If you’re wondering what it’s like to visit California in December, be assured that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to all the possible activities and sights. From enthralling views and natural beauty to urban epicenters of fun and amusement, the Golden State has it all.
Before we delve into the best things you can do in December in Califonia, let’s see what you can expect weather-wise.
California Weather in December
Bordered by Oregon in the north and Mexico in the south while also meeting the Pacific in the west, the state of California covers a large surface with many different weather patterns. If December is your month of choice, the weather conditions you’ll come across will largely depend on where you’re headed.
Roughly speaking, there are major differences between the southern and the northern parts of the state although there are some additional microclimates here and there. Average highs in the south stay around 60°F to 68°F but don’t be surprised to encounter the upper 70’s, especially in the warmest destinations such as Florida.
On the other hand, the north can get a bit chilly and wet. The mountains of Sierra Nevada are the snowiest while the coast and lowland stay relatively snow-free. Average lows range between 37°F and 45°F.
Top December Activities in California
1. Admire the Boat Parades
Boat parades take place around Christmas so you can use this opportunity to visit some of the warmest beach cities at this time of year. Head south and visit the cities like Newport Beach, Santa Cruz, and San Diego which host spectacular boat parades where dozens of watercraft sail out in the open, decorated in colorful flashing lights. The boats on display are a sight to behold so if South California is where you’re headed, make sure to enjoy the spectacle.
2. Explore Death Valley
Located in Eastern California right next to the Great Basin Desert, Death Valley is not only the hottest wasteland on earth but it’s also one of the most other-worldly deserts out there. During the summer, it gets scorchingly hot but winter is a completely different story. December is a great time to explore this extraordinary peculiar terrain without too much heat.
Things to do in Death Valley: Wander the dunes at Mesquite Flat but have a reference point, visit Badwater Basin – the earth’s largest salt flat, climb the Zabriskie and Dante’s View viewpoint, and look down on Ubehebe crater.
Ways to get to Death Valley: From San Francisco (7.5 hours), from the Grand Canyon through Las Vegas (6 hours), from Yosemite National Park (4.5 hours), from Los Angeles (4 hours), from Sequoia Park (3 hours).
*Extra Tip: There is a $25 entrance fee visitors buy at Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
3. Wander the Magical Yosemite National Park
Yet another item on this list caters to all nature enthusiasts out there who want to discover the best things to do in California in December. Sure enough, Yosemite is an iconic landmark in its own right, leaving everyone who ventures to central California breathless. Formidable sequoia trees, granite cliffs, and towering waterfalls are just a hint to what awaits in this wonderland.
Things to do in Yosemite in December: Go cross-country skiing, skate at the outdoor ice rink under Half Dome, attend a night event at Bass Lake, or ride a horse-drawn sleigh and soak up the view.
*Extra Tip: Half Dome is not accessible during winter months. The road between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass is closed and vehicles are not permitted.
Read more: Hot Christmas Destinations in the US
4. Catch Sight of the Meteor Showers
If you missed the annual Perseid meteor shower in August, do not despair because there is the Geminid meteor shower expected to light up the sky on Friday, December 13. As you may already know, California is a great place to witness astronomical events. Provided that you stay away from the big cities and the light they cast, your chances of spotting the shooting stars increase. Pick a national park and get ready for the celestial light show.
Best dates for meteor spotting: Geminid Meteor Shower (all night on 13 and 14 December) and Ursid (predawn on 22 December).
5. Just Go to Santa Barbara
Why Santa Barabara you ask? – Well, let us just say that events held in December in this coastal city are aplenty and they cater to people from all walks of life. Santa Barbara gets extra festive around Christmas and there are no excessive crowds. The architecture, the beaches, fine dining, and rich history make Santa Barbara one of the most eclectic and tourist-centric cities around.
Best things to do in Santa Barbara in December: Join the annual La Arcada Christmas Walk (December 4), catch a play at the Granada Theatre, ride Santa Barbara Trolley, or admire Santa Barbara Parade of Lights (December 8).
6. Visit the Spell-Binding Lake Tahoe
A sacred place for Native Americans and certainly one of the most enthralling destinations in California, Lake Tahoe has long been a go-to place for nature lovers year-round. December brings a special kind of magic to Lake Tahoe, too. During the summer, Lake Tahoe is mostly visited for its beaches but during winter, ski resorts become the most popular. There are a few resort cities around Lake Tahoe, including South Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Carson City, and Incline Village, all of which offer great accommodation. You can get to Lake Tahoe by plane (the most frequent option) or by car. From Sacramento, it takes around an hour and a half to get there and around 3 hours from San Francisco.
Things to do in Lake Tahoe in December: Go cross-country skiing in Hope Valley Outdoors, go on snowmobile tours, take a sleigh ride, and just enjoy the magnificent view all around you.
Read more: Hiking the High Sierra Trail in California
7. Sip Premium Wine at Paso Robles
It’s very easy to get Paso Robles mistaken for a picturesque French countryside because this coastal area is best known for vineyards that go on forever. Paso Robles has been in the epicenter of the booming booze scene for years now and today, there are over 250 wineries, breweries, and distilleries together with their fertile land sprawling across 40,000 acres that blanket the region. Seeing as it’s not advisable to drink and drive, it’s best to take a day tour and visit some of the most prominent spots around or even book your stay at one of the hotels nearby.
8. Have Fun in Disneyland
Located in Anaheim, California, Disneyland Resort comprises two theme parks – Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. There is never a dull moment here, not even in December. In fact, the first two weeks are when the crowds wear off although it gets really busy as Christmas approaches. There are three on-site accommodation options: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. You can still find great options in the Good Neighborhood Hotels, which are Disney-approved and close to the resort. Assuming you’re heading there with the youngsters in tow, prepare for an adventure of your lifetime.
Things to do in Disneyland Resort: Be mesmerized at World of Color: Season of Light Show, ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds, take part in the Christmas Fantasy Parade, sip intergalactic drinks at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, get spooked at the Haunted Mansion, or visit the shimmering Sleeping Beauty’s winter castle.
*Extra Tip: It may get rainy in Anaheim in December but most rides and adventures will still be running. Make sure to check Disneyland Calendar to see the scheduled closures and open hours.
9. Take a Scenic Drive along Highway 1
Highway 1, also called State Route 1 or California 1, is probably one of the most scenic routes in the states. Not only is it the longest route in California but it also connects quite a few landmarks and cities you should definitely check. The entire length of the route is more than 656 miles long and it can’t be done in a single day, that is, if you want to see all the sights along the way. Although the drive alone is well worth it, you have to make a few stops and enjoy the breathtaking vistas.
Best stops along State Route 1: San Francisco, San Hose, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
*Extra Tip: Some sections of the road could be closed for maintenance due to landslides. Make sure to check for closures in advance.
10. Watch Beautiful Animals Migrate
On their way from the icy waters of Alaska to the balmy ocean of Mexico, grey whales make their way across the Pacific Coast. Every year, around 20,000 gray whales travel this route on their annual journey across the vast ocean. They also enjoy the lovely aquatic company of their fellow dolphins, orcas, humpbacks, and blue whales. If you visit Califonia in December, you will have great chances of spotting these gentle giants glide across the ocean in their natural habitat.
Best spots to catch glimpse of the whales: Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Moss Landing, Newport Beach, and San Diego.
You will surely find at least one thing to do in California in December out of so many of them. One is certain, you will create life-long memories and enjoy every moment of it.