No, this isn’t New England. But you don’t have to fly east to see dazzling fall foliage. Autumn puts on a spectacular show here, too. You just need to know where to look.
Now is the time to head to one of these four nearby destinations. And although you could spend your whole trip appreciating trees blazing with color, we’ve also provided suggestions on where to eat, stay, and otherwise enjoy the season.
between Pleasanton and Fremont, this quaint town (population 1,300) is
surrounded by Sunol Regional Wilderness, home to some of the East Bay’s
most stunning autumn landscapes—easily reached on foot or on horseback.
What to look for: Big leaf maples.
While you’re there: Time your trip right, and you can pop over to historic Elliston Vineyards for wine tasting and special stargazing/dinner events—there’s one coming up on October 21 (463 Kilkare Rd., 925-862-2377). Or take a train tour through Niles Canyon (Sunol Depot, 6 Kilkare Rd., 925-862-9063).
What to bring: Your hiking boots. For the best fall colors, hit the trails along Alameda Creek or in Little Yosemite. To rest your feet, consider horseback riding (Western Trail Riding Services, 925-862-9044). The light’s best in the morning.
How to get there: To reach the trailheads and horse stables, take Interstate 680 South and exit at Calaveras Road/Highway 84. Turn left onto Calaveras and drive four miles, turn left on Geary and drive two miles to the Sunol Regional Wilderness entrance. To reach the town of Sunol (where you can catch the train or visit Elliston Vineyards), take I-680 South and exit at Sunol.
GOLDEN GATE PARK
Visit the Japanese Tea Garden for the best display of fall foliage. The rest of the park is covered with eucalyptus, cypress, and pine, which stay green all year. But that’s part of what makes the tea garden’s colors so sweet.
What to look for: Golden Ginkgo biloba and poplars.
While you’re there: The Japanese Tea Garden boasts traditional Japanese architecture, a teahouse, and tea service. Relax with jasmine tea and cookies at a table overlooking the koi pond (415-752-1171, $3.50 garden admission, $2.95 per person for tea).
What to bring: An appreciation for art and history. Just a short walk from the tea garden, the new DeYoung Museum opens October 15 with an exhibit of ancient Egyptian art, “Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharoah.”
How to get there: Cross the Bay Bridge and take the Ninth Street/Civic Center exit in San Francisco. Exit toward Harrison Street. Turn left on Harrison, then right on Ninth Street. Cross Market Street and bear left to Hayes Street. Turn left on Gough Street, then right on Fell Street. Follow Fell into the park, where it becomes JFK Drive. The Japanese Tea Garden is east of Stow Lake, between JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. drives.
Wine may be Napa’s draw, but the vines themselves are a big attraction in autumn. During the harvest, leaves are a palette of color from brilliant orange to lime green.
What to look for: For the best views of vineyard color, get some altitude at the following wineries: Opus One (Oakville, 707-944-9442), Sterling Vineyards (Calistoga, 800-726-6136), Silverado Vineyards (Napa, 707-257-1770), Artesa (Napa, 707-224-1668), and Rutherford Hill (Rutherford, 707-963-1871). Or go up, up, and away on a hot-air balloon ride. For a complete list of ballooning companies in the area, go to www.napavalley.com and click on “Things to Do.”
While you’re there: Look for fiery-gold willows around Winery Lake at the di Rosa Preserve, where regionally produced artwork is housed on 217 tree-covered hills. Two-hour guided tours of the galleries and gardens are $12–$15 per person (near Napa, 707-226-5991).
What to bring: Your appetite. Experience the fall’s foods at Napa’s world-renowned restaurants. If you’re near the di Rosa Preserve, try Boon Fly Café (Napa, 707-299-4872).
Where to stay: In one of a dozen cottages spread across a 33-acre hillside at the recently renovated Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford, 707-963-1211, $550–$3,500 per night). Head to the Spa du Soleil for a full-on renewal with herbal-tea-and-steam therapy ($135 per hour).
How to get there: Take Interstate 80 East to Highway 37 West and go two miles to Highway 29 North. Follow Highway 29 into Napa Valley.
JUNE LAKE LOOP
June Lake Loop is a bit of Colorado in California: a chain of four lakes—June, Gull, Silver, and Grant—on the eastern slope of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains between Bridgeport and Bishop.
What to look for: Golden yellow quaking aspens—everywhere!
While you’re there: Look for ghosts at Bodie State Historical Park. The 1870s ghost town doesn’t have food or a souvenir shop, but it does have plenty of preserved buildings, furnishings, and clothing from the Gold Rush era on display. The park is open for walking tours whenever the roads, which are subject to extreme conditions in winter, are open (State Route 270 off Highway 395, $5 per car, 760-647-6445).
What to bring: Your fishing gear. Trout fishing is big at the loop, which is stocked with trophy-size Alpers each season. Rent a boat at one of the five marinas along June Lake, or try fly-fishing at Rush Creek, just north of Silver Lake.
Where to stay: The Double Eagle Resort, with its private two-bedroom cabins (5587 Highway 158, June Lake, 760-648-7004, www.doubleeagleresort.com, $189–$319 per night), features the only full-service spa in the area. Take in the view before two massage therapists give you a synchronized head-to-toe treatment ($150 per hour).
How to get there: Take Interstate 80 East to Highway 50 East to the Kingsbury Grade cutoff, to Highway 395 South, to Highway 158, which comprises the “loop.”