California in Winter

Snowman in Yosemite National Park

California is a fantastic destination for a winter vacation. With a huge variety of landscapes, weather, and attractions, the Golden State has so much to offer whether you like a warm winter sun getaway, a city break, or a snowy adventure in the mountains. Take a look at our guide to winter vacations in California for the low-down on the best places to spend your holidays. Winter in California officially starts on the 1st of December and ends on February 28th, 2022.

What’s the weather like in California in winter?

California winter weather is as varied as the state itself. From powdery snow and chilly temperatures in the Sierra Nevada mountains to sunny beach days on the Pacific Coast, knowing what to expect on your winter getaway in California can make your vacation so much more enjoyable. We’ve put together a handy table for average California winter temperatures and rainfall to help you plan your trip.

Location Maximum temperature (°F) Minimum temperature (°F) Average days of rainfall
San Diego 64 46 5
Los Angeles 68 46 5
Death Valley 67 40 1
Lake Tahoe 44 25 5
Yosemite 48 28 8
Mammoth Lakes 40 17 3
Palm Springs 70 45 3
A sail boat in front of San Diego skyscrapers

Best places to visit in California in winter

From sprawling national parks to vibrant cities, California is one of the most diverse states in America. Here’s our guide to the best places to visit in California during winter.

Death Valley in winter

The terrifyingly named Death Valley is far more approachable in the winter. For starters, the temperature in one of the hottest places on Earth drops to a much more manageable high of 67 degrees during the day, making exploring the wonders of the park much more pleasurable than in the summer. Death Valley winter temperatures can fall quite low at night, so make sure that you take a few layers if you’re staying out past sunset. Visiting Death Valley in the winter is all about making the most of the extraordinary landscape, so lace up your walking shoes and get exploring! Death Valley has some of the best winter hikes in California.

A winter break in Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is one of the most spectacular ski resorts in the US. A haven for winter sports fans, the ski slopes and trails are highlights of a winter vacation in the area. Mammoth Lakes winter hikes will take you through the wilderness and reward you with some of the finest mountain views in California – just remember to pack your thermals! Mammoth Lakes has the perfect spot to beat the winter chill. There are hot springs all around the resort, warmed by the geothermal activity of the Earth’s crust. Visiting Mammoth Lakes hot springs in winter is easy, as the pools are open for visitors to warm up in the winter weather.

Yosemite in winter

Yosemite winter adventures

Yosemite is one of the most stunning places in the US and attracts millions of visitors each year. The majority of those go during the summer months, so winter is to visit to avoid the thronging crowds. Take advantage of solitude in the park to savor spectacular views and Yosemite winter hikes. Some roads may be closed during the winter months, so double check on the National Park website before visiting.

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree winter visits are the perfect time to see the peace and spectacle of the desert without the heat of summer. Winter can get pretty busy in Joshua Tree, but with 1235 square miles of space to play with it’s not hard to find a piece of desert paradise to yourself. Some of the best Joshua Tree winter activities include exploring the desert landscape during the day, and exploring the universe once the sun goes down. Stargazing in Joshua Tree is some of the best in America.

Joshua Tree in winter

What to pack for winter in California?

With the weather in California during the winter taking on so many guises, your enjoyment of your vacation can rest on packing the right things. If you’re wondering what to pack for California in winter, here’s a handy guide to make sure that you have everything you need on your vacation.

For winter sun destinations

California’s Pacific Coast, with its beautiful views and fabulous cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego, is a great spot for some warm winter weather. Temperatures are pleasant during the day, while often falling away at night, particularly in desert regions.

The key to dealing with unpredictable temperatures? Layers. Packing layers that you can put in and take off is the biggest and best tip we can give you for traveling in California in winter. Comfortable, sturdy shoes will also be your best friends on California winter vacation – you are probably going to be doing a lot of walking to explore all the fantastic sights. A good waterproof coat is also a good idea – although you’d be unlucky to get too much rain, it’s always possible. It doesn’t hurt to pack something smart for a night on the town either, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Sea temperatures are great for a dip during a California winter, so don’t forget your swimsuits and sunblock!

For vacations in the snow

Wrapping up warm is paramount to having a fun, safe winter destination in California’s mountain regions. Think thick, waterproof trousers, sturdy boots, and puffy jackets. Throw in some gloves, a scarf, and a woolly hat for good measure, and even the coldest temperatures won’t keep you from enjoying your winter vacation. If you’re keen to partake in some winter sports, many places will let you rent equipment, but it’s always good to check each resort’s policy on this. The most important thing you can do to prepare is to take out good insurance covering you for winter activities.

Lake Tahoe winter scenery

California winter events

During the winter, California comes alive with events lighting up the state’s social calendar. From country-wide events, such as Thanksgiving parades and New Year’s Eve, to uniquely Californian experiences such as the Snowglobe Festival and even a great butterfly migration, you’ll have something fun to attend whenever you show up. If you’re around at the turn of the new year, big cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco are the best places to spend NYE in California. Party long into the night as you welcome midnight on 31st December. New Year’s Eve in California is an event not to be missed.

For an unforgettable party, Chinese New Year celebrations are an integral part of the California winter schedule. San Francisco is home to the largest and oldest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia and is an unmissable event if you’re in the state.

Prefer a calmer event? Take a trip to see the great migration of the Monarch Butterflies in California. These beautiful orange and black insects are famous for their long annual trip, following the warmth of the sun down the west coast of the US. In California, the butterflies stop off to mate and rest between November and February, covering branches and plants in basketball-sized clusters. It is a truly majestic sight.

Monarch butterflies on a California tree

Thanksgiving in California

Kick of the holiday season in style with a California Thanksgiving vacation. Want to spend the holiday in the sun? Thanksgiving in Los Angeles is the way to go. Los Angeles winter weather is particularly mild and sunny, so it’s highly likely that you’ll be spending Thanksgiving on the beach or at one of the city’s outdoor events and attractions. For a family Thanksgiving getaway in California, you could head to Anaheim to enjoy the parks. Disney at Thanksgiving is a sight to behold, as the park goes all out to celebrate the festive season, and in the run-up to Christmas, the park is at its most magical.

If winter is all about snow for you, you should head to Lake Tahoe for Thanksgiving. Deep, powdery snow blanketing charming resorts and spectacular mountain scenery is the idyllic picture of a Lake Tahoe winter wonderland. Skiers flock to the resort to enjoy the world-class slopes. The list of things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter doesn’t stop at skiing, though. Outdoor enthusiasts will be enamored with hikes and trails through the forests and around the lake, and the cozy bars, restaurants, and resort shops are the perfect place to warm up on a chilly day.

Christmas vacation ideas in California

California gets into full swing at Christmas. Parties, festivals, parades, and more happen on every street corner. One of the best festive experiences in California is Christmas in San Diego. Fans of festive lights will enjoy the San Diego Harbor Christmas lights parade, and for a quintessentially West Coast experience, you see Santa arrive in town not by sleigh, but by surfboard.

California villas for a winter vacation

Here at Top Villas, we have a fantastic choice of cozy villas in California to make your winter vacation truly special. Glamorous townhouses in Los Angeles, beachfront homes in San Diego, ski cabins in Mammoth Lakes, and more are all available.

Booking your California vacation villa

If you’re ready to book your winter trip to California, it’s easy to find your perfect vacation home with Top Villas. Find the villa that you want to book, and check the availability using the calendar. When you’re ready, click the reserve button. If you want any help or information concerning your booking, take a look at our Help Center. You can also contact our Sales Team.