Ready for some cool, crisp autumn air and a bright expanse of fall foliage? Perfect, because a spectacular show of fall leaves is within a short drive from Los Angeles at multiple locations. There are lots of options for pumpkin picking in Los Angeles but if a relaxing fall drive is more your speed, pack some pumpkin-spiced snacks and hit the road. Not only are our suggestions filled with cute towns and gorgeous hikes, but they also provide fantastic photo ops with stunning multi-colored leaves as a backdrop. (Just in case you're already starting to think about that family holiday card photo!)
For more fall activities from our bucket list of things to do this fall, fall day trips from Los Angeles, and local fall festivals, be sure to check out our Los Angeles Fall Fun Guide.
The best window in which to see fall foliage and the changing colors in SoCal is the middle of October to early November. You can find more exact dates in the area you plan to visit by checking out this handy fall foliage predictor.
Find Fall Foliage near Los Angeles (Less Than 3 Hours)
A relatively short drive into the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas yields a delightful surprise come autumn. The winding roads are surrounded by golden-hued sycamore trees. Continue into adjacent Tapia County Park for a fun picnic and leaf-piling party under a canopy of old oak trees.
Located up the 2 Freeway through La Cañada Flintridge and into the San Gabriel Mountains, this drive boasts some lovely colors as you gain elevation. Pay a visit to the famous Mount Wilson Observatory to see more beautiful foliage and to please the budding family astronomer. The Observatory website has information on tours, special events, and exhibits. A US Forest Service Adventure Pass is required to park at the Observatory.
If Wrightwood rings a bell, it’s probably because of Mountain High—the most visited ski resort in California. Before the snow falls, the trees and altitude in Wrightwood combine to make it a veritable fall wonderland. Deep in the Angeles National Forest, the adorable little town center in Wrightwood is an easy 1.5-hour drive up the 2. There are plenty of local hiking trails, but honestly, if the kids aren’t feeling like a trek, you can stretch your legs with a walk through town. Have lunch at the Grizzly Cafe (or better yet, come for a late breakfast so you can enjoy the fantastic cinnamon rolls and a hot chocolate, which are perfect for an autumn indulgence) and poke in the stores in town, starting with the GA Mercantile. After visiting town, drive about 10 minutes up Big Pines Highway to Jackson Lake where you can walk, picnic, hike, fish, or just enjoy the fall foliage.
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There's nothing like jumping in a pile of crunchy leaves.
A quaint little town located 1.5 hours east of Los Angeles, Oak Glen is known for apple picking, historic buildings, and shops that step back in time. The mile-high locale offers all the cool weather joys of fall and colors to parallel even New England. Snow-Line Orchard has all the kid-friendly fall classics (cider, doughnuts, and an apple orchard—but no picking here) with a great winery/cidery for the adults, and even when apple season has passed, it's worth a drive to this little barn to stock up, snack, and take in the lovely leaves.
Begin 1.5 hours south of LA in the lovely Orange County town of San Juan Capistrano, and from there pick up the Ortega Highway (also known as historic Route 74) and head northeast to Lake Elsinore. This scenic fall route through the Ortega Mountains will take your breath away. Equally breathless are the hairpin twists and turns on the road. Rumor has it this highway is a haunted one: a colorful and spooky Halloween treat.
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The air is crisp and the leaves are as red as the apples in Julian. Photo courtesy of visitjulian.com
Where the apples grow, the trees will change. Much like the gorgeous little apple picking town of Oak Glen, the apple picking town of Julian is also a fantastic place to use as a base for an outing to see fall leaves. Visit the center of town for pizza and apple pie, then venture about 15 minutes south of town to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to take a hike and see the change in the leaves. Lake Cuyamaca makes a gorgeous spot for a stroll—and a photo op!
Situated in the San Bernardino National Forest, Lake Arrowhead is a great spot to visit any time of year. Autumn, however, offers stunning views of some of the best fall foliage. Route 173 follows a path around most of the lake up through the mountains and back into the village (to recharge). Worth a visit is the town's famous and all ages Lake Arrowhead Oktoberfest, which runs until the end of October.
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Hike in the changing leaves in Big Bear. Photo courtesy of bigbear.com
If you have yet to check off Big Bear from your SoCal bucket list, now is the time. The area is full of cottonwood, aspen, and oak trees, plus bright red maples in the town village. The Aspen Grove, Pine Knot Trail, and Castle Rock Trail all offer exceptional hues. If you're feeling really adventurous, we recommend trying part of the Rim of The World Scenic Byway, which winds through the San Bernardino Mountains between Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, and beyond.
This adorable town is a perennial favorite for some peace and quiet away from the bustling city. Surrounded by majestic pines and cedars in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is close enough to make a day trip, but you may want to stay longer. The Idyllwild Nature Center has a few nice family-friendly hikes where a person can breathe in the fresh air and get that autumn experience.
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Gorgeous Aspens change their colors on the June Lake Loop. Photo by Don Graham/CC BY 2.0
Find Fall Foliage Further North (Weekend Adventures)
The fall off-peak season in this area is much less crowded, which means less traffic and more free campgrounds. Marvel at the Giant Sequoias at the famous Trail of 100 Giants, and travel along the Western Divide Highway or The Majestic Mountain Loop to admire Mother Nature's change of seasons.
You may have driven through the small mountain town of Bishop en route to Mammoth Lakes, but it's worth exploring it for its beautiful landscape. Come October, Bishop Creek and its surrounding lake basins are spectacular. Take CA Highway 168 from Bishop and head west into the mountains for about 20 minutes. Some of the hikes surrounding the scenic South Lake can be strenuous, but it's not necessary to do the toughest hikes to experience the incredible views
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This horse is a fave for little June Lake Loop residents. Photo courtesy of June Lake Loop Chamber of Commerce
Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite are both famously worthwhile trips, but nearby June Lake has none of the crowds and all the small mountain town charm. The 16-mile loop deserves a slow drive. It offers the best of Southern California's topography and dazzling autumn hues set against the backdrop of the giant Eastern Sierra Mountains, plus June, Silver, Gull, and George Lakes. The area offers a few cute restaurants and world-class camping, fishing, boating, and hiking, too.
This is the furthest spot on our list, but one of the prettiest. Lake Tahoe is known for its spectacular snowscapes, but fall just might be our favorite time to visit. It's not too cold, the tourists have gone home, and the region offers stunning views of some of the best fall foliage. Looking for a place to begin your autumn leaves pilgrimage? Rainbow Trail is an easy walk, starting at Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Walk along the 1/2 mile paved path through the forest, past a stream with colorful bushes on the banks, and look for the bright red Kokanee salmon that spawn in the fall.
Top photo by Don Graham/CC BY 2.0