Autumn is a fantastic time to plan a getaway to California: Fall foliage is vivid across the state—from the mountains to the coast and wine country—while the Halloween season is in full swing at pumpkin festivals and the downright elaborate celebrations at theme parks. You can snack to your heart’s content at harvest festivals (including both apples and avocados), but it’s also prime time for wine-tasting, Oktoberfests, balmy beach days, and big parties in the desert. And thanks to October’s Kids Free San Diego—a month of deals at hotels, theme parks, and restaurants—it’s the perfect time to bring the whole family with you. Pick your favorite way to celebrate fall from this bushel of fun options:
All Month: Haunted Pathway, Nevada City
For a spooky getaway, head to the Inn Town Campground in this charming Gold Country town, where this self-guided Halloween walk winds underneath 130-foot towering pines. Stay overnight, too—the campground holds fireside chats this time of year, along with guided hikes to see autumn colors.
Through Nov. 3: Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia
The theme park in L.A. County’s Santa Clarita area offers hair-raising roller coasters year round, but the thrills go up a few notches on select nights this time of year, thanks to the park’s array of haunted mazes, scare zones, and even zombies who start roaming after dark.
The annual Central Valley fair has livestock, agricultural exhibits, and plenty of classic fair cuisine, from local tri-tip to fried frog legs and cinnamon roll sundaes. This year’s musical headliners includes Chris Janson, Keith Sweat, and Zara Larsson.
Oct. 3–6: Newport Wine & Food Festival
This posh Orange County town puts on a fabulously elegant foodfest, with special chefs’ dinners at area restaurants, along with tastings and cooking demos at the town’s civic center and some hotels, including its nerve center, the Balboa Bay Resort.
Oct. 3–13: Mill Valley Film Festival
The high-powered but low-key film festival in Marin County, just outside San Francisco, is known for showcasing future Oscar winners. Last year’s centerpiece was the acclaimed Roma, and this year’s centerpiece film is Waves, from director Trey Edward Shults.
Oct. 4–5: Atascadero Colony Days
This annual festival celebrates the Central Coast town’s early 20th century beginnings as a would-be utopian community. Today’s utopia-worthy festivities include a parade and weiner-dog races (suitably dubbed Dogtopia) and a recreation of the town’s 1916 Tent City.
Oct. 4–6: California Avocado Festival, Carpinteria
The Golden State grows 90 percent of the nation’s avocados, so it makes sense that this free-admission festival, south of Santa Barbara, also boasts the world’s largest vat of guacamole, as well as a guacamole-making contest and lots of live music on four stages.
Oct. 4–6: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco
As the name promises, the musical fare at this annual music fest in Golden Gate Park does not limit itself to the mandolin and banjo—but rather extends into, blues, rock, country, Dixieland, and zydeco. As some proof, this year’s lineup includes Emmylou Harris, Robert Earl Keen, Tanya Tucker, and the Meat Puppets.
Oct. 5: Hart of the West POW WOW, Santa Clarita
Celebrate Native American culture—specifically, the Fernandeno Tataviam Band—at L.A. County’s biggest powwow of the year, a festival of art, dance, drumming, and cuisine, along with a wine-grape stomping and trail run.
Oct. 5-6: Johnny Appleseed Days, Paradise
This Butte County fair has been around since 1888, and still celebrates the classic fall crop through apple pie and ice cream, along with face painting, games, and meet-and-greets with a Johnny Appleseed.
Oct. 5: Pinot on the River, Santa Rosa
Taste some of the best wines of Sonoma County on Santa Rosa’s downtown Old Courthouse Square. Meet winemakers and taste the best from over 40 small-production wineries, along with a variety of artisan food vendors.
Oct. 6–14: Fleet Week San Francisco
Check out the Parade of Ships, take tours on the vessels, and watch the air show at this annual celebration of the sea services in the City by the Bay.
Oct.10–13: Joshua Tree Music Festival
The global and eclectic music theme seems right at home at this camping-friendly festival just outside the desert national park. Intriguing acts this year include North Mississippi All-Stars, The California Honeydrops, and Yak Attack.
Oct. 11–13: Oakhurst Fall Festival, Madera County
The 27th go-round for this annual festival in the High Sierra offers rides, food trucks, and, this year, a Jedi angle, with a big light saber fest happening Friday night. It’s always a good chance to do tastings of local beer and wine, in one of California’s best under-the-radar wine regions.
Oct. 12: Corning Olive Festival
Olive trees cover more than 13 square miles in Tehama County, the Shasta Cascade home of this festival that dates back to 1947. Come sample the savory pitted fruit, along with its accompanying oils and other products, and check out the car show, too.
Oct. 17–20: La Jolla Playhouse WOW Festival, Liberty Station
The acclaimed San Diego theater breaks down the proverbial fourth wall at this "Without Walls” weekend festival a few miles down the coastline from La Jolla, at the former military complex Liberty Station. The lineup includes more than 20 productions, from storytelling to experimental theater—about half are free, and all will broaden your definition of great theater.
Oct. 18–20: 54th Annual Borrego Days Desert Festival
This festival is a nice reminder that high season in the San Diego County desert is around the corner. This year’s “Bloom in Borrego” theme salutes the beauty of Borrego Springs and the surrounding 600,000 acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and include a parade, live music, car show, art exhibits, kid’s zone, food vendors, and even a fun pirate encampment.
Oct. 18–19: TASTE Costa Mesa
See why this Orange County town has serious culinary street cred. Admission gets you unlimited tastings from some of the region’s best chefs, paired with wine, beer, and cocktails, and accompanied by chef demos and seminars. This year’s chefs are still to be announced but past big-name participants have included San Diego’s Richard Blais, and Orange County’s Brian Huskey.
Oct. 18–20: Pismo Beach Clam Festival
This beach town festival has more than just mollusks: The weekend includes a clam dig and a chowder-making contest, but also a wine and beer garden, and the annual Clam Festival Parade.
Oct. 18–20: Leaves in the Loop, June Lake
This is a new festival in the Mammoth Lakes area, but it celebrates something pretty classic: the gorgeous fall color in this area. Embrace the scenery through photography and painting classes, a downtown history tour, and “Taste of the Town” restaurant sampling.
Oct. 19–20: Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival
South of San Francisco, the town of Half Moon Bay is surrounded by pumpkin patches—and hence has become the self-proclaimed “World Pumpkin Capital.” This beloved festival includes enormous pumpkins, sculpted pumpkins, a Great Pumpkin Parade pie-eating contests and seasonal craft beer, pumpkin-infused ales and cocktails.
Oct. 23–27: Carved at Descanso Gardens, Pasadena
Holiday lights come early to the L.A. County town at this famous event for illuminated carved pumpkins—as in, 1,000 of them—along a one-mile walk in the park’s Camellia Forest. You can also watch demos to learn how to better carve your own masterpiece at home.
Oct. 25: Pagan Ball, Calistoga
Fall means harvest season in Napa Valley, but Wine Country knows how to do spooky season right too. At Castello di Amorosa, the Pagan Ball turns the castle-based winery in into a big costume party with bites, a cigar bar and lots of wine tasting.
Some consider this the kickoff of high season in the Palm Springs area: a colorful parade of souped-up golf carts making their way along the side of shopper’s haven El Paseo. Check out the nearby stores, food vendors, or browse golf carts for sale.
Oct. 31: West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval
If you’re no longer knocking on doors for Halloween, come to what claims to be the world's largest Halloween street party, on Santa Monica Boulevard between North Doheny Drive and La Cienega Boulevard. The campy event is free, with several stages for live music and entertainment.