Winter is too cold for sunbathing but perfect for beach walks.
San Diego’s gardens look stunning from December to February thanks to a winter downpour. Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres are home to beautiful gardens, hiking trails, and 17 museums.
The 1777 Mission San Diego de Alcalá is a must-see. The mission grounds have a nice winter garden.
When the snow starts falling in November or December, Lake Tahoe transforms into a winter paradise. Powder-covered peaks surround Lake Tahoe, its deep blue waters gleaming in the crisp winter sunshine.
While the Lake Tahoe area receives lots of snow, the temperature is temperate for an alpine setting. From December through February, daily highs are in the low 40s. Lake Tahoe’s winter season delivers roughly 300 days of sunshine each year.
Skiing is a popular winter activity in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe offers numerous great ski resorts. Heavenly, Palisades Tahoe, and Northstar California are prominent world-class resorts.
Los Angeles offers vacationers mid-winter sunlight. The rainy season in Southern California occurs in the fall and winter (typical of a Mediterranean climate). It rains less than in Northern California.
From December through February, daily high temperatures vary from the mid-60s to the low 70s. Winter is also the rainiest season, however it normally only rains for six or seven days every month.
Aside from the pleasant winter weather, Los Angeles offers world-class cultural attractions. Along with the famed landmarks of Hollywood, visitors can enjoy wonderful restaurants, shopping, and art museums.
Los Angeles has beautiful beaches. Los Angeles beaches are accessible year-round. In the winter, you may stroll along the beach and eat at seaside eateries.
Winter is a great time to explore The Huntington’s 130-acre Botanical Gardens (10 miles away from Los Angeles). The Desert Garden, Japanese Garden, and Shakespeare Garden are among the 16 themed gardens. The Camellia Garden blooms in January and February, while the Desert Garden has aloes that bloom throughout the winter.
Winter is a terrific season to visit San Francisco if you don’t mind a bit (or a lot) of rain. This cosmopolitan city has museums, theatres, gourmet restaurants, and premium shopping areas.
San Francisco’s winter weather ranges from moderate to rainy. In December and January, the average high temperature is in the mid-50s, and it rains eight days each month. In February, the weather starts to warm up, with the arrival of spring (cherry blossoms).
During the winter months, travellers to Northern California can visit the SFMOMA (Museum of Modern Art) or the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, where magnolias and camellias blossom. The Palace of the Legion of Honor features a fine arts collection and temporary displays overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the harbour.
The California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium are must-sees for families visiting San Francisco. Kids love exploring the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. Barking sea lions greet visitors at the adjacent Pier 39 docks.
Shopping in Union Square in downtown San Francisco is enjoyable during the holidays. The area is festively decorated with a large Christmas tree and an ice skating rink. All the department stores and boutiques around Union Square have beautiful Christmas window decorations. The Christmas windows on Maiden Lane and Grant Avenue are equally lovely.
A covering of powder snow transforms the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley into a stunning winter sight. Snow-capped Half Dome and El Capitan are among the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s renowned rock structures.
Winter is one of the least busy times to visit Yosemite National Park. This calmer season allows travellers to enjoy the natural beauty. Getting to Yosemite in the winter might be difficult owing to road closures due to snow storms.
Snow Summit is reached through Glacier Point Road. Badger Pass Ski Area, California’s original ski resort, opened in 1935 and remains one of the state’s best. Badger Pass Ski Area includes downhill, snowboarding, cross-country, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.
Its magnificent snowy landscape and traditional Christmas decorations enchant guests in the winter. This distinguished 4-star hotel is known for its spectacular Art & Crafts architecture with wood-beamed ceilings and stone fireplaces.
The Ahwahnee Hotel’s beautiful chandelier-lit dining hall transforms into a magical setting for the annual Bracebridge Dinner. This costumed Christmas pageant offers a seven-course banquet, candlelight, musical theatre, and traditional Christmas carols.
Relax and rejuvenate in Napa Valley, home to some of Northern California’s best resorts. This affluent area draws guests from all over the world and is a popular weekend retreat from San Francisco.
You may enjoy great dining and spa services in the winter. You may also save money at some of Napa’s premier hotels and resorts that are famously expensive during the peak season.
There are several great eateries in Napa Valley. Restaurants range from traditional French to fashionable modern. If you can make a reservation and are ready to pay the money, The French Laundry in Yountville is worth it.
The renowned Bouchon French Bistro and the adorable Bistro Jeanty specialise on home-style French food. In Napa, La Toque is a Michelin-starred restaurant, and Brix delivers farm-to-table food in a relaxed setting or on an outdoor terrace (al fresco dining is possible in the winter).
The Auberge du Soleil is a magnificent 5-star resort hotel featuring an exclusive spa for hotel guests exclusively. The Michelin-starred seasonal food at Auberge du Soleil impresses guests. The Restaurant’s covered outside patio offers magnificent views of the snow-capped countryside.
Except for the Auberge du Soleil, most Napa Valley hotel spas are public. The B Spa at Bardessono Hotel in Yountville provides massages, facials, and wellness treatments.
Visitors can also pick from a variety of day spas. Beauty treatments and skin care are available at the Bella Capelli salon and spa in Napa. Blue Water Day Spa in Napa also promises revitalising spa packages, facials, and massages.
The tranquil and inviting Spa Solage is located in the 4-star Solage resort in Calistoga. Spa services include healing mud baths and geothermal mineral baths.
The heated pools are especially refreshing in the winter. Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs offers massages, hydrotherapy, and mud baths in Calistoga.
The Napa Truffle Festival attracts people for several days in mid-January. On the festival’s schedule are truffle market excursions, truffle dog demonstrations, cuisine demos, and wild mushroom treks. There are also truffle-themed gourmet lunches and evenings. The 2023 Napa Truffle Festival will be held January 13-16.
From mid-January through mid-March, Napa hosts the Lighted Art Festival. During this eight-week event, downtown Napa’s buildings host creative light shows. Throughout the city are light displays and sculptures. This free celebration may be enjoyed by just meandering around Napa after nightfall.
The Yountville International Short Film Festival takes place in early February, while the Yountville Live music festival takes place in mid-March, including live music performances and gourmet cuisine samples.