Every season has its travel pros and cons. In spring, wildflowers bloom. Summer heat ensures fun in the sun. And winter brings bundled up babes, cozy handholding, snow wonderlands and evenings in front of the fire. What’s not to love?
Well, from my experience, quite a few things. Spring break means party-time college students and little ones galore. In the summertime, it’s crowds upon crowds upon crowds, no matter where you venture. The holidays bring unexpected storms, which often mean delays. Oh—and many times, ice cold temperatures. Definitely not this Cali girl’s favorite.
But then there’s fall. You won’t find yourself bombarded with family vacations, girlfriend getaways and romantic couples escaping the real world. No, not during fall. Fall offers the best of all worlds. I’m talking sunshine without the scorching heat, fiery fall leaves on full display and a more leisurely pace. Depending on where you go, some stores or restaurants might be closed. But that’s a pretty even trade for having other venues to yourself.
This kind of adventure offers so much more for the whole crew. Take your time enjoying each activity, savoring every meal and creating lasting memories in these special West Coast locations. From Mexico to Canada, each one is an ideal spot to unwind as autumn leaves fall down.
You don’t have to travel to the Caribbean for a tropical getaway this fall. Right here on the West Coast, a sleepy fishing town offers a chance to unwind in paradise. Located on the Baja California peninsula, Loreto isn’t far from Cabo distance-wise. But in atmosphere, it couldn’t be more unique. Although they’re trying to build it up into a resort town, it hasn’t reached that status yet. That means luxury resort stays without the endless tourists. Villa del Palmar is located right off of the local marine preserve, meaning incredible kayaking adventures await. Paddle out and around the nearby islands in search of the numerous sea creatures here, from whales and dolphins to sea stars and clams.
If you prefer to admire the beauty of the islands from land, take a walk along the beach at sunset or recline by one of the resort pools. There is also a spa on site and the restaurants serve chocolate clams harvested from the bay just on the other side of the sand. Take a ride down to town, either by car or boat, and you’ll spot fishermen heading out to the water, a historic mission and a small number of shops and restaurants. Even in summertime, this area isn’t overly packed, but it’s a ghost town in fall, ensuring you have the chance to soak up the culture and explore the natural beauty of the Mexican coastline.
Laguna Beach, California
Newport Beach is often deemed the shining gem of the Orange County vacation scene. Or maybe your group considered a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim. However, the city of Laguna Beach is truly the most spectacular place to spend a fall day. During summertime, the art festivals draw massive crowds. Lines are out the door for the many restaurants part of the city’s vibrant culinary scene. And rows upon rows of beach towels and umbrellas take over the sand at Main Beach. But, in the fall, that hot California sun still shines bright—without the crowds.
Wander along the beach for stunning views of coves and bluffs that have enticed artists for a century. Or explore the many galleries that line Forest Avenue, spotting surreal artwork at Vladimir Kush’s gallery or mixed media mermaid pieces at Lindsay Rapp Gallery. Another way to enjoy the fall weather is with a hike through Laguna Canyon or along the ridges at Top of the World. Make sure to grab lunch at a local spot as well. La Sirena Grill has delicious Mexican food with an eco-conscious mission. Another option is Slice, a build-your-own pizza place with pour-your-own beer.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Over on the East Coast of the United States, there are plenty of spots that are ripe with fall color. Leaves change to reds, yellows and oranges and fall to the ground, filling the region with vibrant shades. Well, leaf peepers on the West Coast will be happy to know that California has its own fantastic fall paradise. Up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, aspen trees delight visitors throughout autumn. Areas like Rock Creek, the Lakes Basin, and June Lake are filled with these beautiful colors.
Because Mammoth Lakes is so remote, it’s definitely a spot that feels empty in the off-season. Between the hiking and mountain biking of the summer months, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter, fall delights visitors by offering a private experience to get to know the beautiful mountain peaks and sparkling alpine lakes. Though freak snowstorms may occur, the weather is mild overall, so get outdoors and explore.
Those looking for an authentic autumnal experience should continue upward to the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, you’ll also spot leaves changing, though they won’t be as colorful as those down in Mammoth. What you’re likely to find instead are scattered rainstorms and grey skies ushering in the season. While it might be chilly, it won’t be freezing yet so take advantage of this time of year and enjoy all that the city has to offer.
This vibrant space isn’t far from the Columbia River Gorge so, by day, set out to find some waterfalls. Some line the road while others sit at the end of hikes of varying distances. This is a great way to get a workout in while seeing Oregon, one of the most beautiful states in the country. When you return to the city, pay a visit to one of the local museums, including the science museum. You’ll learn a bit while getting hands-on and taking in beautiful river views. By night, enjoy an innovative dining scene as a prelude to a night of visiting breweries. Still the main appeal for many residents as well as travelers, these might still be busy in the fall but you’re sure to have a great time and try some delicious brews either way.
Known for its cloudy skies and rainy days, expect to find more weather in Seattle than anywhere else on this list. As someone who spends the majority of my time in Southern California, I love visiting Seattle in the fall. While it may rain or possibly even snow, it’s a great way to experience that typically Northwest weather.
Don’t let that stop you. Especially when the rain is coming down, there will be fewer people wandering the city. This allows you to visit the local aquarium, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, the pop culture museum and the Space Needle with much fewer people than usual. Or opt to stay inside and take a ride on the famous ferry. When traveling in the fall, another option is to attend a game at CenturyLink, the home of the Seattle Seahawks.
Stunning fall experiences don’t end at the U.S. border. Travel up into Canada for an unbeatable fall experience. If you’re lucky, you’ll get weather like I did: cold yet sunny. Vancouver is another city where it’s best to venture out in the cold in order to beat the crowds. Fall leaves will be changing here too and a trip just outside of town will lead to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Wander across the bridge, through the pines, and along the cliffs for unbeatable views. Another natural space to enjoy outside of town is Stanley Park, complete with waterside walkways and Vancouver’s famous totem poles.
Back in town, stop by local home décor shops, bookstores and clothing boutiques for unique foreign goods. These laid-back spots have plenty of charm and are sure to delight shoppers of all kinds. Another great fall recommendation is to pay a visit to the University of British Columbia. Students will be floating to and from classes, but travelers can meander through the hustle and bustle to enjoy the on-campus anthropology and biodiversity museums. Or dine at the Lamplighter Public House for delicious brews and pub fare, including chicken wings, burgers, sausages, and bar bites.