(StatePoint) For many Californians, fall is the ideal season for a road trip close to home, as the hottest areas cool down and crowds thin at many destinations that are overcrowded in summer. From relaxing on scenic drives to treating yourself to gourmet experiences to hiking and outdoor pursuits, there are lots of activities and nearby places to discover this season.
Here are some destinations to consider in autumn:
Wine, Wilderness and Waves at the Mendocino Coast
A fall road trip from anywhere in California to the Mendocino Coast brings the holy trifecta of wine, wilderness and waves. You’ll pass through the bucolic Anderson Valley, where the leaves and vines are displaying a kaleidoscope of colors and wine tasting experiences abound. Next, you’ll be enveloped in a miles-long canopy of redwoods along Highway 128, before arriving on the Coast, where the dramatic shoreline and sapphire blue waters are awe-inspiring and the food scene is popping (many Michelin-starred chefs have recently migrated to the area and are now helming kitchens at local inns and restaurants). End your trip with a stay at the intimate Brewery Gulch Inn eco-lodge, or the historic Glendeven Inn & Lodge, which offers easy access to miles of hiking trails.
Awe-Inspiring Oceanic Wonders at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Dive into the wonders of the ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. See awe-inspiring leopard sharks, swirling sardines and even more sea creatures in the three-story Kelp Forest Exhibit. Watch sea otter Abby playing with artificial kelp, taking an ice bath or munching on frozen treats. Or try to spot “wild child” Ivy, one of the younger otters. Take time to meditate in front of pulsating jellies. A must-see is the Open Sea — a million-gallon exhibit where tuna speed past and sea turtles swim lazily across a 90-foot window. In April 2022, the Aquarium opens a new exhibition, Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean, exploring a mysterious dark abyss and connecting visitors with rarely seen animals. To learn more, visit montereybayaquarium.org.
Fall is Secret Summer on Catalina Island
Fall may be the best time to visit Catalina Island, the southernmost of California’s Channel Islands, about 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles. During autumn, crowds dissipate and the weather cools, but it’s warm enough for a dip or other outdoor activities. It’s also time for the island’s special promotion, offering a third night free on all Catalina Island Company hotel stays. Catalina is comprised of two towns, Avalon and Two Harbors, with beautiful rugged wilderness between them. Outdoor activities abound. Take a Zip Line Eco Tour, ride in an open-air biofuel Hummer in search of American bison in Catalina’s hills, climb, swing and crawl through the Catalina Aerial Adventure in the trees, or simply enjoy sightseeing and fine dining outdoors. Information is available at VisitCatalinaIsland.com.
A Weekend of Waterfalls in Siskiyou
Brimming with two-lane backroads and adventure around every corner, Siskiyou is the perfect place for a road trip above it all in Northern California! And none better than a weekend of waterfalls. Siskiyou`s hundreds (if not thousands!) of lakes, rivers and streams mean a wealth of spectacular water sports and sights, but it’s the abundance of waterfalls that captures the imagination. Some cascades are the reward of a strenuous hike, while others you can practically drive right up to! Try visiting seven waterfalls on a weekend road trip without straying far from your car. Stay in one of the several quaint downtowns like Dunsmuir, McCloud and Mt. Shasta, that all make great basecamps. For a list of waterfalls and more, visit discoversiskiyou.com.
The Cowboy Capital of the World on the Road to Yosemite
Oakdale, California is the gateway destination to Yosemite National Park. It’s located on the best route to Yosemite, Highway 120, and is worth stopping in for a night. The town bears the slogan “Cowboy Capital of the World,” so a visit to The Cowboy Museum is in order. Oakdale also has three local breweries that are must-visits after a long day on the road. You could even unwind at Woodward Reservoir. Spend the night at the reservoir’s campsite and explore the surrounding cowboy country. Another must-stop is the Oakdale Cheese Factory, where you can see how cheese is made, taste their award-winning Gouda, and enjoy their beautiful grounds. Information is available at visitoakdale.com or by following @visitoakdale on social media.
An Extraordinary Yosemite Escape at Tenaya Lodge
Setting the standard for High Sierra hospitality, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is an award-winning resort adjacent to Yosemite National Park’s south gate. Roadtrippers looking for an autumn adenture can’t go wrong with the Explorer Cabins at Tenaya Lodge, each offering 650 square feet of living space, including a living room, kitchen area, two bedrooms and private decks set amid a forest of towering cedars and pines. Communal fire pits, surrounded by welcoming Adirondack chairs, are sprinkled throughout the site, and invite cabin guests to gather for s’mores and stargazing. Close by, the main lodge offers cabineers access to the luxury spa, restaurants, pool and recreational activities, including archery, mountain biking and a winter ice-rink. Full information is available at www.tenayalodge.com.
Photo 1 Credit: (c) Brendan McGuigan
Photo 2 Credit: (c) Monterey Bay Aquarium – Open Sea Exhibit
Photo 4 Credit: (c) Discover Siskiyou