A beautiful stream with calm water at Oak Glen

Small Towns In Southern California That Come Alive In The Fall

With wafting falltime scents through the crisp autumn air, Southern California is unreplicable during the Halloween season of giving thanks. From beaches to the mountains, it is a delightful mix of a seaside playground and an alpine atmosphere for a real-inspired getaway to suit your taste in the falltime Golden State. With many valleys and forests, the lakes in between you can leaf peep through pristine and secluded nature, wrapping these towns in a picture-perfect embrace.

While Southern California may not experience fall like the rest of the country, the slightly cooler weather and the changing color of leaves are exactly what travelers seek to chase away the blues. The colder months are just beginning, and we all know the dreary November season! This list of ten perfect getaway towns in the south of the state invites leaf peepers and cozy pursuits seeking a family-friendly escape with the Pacifica waters never far away!

Big Bear Lake

Sunset on Big Bear Lake in the Fall
Sunset on Big Bear Lake in the Fall

This epic lakeside town in the beautiful embrace of the Sierra Nevadas feels falltime adventure-ready, some 156 kilometers west of the sunny LA scene. Dressed up in the prettiest of foliage under its own 300 annual days of sunshine a year and landscapes for all tastes to rummage, there are as many "beaten" trails as off-beaten-path ones. From the clear waters to the idyllic bankside, through the foothills, and into the isolated wilderness reserves, you can enjoy serene fishing at the matina and sights of chipmunks, coyotes, and deer. The immersive outdoors will hold you captive in the fresh mountain air over group picnics after challenging hikes along the trails that later turn into winter sports galore. Venture into the untamed wilderness around you, including a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Onyx Summit for rock climbers, and the inspiring 4.2-kilometer trail to the Castle Rock outcrop overlooking the lake.

Big Bear Lake, a favorite summertime escape, is the filming location of Disney's "Parent Trap" beneath the towering pines at Bluff Lake Reserve. Shining from the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains with fall colors, it is the perfect place to refresh from the urban hustle and sights along the landscape ablaze around the ambient town. From small-town charms like a local Oktoberfest, a horseback ride through the foliage, or the breathtaking Scenic Sky Chair for aerial views, you will be kissed by the warm hues of autumn and crisp evening air thanks to the higher elevation. The family-friendly atmosphere lends a therapeutic respite, and speaking of, you can swipe the stress away through the plentiful eclectic boutiques amid Gold Rush sites downtown. The North Pole Sweets and Treats is cookie dough fudgy heaven, as feels the red carpet treatment at Club at Big Bear Village for a stay.


Cabazon, California - Alex Krassel / Shutterstock.com
Cabazon, California - Alex Krassel / Shutterstock.com

Bet you've never heard of this SoCal town that locals hold dearly to heart as warranted for small-town charms and family delights that make you get to the basics and appreciate the smaller things in life. The cool name and complimenting desertscape around are just the start of the many discoveries in Cabazon, like the vintage attraction of Cabazon Dinosaurs, home to enormous Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and more. With perfect falltime temperatures and plentiful hotspots, you will want to pursue the main Seminole Drive stretch along the fairway under the warm SoCal sunshine, with stops for renownedly good farm-to-table cuisine, the locally famous Blaze Pizza, and the highest-rated Crazy Coyote Tacos.

More than just a pitstop from the Coachella Valley to LA, Cabazon is one of the seven "energizing SoCal "day trips," according to Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds. The sweltering desert in the summer turns into a heavenly respite to avoid the cold back home, where hiking feels just right in the breeze under the sun. With hikes for all levels through the plentifully scenic Indian Canyons from dawn to dusk, you can recharge after a date shake at the town's Hadley Fruit Orchards, just off Interstate 10. The family's beloved Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert showcase the most unique natural sights of this region in a serene, kid-friendly environment.


Julian, California - littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock.com
Julian, California - littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock.com

This apple-themed mountain town of Julian is an idyllic falltime getaway to pick, sip, chill, and repeat in the breathtaking alpine scenery overlooking San Diego County. Julian offers the ideal mix of bucolic charm to explore under the warm sun with refreshing cider chilled in your cooler for a scenic picnic. The chilly nights have just enough bite to cozy up with a hot apple toddy in the evening. Clearly, Julian is the perfect town to celebrate fall, with an off-the-beaten-path vibe that lends low crowds and unobscured views for all the leaf-peeping, despite its many hotspots that come alive, particularly in this season.

You can indulge in your all-time favorite falltime pursuit along the main street through many bakeries and cafes, each with a version of apple pie. From the authentic Dutch to an apple pie served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream—a real hot mess, but a dripping goodness of flavors that screams fall and pick up some cider doughnut holes at the Julian Pie Co. to take with. Calico Cidery's outdoor seating area under oak and apple trees feels just right to refresh your palette and unwind amid a burst of colors at sunset, while the family-friendly Julian Farm & Orchard welcomes you with hayrides, cider pressing, and ax throwing.

Laguna Beach

Alito Park Bluffs and Beach, Laguna Beach
Alito Park Bluffs and Beach, Laguna Beach

After the summertime crowds depart, curious tourists and locals seek respite in the nation's favorite surf town, right from the TV screen. Laguna Beach is home to the highest concentration of beachfront lodgings to snatch a warranted property deal on the spot and a ton of vendors for "only here" food and merchandise with local craft. With 20,000 acres of protected wilderness next door, you can explore dramatic vistas for hundreds of miles around, like verdant hills and marine sanctuaries. Once you hit the rocky ledges with clifftop cabins, you can descend to the beach. The coastline, with seven miles of coves and beaches, features unique sea caves, tide pools, and hanging bluffs to picnic, lounge, and enjoy photoshoots, or sit back with an easel—a usual hobby here.

Laguna Beach, a beloved summerscape for generations, turns pristine in the fall for close-knit visits with friends, families, and lovers. With a laid-back atmosphere and easygoing vibe, the retro sights and renowned artist colony offer unique cultural experiences like what SoCal escapes used to be. You can mountain bike along world-level trails for all levels without breaking a sweat or needing to bundle up for the beaches. With unique topography and easy access into this whole other realm that might as well be a movie screen, you won't believe you are just halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Choose a condo in the buzzing downtown area from one of the colorful homes with vibrant storefronts, vintage cafes, and fancy restaurants amid many galleries and places to view artwork or watch a performance.

Lake Arrowhead

Aerial view of the Lake Arrowhead Village
Aerial view of the Lake Arrowhead Village

"The Alps of Southern California," the best-kept secret on the West Coast, is a cozy little resort town amid scenic nature with countless outdoor recreational opportunities. After just 23 miles (37 km) of twisting and climbing from the busy valley of San Bernardino, Lake Arrowhead offers a quick lakeside escape under a clear sky in the crisp alpine air of the San Bernardino Mountains. The deep-blue alpine lake transcends reality with its luxurious nature and plentiful lakeside vacation homes for fall and campgrounds for summer camping. With a network of all-level trails along the foothills through the San Bernardino National Forest and up the majestic mountains, the scenic Pacific Crest Trail is necessary for hiking, backpacking, or cycling in surreal natural peacefulness with wildlife.

While nature comes to life through the change of colors here, the town celebrates fall with a low-key festive vibe to relax on a cozy getaway. Having lured travelers for centuries with lacing trails through the surrounding forestlands, its rustic cabins include dock and lake privileges for lake access from morning to night. Lake Arrowhead Village is strollworthy, with a stop at the Belgian Waffle Works in a Tudor Revival-style chalet on the lake with sweet and savory specialties. From the Arrowhead Queen paddlewheel boat ride along the lakefront properties to visiting Wildhaven Ranch Sanctuary for endangered and indigenous species, Lake Arrowhead Resort, with lodges that fill up in the winter, welcomes you now for a treatment at the Spa of the Pines.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, California
Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, California

Home to around 35,000 people, this suburb is ever-so-popular among the "Angels" of the city on a heavenly escape just southwest of the LA scene. Manhattan Beach is not just another SoCal beach town but a really desirable Pacific slice, as attested by the 4 million annual worldwide visitors. No wonder it was favored by the American Tongva tribe, who discovered their ancestral home here some 8,000 years ago, followed by another former Chowigna settlement.

With real eye-catching natural scenery that feels a world away from the hub, this ambient town is never lonely, including in the warm fall time. Manhattan Beach offers a unique mix of refreshing waters lapping at your feet and a natural landscape that spills around, like spectacular Sand Dune Park and Polliwog Park for eco-tourism. From the sunny SoCal beach for strolls in the fine seabreeze to the shaded inland areas, everyone makes their way to the iconic Hermosa Beach Pier. The longtime-favored town to retire from the city boasts plentiful modern family pursuits like Manhattan Beach Art Center, Roundhouse Aquarium, and AdventurePlex.

Oak Glen

Parrish Pioneer Ranch in Oak Glen California - Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com
Parrish Pioneer Ranch in Oak Glen California - Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

This town in San Bernardino County, infused with sweet scents from its mile-high apple orchards, is rustic, bucolic, and elegantly charming. With one central road across the idyllic valley in between the Grand Potato Canyon and Wilshire Creek Canyon on either side, the mature oaks and pines offer a camp respite for travelers with views for days of the lush, colorful mountain foothills in the fall. The abundant orchards and serene country backroads are a real peaceful hideaway for hikes, strolls, and picnics. From farmlands to berry fields with 4000 feet above sea level views around, you can enjoy wagon rides or take a hike through the waterfront Yucaipa National Park, equipped with picnic grills and disc golf along the picturesque beach.

The agricultural community welcomes all with a laidback streetscape of casual restaurants and chic cafes with fresh and locally sourced menus, cideries, and bakeries offering a taste of local culinary craft. With wafting apple pie scents through the popular shopping district, you can stock up on fresh seasonal produce, homemade snacks, apparel, and pottery for unique gifts. Families love apple picking at some of the state's most charming u-pick farms during the fall harvest, with live music and kid's crafts on the weekends. You can celebrate and learn about the town's ardent business during the Apple Butter Festival, from November 27th to 29th, a unique native 16th-century tradition of harvesting winter preserves.


field of yellow mustard and Topa Topa Mountains, Upper Ojai California
Field of yellow mustard and Topa Topa Mountains, Upper Ojai California

Ojai, the heart of scenic Ventura County, is more than a favorite beach town in the summer, with its one-of-a-kind falltime landscape and unique ways to experience it. From art to local cuisine and history, you will quickly feel that the culture is unlike anywhere else in the state and feels like home at the same time. Ojai crafts everything for your taste and mood of the daily ventures, with cool spots like a chapel turned museum against stunning scenery all around. You can seek solitude at the relatable Bart's Books, a cave of literature with rare collection lists amid a picture-worthy atmosphere where you can buy books by dropping a coin.

The charming town of just 7,500 is a peaceful escape in the fall, with few tourists and vast views along the rolling hills, lush forests, and serene rivers adorned in color against the SoCal sun. Get sunkissed while hiking, biking, or horseback riding to create cherishable and shareable memories over wine tasting and golf. The breathtaking Ojai Valley is a treasure trove of natural history that will ring you up in June for its most sensual "Lavender Month," wrapping the small town up in heavenly scents and a purple veil.

San Clemente

Large house at Calafia Park, in San Clemente, California.
Large house at Calafia Park, in San Clemente, California.

The quiet beach town along the Pacific Coast Highway in California never ceases to impress and inspire visitors, regardless of the season. Surrounded by the hustling Anaheim hub, San Clemente feels guarded against letting any city reminders enter the ambient vibe with a telling nickname of "Spanish Village by the Sea." The small town with plentiful charm and strong character dissipates your worries amid low traffic and a slower pace of life, which feels like another realm to "go with the flow" on your daily perusal. The infectious atmosphere extends into the natural beauty around, with parks, beaches, and the town's pier—its pride and joy and a destination of its own.


Ventura, California
Ventura, California

Home to tons of events and endless views of the Pacific steps away, Ventura is a really fun way to spend a fall vacation. You can enjoy fun and childish joy while picking out jack-o'-lanterns, among other shareable moments at pumpkin patches, through various farms, like two Underwood Family Farms in Ventura County: Moorpark and Somis. Both farms offer fresh produce for sale, while Moorpark hosts Harvest on the Farm with corn trail rides and photoshoot opportunities. Home to some of the state's best undercover beaches—real seaside playgrounds—kiteboarding or kitesurfing is never out of style or season in Ventura, with the perfect fall breeze along the sandy stretch.

Venture out to the Ventura Pier with a playground or Marina Park with another one, as well as a picnic and barbecue steps away from the beach. Harbor Cove Beach and Mother’s Beach, summertime favorites for families thanks to the protected waters, offer the best views of the entire Ventura coastline to the hills, with gently lapping surf and vast dunes around. Steps away from Harbor Cove Beach, Ventura Harbor Village brims with restaurants and ice cream shops, along with an arcade and the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center. Ventura Beach Promenade, a short walk from there, is a great place for oceanside strolls, while the Santa Clara River southeast of town flows into the ocean for a serene riverside stroll to meet the most spectacular sunset over the Pacific.

The Takeaway

You can't mistake Southern California for any other state on hikes through the foliage-kissed forests with wildlife to the breezy beaches with unique coves and bluffs. The Golden State would not be golden without shining in autumn like no other through its hideaway mountain enclaves and serene beach towns reflecting the golden hours in Pacifica!

These towns spring to life in the fall in both nature and culture, where tourists seek pretty sights, themed entertainment, and attendant services with easy-to-snatch accommodations. Southern California delivers this and more with festivals like harvests and a local Octoberfest to celebrate the season by giving thanks in a real way to mulled wine and apple cider!

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. Small Towns In Southern California That Come Alive In The Fall

More in Places