winter in california, tall pine trees reaching towards the dark blue sky at sunset by cristina_glebova

What To Do In California During Winter

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California may be known as the Sunshine State, but don’t let this name fool you. Some of the best activities to do around this west coast destination can be discovered during the colder winter months.

Whether you want to challenge your snowboarding skills around the majestic Lake Tahoe or plan to explore the beautiful festive lights of San Francisco, there is also something exciting to do in California during winter.

While it may be the colder months, don’t think you will need to pack only your warmest clothing. Instead, include comfortable favorites, including Birkenstock NZ, warm sweaters for the evening, and comfortable hiking boots to prepare you for any weather.


Photo by Dennis Yu on Unsplash

California Weather in December

The weather in California in December varies significantly based on where you go. It is one of the coldest months of the year, with daytime temperatures in southern California reaching mid to high 60s and overnight temperatures dropping to roughly 50 degrees. You will have mostly summer days with the occasional rain shower.

Northern California is slightly cooler, with mid-day temperatures in the low 60s and overnight dipping to the 40s. If you choose to head to the mountains, you will be treated to days in the mid-30s, with snow and overnight temperatures dropping into the teens.

California receives its annual rain from November to April, so be prepared for potential changes in your day should the wet weather dampen your plans. But with so much variety, you won’t be short of alternative options throughout your vacation.

Sequoia National Park

Visiting the Sequoia National Park during winter will make you feel like you have stepped into a storybook. The crowds will have begun to thin, and you can easily find yourself hiking through whimsical winter landscapes without another person in sight.

While some facilities are closed during the winter season, there is still plenty to see and do when you visit. You can stop by the iconic General Sherman Tree, hike the 1.2-mile-long Big Trees Trail, go to the top of Moro Park, and explore the towering Sequoia trees along the Alta Trail. Be sure to check ahead for any road closures and chains required to traverse the icy roads safely.

View of Twin Lakes in Mammoth CA by Terri Wertman (canva)
View of Twin Lakes in Mammoth CA by Terri Wertman

Mammoth Lakes

If you are after California’s ultimate winter vacation spot, look no further than Mammoth Lakes. With easy access to both the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, you won’t be short of adventures to embark on this winter.

Take the ski resort’s ski lift to the highest serviced peak in California for miles of skiing and snowboarding landscapes to challenge yourself and enjoy. Some beginner hiking and snowshoeing trails are also accessible during winter, allowing you to take in the unmatched views of sounding lakes and scenery.

If you want to make the most of your hiking opportunity here, be sure to embark on the Hot Creek Geological Site trail, which has a unique combination of snowy landscapes and steaming geysers similar to those found at Yellowstone National Park.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, located high in the basin of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is guaranteed to be blanketed in shimmering white snow throughout winter. Visitors can rent cross-country skis to take in the fresh mountain air and breath taking vistas.

If you would prefer something less intensive, there are plenty of activities to fill your day, including outdoor ice skating at Northstar, seeing ice sculptures at Heavenly Mountain Resort, or making your way up the mountain in a gondola for panoramic views.

While skiing and snowboarding at any of the many resorts located around the lake are among the most popular winter activities, curling up in your cozy cabin with a steaming hot chocolate while watching the snow fall is a spectacular alternative.

Christmas in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the best cities in America, and during the winter season, it is a prime holiday location in California. Throughout the city, there is a month-long Christmas celebration known as the Festival of Light. A collection of talented artists come together to install massive light sculptures and installations in prime locations throughout the city.

There are multiple ways to take in the sights and sounds of this incredible celebration. You can choose to take a self-guided walking tour around the city, board a historic fire engine, or hit the water aboard a Christmas cruise in the bay.

Adults can enjoy SantaCon, an adult-only party where thousands of attendees dress in festive costumes and take to the streets for the ultimate party. Head to the usual holiday shows, like Christmas Carol, Handel’s Messiah, and The Nutcracker, for more family-friendly activities.

winter in california, tall pine trees reaching towards the dark blue sky at sunset by cristina_glebova
Photo by Cristina Glebova on Unsplash

Exploring Palm Springs

The warmest place in California during winter is Palm Springs. In fact, southern California during the winter season is the ideal time to explore this impressive desert landscape, as daytime temperatures are extremely pleasant and manageable.

Take in stunning panoramic views via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, or explore the mid-century modern architecture that has become famous around the city. Star lovers will be treated to a mesmerizing night sky with unmatched clarity.

Alternatively, you can head to the Moorten Botanical Garden or the Sunnylands, the estate of the Annenbergs, for stunning garden tours and plenty of bird watching.

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