The Coast News Group
Hit the Road

Fall colors around, you just need to look

JS - North Lake - 9-23 (2)
The timeline for autumn colors in California is dictated by altitude, not latitude. This photo of the foliage at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierra was taken Sept. 23. [Photo by Jared Smith].
Scarecrow-BB Lake
For a festive autumn atmosphere, visit Big Bear Lake through Nov. 19 and you’ll be greeted by scarecrows throughout the village. Owners of shops, boutiques and restaurants are creating the scarecrows and competing for various titles like spookiest, funniest and best use of natural materials. Visit [Courtesy photo]
JS - Groves Above Cardinal Village - 9-24 (1)
The timeline for autumn colors in California is dictated by altitude, not latitude. This photo of the foliage at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierra was taken Sept. 23. [Photo by Jared Smith].

Who says there’s no autumn in California?
Our state has plenty to offer when it comes to cool weather, color and cozy retreats.
You just have to know where to find it, and that’s the purpose of the website
New England has long had various “color central” Internet sites and phone numbers that report where and when the best autumn colors appear.
Now California has one, too. Founded in 2009 by John Poimiroo, the website is a blog supported by a corps of volunteer color spotters who provide dated reports and photos that show where the color can be seen and at what stage. The blog runs from about mid-September to Thanksgiving Day, and often into December.
“Unlike other areas of the nation where fall color descends by latitude, ours descends by elevation,” Poimiroo explains. “Starting above 9,000 feet, the color descends to sea level at a rate of about 500 to 1,000 feet a week. That means the show continues for almost four months. This makes the display very dependable and predictable for any given location.”
Elsewhere in the country, if you aren’t at a location exactly when the leaves are at peak color, “you miss the show. But in California, if you miss the peaking at 9,000 feet, just drop to 8,500 feet.”
Quaking aspen are the first to change in mid-September at 9,000 feet west of Bishop, and at Sherwin and Mammoth lakes.
Rosy dogwood and orange foliage of the black oak show at 5,000 feet in Yosemite Valley from mid-October to November. And the grapevines in Northern California are dressed in bold red, yellow and orange throughout October.
Even San Diego County has its version of autumn splendor.
“Most San Diegans live along the coast, where little fall color is seen,” Poimiroo says, “so they’re often surprised to find that the county has one of the best fall color shows to be seen in Southern California.
The color appears each October among oak and riparian woodlands near Julian, and at Mount Laguna and Mount Palomar where black oaks provide the quintessential Halloween colors of orange and black. Also look for the cottonwood which turns gold.”
For a festive fall atmosphere, head northeast to Big Bear Lake (at nearly 6,800 feet) where the village merchants are staging the first Scarecrow Festival. Dozens of store owners will compete for the title of Best Scarecrow in eight categories, including spookiest, most traditional and best use of recycled materials.
“Expect to see some outlandish, eccentric scarecrows to beautiful works of art,” says Wendy Badger, chairman of the festival. “It’s going to be fun for both merchants and shoppers.”
For an up-close look at the autumn palette, take a hike on any of 10 nearby trails (.6 mile to 15 miles), or camp a night or two in a nearby campground.
For details and info on lodging and other activities, visit or call (800) 424-4232.
Finding cozy lodging with character can add to the magic of any trip, but hunting for just the right boutique hotel or bed-and-breakfast can be a time-consuming task.
For one-stop shopping, visit the website of the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns at
Examples of some of the specials include three nights for the price of two on selected rooms Sunday through Tuesday at the Tudor-style Benbow Historic Inn in Garberville, north of Fort Bragg and a short drive from the Avenue of Giants; a 10 percent discount on room rates and a complimentary tasting and gourmet cheese platter at Frog’s Leap Winery for guests who book two nights mid-week at the Inn on Randolph in downtown Napa; and 20 percent off spa services and a complimentary bottle of wine at El Colibri Boutique Hotel and Spa in Cambria.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected]