Some places in California are simply best to visit in the summer, due to the weather, the wildflowers, the animals, a meteor shower, or special events.
Glancing at the list below, you might notice that some of California’s best-known places aren’t on it—that’s because some can actually become less appealing in the summer. For example, the coast from San Diego to San Francisco is subject to summer fog. Theme parks can be crowded. And other popular California locations, including Joshua Tree, Palm Springs area, and Death Valley can be unbearably hot in the summer.
Check the list below for some of the best getaways in the Golden State during summer, whether you’ve got a whole week or just a weekend.
01 Sequoia National Park
Sequoia is a great option for a National Park getaway, especially since it’s much less crowded than Yosemite, which is packed to the max during summer
You can visit Sequoia anytime, but only in the summer can you drive all the way down into Kings Canyon, which is by some measures the deepest canyon in North America. To get started right away planning your trip to Sequoia, check this Sequoia visitor guide.
02 Lake Tahoe
With moderate daytime temperatures and cool nights, Lake Tahoe can be a summer refuge, a place to get a break from Central Valley heat or coastal summer fog.
There’s plenty to do in and around the lake when it’s warm. Hiking trails abound, and ski resorts adapt their facilities to summer activities like mountain biking and scenic tram rides. All of the roads will be open, and you won’t have to worry about snow chains and whiteouts.
03 Mendocino Coast
On the Mendocino Coast, wildflower season comes later than it does in other parts of California. The early summer blossoms—especially the showy rhododendron bushes—make an already scenic coastline even more attractive.
Mendocino’s location in northern California also experiences its most comfortable temperatures in the summer.
04 Mono County
The area of California east of the Sierras along US Highway 395 is scenic and uncrowded any time of year. But in the summer, it’s easier to get there from NorCal locations when the mountain passes are open.
Take a look at what you can see along Highway 395, and you’ll be anxious to start planning your weekend trip right away. Then use the Mono County getaway guide to make that quick and easy.
The most common route across the Sierras from San Francisco and other parts of Northern California is through Tioga Pass in Yosemite, which is usually open to vehicles from late May/early June through mid-November.
05 Paso Robles Wine Country
Avoid the summer crowds in Napa and Sonoma, and try out a lesser-known wine region in the state. Make a trip to Paso Robles, the center of an exciting and growing wine region that’s not yet overcrowded.
06 Mount Lassen
You may have heard about the massive Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption in 1980, but it’s not the only volcano on the West Coast that blew its top in the 20th century. In fact, Mount Lassen in northern California erupted first in 1915, creating an explosion that spread volcanic ash up to 200 miles away.
If you visit Lassen Volcanic National Park today, you can see lava flows, steaming fumaroles, and a bizarre landscape, including a frightening spot called Bumpass Hell. The park is easiest to get into in the summer when the roads are clear of snow, and the lodges are open.
07 Pismo Beach
One of the best beach towns for a taste of iconic California summer is Pismo Beach, on the coast between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Pismo has all the right ingredients: a cute little downtown with a lively mix of local eateries and souvenir shops, a scenic pier nearby, and even a beach where you can drive and camp on the sand.
It never seems overcrowded, but it does get busy in the summer, making it one of the places in this guide where you need to get started planning your summer getaway early, or you’ll end up disappointed that everything is booked up.
08 Russian River
The Russian River runs west across Sonoma County, reaching the Pacific Ocean near Jenner. You’ll find wineries along its path and lots of recreational opportunities, too.
Near the Russian River, you can also go hiking and horseback riding in Armstrong Woods, swim in the river or take a canoe or kayak ride along it, or bicycle on the back roads. You can enjoy it all when you plan a fun Russian River getaway
09 Los Angeles
Los Angeles is not at its tourist-friendly best in the summer. Inland, it’s hot; the theme parks are crazy crowded. At the coast, the beaches may be in the midst of June Gloom, a weather condition that could turn your sunny summer dreams into gray day nightmares.
However, L.A.’s evenings are balmy and custom-made for a night out to enjoy them when you use the guide to what to do on a Los Angeles summer night.
10 San Diego
San Diego seems like a perfect summer getaway destination, and it would be, except that it gets overrun by out-of-state vacationers and Arizonans seeking to escape the heat.
To escape the worst side effects of all those people in town, get tips and ideas in the guide to San Diego in summer. Start to plan your San Diego summer getaway early when rooms are still available, and hotel prices are lower. Avoid the busiest attractions during the day and instead, check out all the fun things to do on a summer night in San Diego.
11 San Francisco
San Francisco’s famous fog is a summer phenomenon, created when the air in the central valley around Sacramento heats up, rises, and sucks cool coastal air inland.
After dark, it’s easier to ignore the fog. There are plenty of things to do on a summer night in San Francisco, including a great dining scene, shows, events, and evening strolls
12 Sacramento River Houseboating
A great way to beat the summer heat is to rent a houseboat and go on a lazy, quiet getaway with family or a group of friends.
The Sacramento River Delta area is busiest from June through August and packed over the Fourth of July, which makes early planning essential. While the houseboat experience is a lot of fun, it can be hard to know what to expect and how to get started planning your trip. To answer those questions, use the California Delta houseboat rental guide.
13 Shasta Country Houseboating
At Lake Shasta, you can rent a houseboat and putter around in the lake for an entire summer weekend. Or dock the boat for a while and take day trips to the surrounding sights in Lake Shasta and surrounding Shasta Country.
Lake Shasta is easy to navigate in a houseboat, and it has lots of nice, sloping beaches where it’s easy to tie up overnight. To find everything you need to know about where to rent and what to expect, use the Shasta houseboat rental guide.
14 Sequoia High Sierra Camp
If you like the idea of sleeping in a tent, but would rather do it in a comfy bed and having a hot shower instead of tossing and turning in a sleeping bag, the Sequoia High Sierra Camp is the place for you.
It’s a short hike from the nearest road, and you can get the outdoor experience without sacrificing those creature comforts. It is open only in the summer
15 Yosemite High Sierra Camps
Yosemite is too busy to be at its best in the summer, but there’s one exception. It’s the only time you can make a hiking trip to Yosemite’s five High Sierra camps. They’re arranged along a loop in Yosemite’s High Country and are open from late June through September, depending on the weather and snowfall.
The most common way that people get a spot is to sign up for a lottery, but there are other options which you can find in the High Sierra camp guide.
16 Lake County
A trip to the lake is always a good summer activity, and you’ll find Lake County refreshingly uncrowded.
Lake County just north of Napa County. It has the largest natural freshwater lake that is entirely within the state of California, an emerging wine region, and some fun, little towns to explore.
Use the Lake County getaway planner to plan your hassle-free summer at the lake.