What is the best time to go in California? To answer in two words is impossible, because the clima in California it is very variable. I begin to give a couple of data: 4421 mt / - 86 mt: these two values represent the maximum and minimum altitude above sea level throughout the state. The first refers to the height of the Mount Whitney, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which serves as the "backbone" of California; the second value refers to the altitude of the saline desert Badwater Basin, a depressed area located in Death Valley, just 120km east of Whitney (as the crow flies).
These numbers serve to show how much the Californian landscape can vary even at short distances and how, consequently, they can change temperature in California: what a difference, for example, between the Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles and the temperate, mild and windy one of San Francisco Bay! In this article, therefore, we want to give you some targeted indications on when to go to the Golden State, providing data regarding the state climate, in particular as regards the areas most frequented by travelers, namely:
- the coast from San Francisco to San Diego, passing through Los Angeles
- the national parks and lakes found in the mountain range of Sierra Nevada (Yosemite, Sequoia, Lake Tahoe)
- thedesert area of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park
- the parks of the Northern California: Redwood and Lassen Volcanic
- California's climate on the coast
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- California desert climate
- The parks and lakes of the Sierra Nevada
- Climate of Northern California
- When to go to California? The best time
California's climate on the coast
740 km as the crow flies separate San Francisco da San Diego, two of the three most visited coastal cities on California tours: the third, not least, is Los Angeles, which is ideally located in an intermediate position, although geographically much closer to San Diego. Here are, in summary, their climatic characteristics:
The northernmost city of the three is also the one with the most "capricious" climate. As I wrote in my focus on the climate of San Francisco - which I invite you to read to find out more - temperatures can vary significantly even during the day. You will undoubtedly have seen some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog that lingers in the bay especially in the summer months: this is the most significant characteristic of the city climate, together with the wind brought by the cold ocean currents. In conclusion, the San Francisco's cool temperate climate results in moderately hot breezy summers, cold to mild rainy winters, and variable springs.
A completely different story as regards Los Angeles, famous for its beaches, from Malibu to Long Beach: the City of Angels has a atypical Mediterranean climate, with hot to very hot summers, mild winters with little rain and short sunny and warm springs. Due to the desert winds (Santa Ana Winds) that blow in all seasons, days of intense heat can occur even in the winter months, but this is not the only climatic variation in the area: since Los Angeles is a very large city and geographically varies, temperatures can change significantly from district to district. Moreover, reaching some places in the immediate surroundings of the city, the climate changes drastically (Palm Springs) and it is necessary to arrive prepared for the thermal shock. For all these reasons, we decided to deepen the topic by writing a detailed article on the climate of Los Angeles.
Even more than Los Angeles, San Diego is the ideal city to spend some time on the beach sunbathing: compared to San Francisco, the San Diego climate it favors seaside life even more, even if the ocean waters are always a little cooler than those we are used to in Spain. The climate of San Diego is mild most of the year, with the highest temperatures in the summer months, the period in which there is also the greatest amount of rainfall, which decreases radically during the winter months. Even in December you can find temperatures around 20 °, while the annual highs hardly rise above 33 °, which makes you understand that you can organize your visit to San Diego practically throughout the year.
California desert climate
As I mentioned, anyone who leaves Los Angeles heading east towards Palm Springs - after passing the mountains that shield the city - must expect a radical change in temperatures: we entered the California desert area! Here is Joshua Tree National Park, a national park that extends between the Mojave and Colorado deserts: in summer the temperatures are very high and you need to prepare well for your visit. To the north, right on the border with Nevada and to the east of the Sierra Nevada, is Death Valley, one of the hottest places on the planet. In Death Valley, in summer, temperatures are dangerously high: the recommended months for a visit are November, February and March. I talked about this and much more in my article dedicated to the climate and temperatures of Death Valley.
The parks and lakes of the Sierra Nevada
Tours of the West Coast or, more simply, California, hardly leave out one between Yosemite National Park e Sequoia National Park, two wonderful parks in the Sierra Nevada.
In summer Yosemite offers a suitable climate for visiting, with warm and sunny days, but a clarification must be made especially for the other seasons: being a valley surrounded by splendid mountains and granite peaks temperatures may vary depending on the different altitudes. On the highest peaks and on the medium-high ones, the climate is mountainous, while in the valley the climate is milder: however, this does not mean that heavy snowfalls occur in all areas of the park in winter. The greatest inconvenience is represented by the closure of the Tioga Road, which in fact prevents the crossing of the mountain range towards the east towards Death Valley-Las Vegas until late spring. Here is an article on how to plan a visit to Yosemite in the winter.
Similar speech for the Sequoia national park, whose altitude is equally variable. Expect a mountain climate and equip yourself accordingly with clothing, both in winter and in summer (in the case of high altitude excursions), even if in summer the temperatures are pleasant and the heat never scorching. During the winter, snowfalls can cause the closure of the road that goes from Sequoia to the adjacent Kings Canyon, the CA-198. Also noteworthy is the beautiful Lake Tahoe. Located in a northernmost stretch of the mountain range, it is a destination usually less traveled by classic tours: the lake is located at an altitude of almost 1900 meters and is in effect an alpine lake: in summer it can be visited enjoying of the heat of the sun, in winter you can instead organize a white week on the peaks that rise around the lake.If you can't decide, read our article on how to choose between Sequoia and Yosemite.
Climate of Northern California
It may be interesting to give some data relating to the areas of California north of San Francisco, especially as regards two national parks that are a little off-center but very fascinating: the Redwood National Park, a nature reserve characterized by imposing trees whose surroundings were also used to shoot some scenes of Star Wars in California, and the Lassen Volcanic National Park, park of volcanoes, coniferous forests, thermal springs and crystalline lakes.
- Il Redwood National Park has variable temperatures, so it is advisable to dress in layers to visit it without risking surprises: visiting the sections of the park distributed closest to the the, you will find a humid and foggy climate in the summer and particularly cold in the winter. As you go inland, the climate becomes milder and there are also warm and sunny days. The climate is oceanic temperate, like the whole coast north of San Francisco.
- Il Lassen Volcanic National Park is located north of the Sacramento Valley and at the southern end of Cascade Peaks, which includes the park's most important active volcanic peak, the Leave Peak. Also in this case, temperatures vary according to altitude: below 2300 meters there are hot-humid summers and cool to cold winters, generally foggy. Above 2300 meters, the climate is mountainous and the winter temperatures are rigid while the summer ones are cool. From December to March they take place thickly snowfall which then result in the closure of the Lassen National Park Highway.
When to go to California? The best time
At the end of this article you will have understood that it is difficult to give a single answer to this question, but in general for California the best time it's that of gods summer months: in some cases you will have to pay a little attention to higher temperatures (especially in deserts) but these are inconveniences that are easier to stem than in winter (in the national parks of the Sierra Nevada and beyond). If you really can't go to California in the summer months but need to take advantage of the winter months, here's an example of a California winter tour.
Another good time to visit California can be there spring later, when the climate is generally milder and temperatures allow you to visit both desert areas and areas of medium altitude. To complicate the plans, however, remains the variabile-Tioga Road, whose reopening date changes from year to year and forces those heading east to bypass the mountains from the south via a long and somewhat boring road. In this case it is often advisable to exclude the Yosemite park from the itinerary in favor of the Sequoia. In conclusion, with due care, California is a state that can be visited in all seasons.