Now that autumn is upon us, it’s time to consider taking a weekend getaway to enjoy some of the best fall foliage viewing in California. Listed below are some of my favorite places to visit (and things to do) this time of year, such as riding bikes through Sacramento’s Capital Park, strolling around historic Nevada City, or taking a scenic drive along Ebbetts Pass, one of the prettiest byways in the country. It’s the perfect kind of getaway for a romantic weekend, snuggled up in a cozy B&B by the fire while looking though your photos of blazing elms, maples, and oaks that you captured during the day.
THE GOLD COUNTRY: Forests of Fall Colors
November is an ideal time to take a relaxing road trip to enjoy the crisp weather, tranquil setting, and vibrant patchwork of California’s fall colors. For fall foliage vistas that almost rival the New England states, head east from Sacramento up to California’s Gold Country. This region boasts some of the most spectacular fall foliage on the West Coast, where the brilliant red and yellow leaves of black oaks, pistachios, and liquid ambers offer the kind of views that most people only get to see in calendars.
Nevada City’s wealth of Victorian homes and storefronts makes it one of the most appealing small towns in California, particularly in the fall when the maple trees are ablaze with color. In fact, its entire downtown area has been designated a National Historic Landmark. From here you can take a wonderful drive through the colorful forested foothills along the Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway, or take Pleasant Valley Road to the historic Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Built in 1862, the 225-foot bridge is the longest single-span covered bridge in existence and makes for a spectacular fall photo opportunity.
THE HIGH SIERRA: Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway
Murphys, my favorite small town in the Gold Country, makes an excellent home base for exploring Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. In my opinion Ebbetts Pass is the most scenic stretch of winding road in the state, and it’s doubly so in the fall when the thousands of Black Cottonwoods, Quaking Aspens, Mountain Dogwoods, and Big Leaf Maples become a blaze of colorful contrast against a verdant backdrop of evergreen pines.
The 64-mile Ebbetts pass is anchored at either end by Calaveras Big Trees State Park to the west (a must-visit) and Grover Hot Springs State Park to the northeast. It meanders along Highway 4 through the Stanislaus National Forest, offering endless photo opportunities along the way. For more information about Ebbetts Pass, log onto www.scenic4.org, which covers everything you need to know about this wonderful road trip getaway.
SACRAMENTO: Tree Capital of the World
Did you know Sacramento has more trees per capita than any other city in the world? It’s true. And during the autumn months the entire downtown area is festooned with a kaleidoscope of vibrant leaves falling all around you. One of the best places to watch nature’s fall fireworks is Sacramento’s Capitol Park, where more than 40 acres of trees from almost every continent and climate are on display, and that’s just a fraction of the 6 million trees within Sacramento County.
A visit to our state capital is also a great opportunity to take a free tour of the California State Capitol, tour the Leland Stanford Mansion, visit the California State Railroad Museum (kids LOVE this place), or stroll down the Gold Rush-era cobblestone streets and wooden sidewalks in Old Sacramento, one of the most popular historical attractions in the state. Riding bicycles through tree-laden William Land Park is another wonderful way to spend a fall day, especially when combined with a visit to the Sacramento Zoo and Funderland.
MENDOCINO COUNTY: A Coastal Kaleidoscope of Color
If you’ve ever driven through Anderson Valley along Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Mendocino then you already know how beautiful this drive is. But if you’ve never experienced this region during the fall months with its crystal clear days and crisp nights, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. It’s like driving through a natural fireworks display as pockets of maple trees ignite into bright yellows, sharply contrasting with the thick evergreen forests of California Redwoods and Douglas Firs that surround them.
If you’re looking for a reason to head this way, the coastal town of Gualala is hosting its annual Festival of Trees on Thanksgiving weekend, where the local Arts Center is transformed into a 19th century mill town, just like it was back in the 1850s. It’s a great excuse to stop, stretch your legs, and enjoy some clam chowder before you continue on to Mendocino.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on your favorite fall foliage getaways in Northern California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.