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When to go

Any time is a good time to be somewhere in California, but the best time to visit pretty much depends on what type of vacation you envision. Most people arrive in summer, between June and September, when accommodations are scarce and costly, and you’ll be competing for space at major attractions like Disneyland and Yosemite National Park. Still, summer is fabulous for frolicking on the beaches, enjoying alfresco dinners and attending festivals and outdoor events. The mountains are gorgeous and perfect for hiking, camping, biking and other outdoor pursuits. Summer is not ideal for venturing into the desert, however, where the mercury can soar as high as 120°F, although low lodging prices and sparse crowds do have a certain appeal. If San Francisco and the Northern California (NorCal) coast are on your itinerary, bring warm clothes as thick summer fog makes the region surprisingly chilly. A similar phenomenon occurs in late spring in Southern California (SoCal), but by July the coast is clear, so to speak.

The shoulder seasons (March to May and September to November) bring smaller crowds and lower prices. In spring, wildflowers brighten meadows, mountains and desert, while in fall it can still be warm enough to swim in the Pacific (at least in SoCal). Unless you’re planning a beach vacation, winter (December to February) is a great time to visit. The desert is beautiful and temperatures are mild and pleasant. The mountains, meanwhile, turn into a winter wonderland, drawing skiers and snowboarders to the slopes. Chances of rain are greatest in the winter months, of course, but they’re still pretty slim unless you’re traveling in NorCal. But just about everywhere the cultural calendars are in full swing and lines are as short as they’ll ever be (except around holidays).