Follow this quick guide to find the best off-season windows to visit California wine county, top national parks, and the mountains. Plus: a few of the best reasons to travel mid-week.
When to Visit Wine Country
For your best chance at VIP treatment at Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s top tasting rooms, visit from January to March. These quieter months are what the locals call “mustard season,” when the vineyards are blanketed in brilliant yellow flowers and a new growing cycle begins. It’s the easiest time of year to score last-minute tasting reservations.
When to Visit the Mountains
In destinations like Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Big Bear Lake, businesses are often overwhelmed with visitors during summer and winter. But that’s not true in the shoulder months (March to May and September to November). Schedule an off-season trip to help to sustain a year-round economy. Also, it’s easier to find hotel deals in October than in January.
When to Visit National Parks
Want to see a soulful landscape that most visitors never get to witness? Visit Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon on non-holiday dates from October–March. It’s easier to get lodging reservations, and you won’t bump elbows at popular overlooks. In Joshua Tree or Death Valley, schedule a December or January visit. Winter nights offer amazing stargazing and cool-weather camping. Also, if you want a moment alone on the summit of Mount Lassen or at the base of 30-story-high redwoods, explore beyond the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
When to Visit California’s Beaches
California’s coastline has dependably mild weather year-round, so why limit yourself to summer days at the beach? Los Angeles and San Diego often see warm days in February. You’ll have the same brilliant sunshine and soft sand as in July, but with easier access to parking and sunset-over-waves vistas. Note: If getting in the water is a priority, you’re better off sticking to summer.
Three Reasons to Travel Mid-Week
Whether you're cruising Highway 1, snapping a prize-winning photo of Burney Falls, or shopping on Rodeo Drive, dodge the weekends for less company no matter where you roam.
1. Savor alone time
If you want to lounge solo by a hotel pool on a balmy afternoon or have scenic hiking trails all to yourself, opt for a Tuesday instead of Saturday.
2. Nab a sought-after table
Boost your odds of getting into a buzzy restaurant by requesting a midweek reservation for 7:30 p.m.—a near-impossible feat on a Saturday.
3. Score hotel perks
Many hotels offer discounted rates Sunday through Thursday nights, or they'll throw in free perks like complimentary parking or a free extra night.