Dreaming of sunny beaches to escape the dreary weather? Or perhaps you’re dying to hit the slopes. Either way, it’s safe to say California has something for everyone in the month of December. Beach aficionados can see tons of sunny days. It’s not out of the question to hit the beach on Christmas Day. On the other hand, December snowfall sends everyone up to the mountains for winter fun. Add in December holiday events and you can expect a dream trip from these 11 places to visit in California.
California is one of the most beautiful states in the USA and these destinations will show you what this incredible state has to offer.
Relax in Sunny Palm Springs
Palm Springs is the west coast’s destination for snowbirds looking to avoid dreadful winters. It’s close proximity to Southern California’s biggest cities makes it a top weekend getaway in December. While the weather gets cooler in winter, you can usually count on lots of beautiful sunny days that are perfect for being active. Hike 2 mile Andreas Canyon Trail or the longer Murray Canyon Trail. Play golf at Indian Well, a desert favorite or Desert Willow, one of the most challenging and scenic.
Palm Canyon Drive is always a fun place to go shopping or go out to eat. Don’t miss delicious Eight4Nine. If you venture outside of Palm Springs, one of the top shopping areas in Palm Desert is El Paseo. Filled with designer shops and restaurants galore, you’ll quickly understand why this spot is always lively and fun. Hotel: Korakia Pensione Airbnb: Stardust Oasis
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Discover Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is an eclectic town with a unique national park attached. December is a great time to visit because the visitor count goes way down, the weather is terrific and it’s a completely different experience that anywhere else in California. Chilly mornings give way to beautiful days in the 60s and 70s.
Joshua Tree National Park is well known for bouldering and rock climbing. Whether you are new to the sport or an aficionado, you’ll be in heaven climbing Intersection Rock or Big Moe. Even if that’s not your thing, you’ll find yourself climbing up easy rocks like a kid to see the stunning views. Bring your jacket because you’ll stay out longer than you expect and many days end with unbelievable stargazing.
Lots of people camp inside the park so they can get the full experience. Other stay in a boho chic Airbnb that will make your Instagram friends jealous. In town, eat at a delicious restaurant or stroll through the farmer’s market on the weekend. Our Joshua Tree Travel Guide will give you all the best things to do, where to stay, eat and everything you need to know for a great trip. See if you qualify to get an America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Free or learn how to get the most value from one. Airbnb: Dome in the Desert or Joshua Tree Tiny Home
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Experience a European Christmas Town in Solvang
Decorated for Christmas by the beginning of December, this quaint Danish town with traditional Danish buildings and windmills is a terrific holiday destination. At first glance you might think it’s just a tourist attraction, but Solvang, founded in 1911 and actually has some real gems to explore. Additionally Solvang’s unique position in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley is what makes it a real getaway, especially for food and wine lovers.
Make reservations to visit Firestone Vineyard, Shoestring Winery and Lincourt Vineyards to sample Central California wines. Head to a local ranch to ride horses, bikes, golf or indulge in spa services. If you are looking for a relaxing, restorative place to get away in December, you’ve found it. Hotel: The Landsby Airbnb: Farm Chic Retreat
Get Your December Tan in San Diego California
Escape dreary December with some California sun in San Diego. Filled with mostly perfect days in the 50s-60s. the weather is ideal for surfing, golf, hiking, walking along the beach and sightseeing. You may even catch the migration of grey whales from Alaska to Mexico which starts happening around mid December.
San Diego has so many unique areas to visit. Our top activity is beach hopping the prettiest Southern California beaches and seeing a lot of incredible sunsets. Venture to chic La Jolla for food, shopping and even a kayaking tour. Old Town is a great place to learn about the history of California and try some delicious Mexican food.
During the holidays, there are a bunch of festive activities. Balboa park is hosting Taste of December Nights from December 4-6. The 19th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights boat parade takes place on December 13th and 20th at 5pm. The kids will enjoy holiday events at Legoland and Hotel Del Coronado. Hotel: La Valencia Hotel Airbnb: Pacific Beach by the Ocean
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Explore Awesome Landscapes in Death Valley
You definitely want to visit “the hottest place on Earth” in the winter. December temperatures are in 60’s – 70’s with mostly clear skies. It’s a great time to do some hiking and see the surprisingly diverse landscape of Death Valley. Death Valley also happens to be a Dark Sky park so expect some incredible stargazing and astrophotography opportunities.
Zabriskie Point is the perfect place to start your day because it’s gorgeous at sunrise and a fun area to hike and explore. Badwater Basin salt flats are a beautiful, must see spot, that’s the lowest point in America. With 100 foot sand dunes, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are not the biggest sand dunes but there is plenty of area to climb and it’s a great workout. The Golden Canyon hike – colorful rock formations. Hotel: The Inn at Death Valley Airbnb: Sun Mark
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Winterize Your Vacation in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. It’s a favorite California destination year round but it reigns supreme in December. This fun summer playground turns into a winter paradise, getting about 75 inches of snow per year.
Most of the top California ski resorts are concentrated in this area of the Sierra Nevadas. Squaw Valley – Alpine Meadows was the site of 1960 Olympic events and is a family favorite along with Northstar. Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe has some of the best views and tons to do off the mountain, including gambling on the Nevada side. Kirkwood is a favorite for people who love the difficult terrain. Sugar Bowl rounds out the top 5 because of it’s close proximity to the Bay Area.
We personally prefer the north Tahoe towns of Squaw Valley and Truckee. They’re less that an hour from Reno airport and they have tons of shopping, restaurants and winter activities. South Tahoe is more of a trek and it always feels more crowded. Hotel: Resort at Squaw Creek Airbnb: Hygge* Mountain Home
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Be Amazed by Yosemite National Park
December in Yosemite is one of California’s best kept secrets. If you enjoy crisp air, sunny days and beautiful hikes, bypass the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet in paradise. Without the throngs of visitors, you’ll easily find a spot at Tunnel View, shown above. It’s the perfect place to capture El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls all in one shot. There are also incredible vistas from Sentinel Dome and Taft Point that are even better with snow capped mountains.
On average, there are 7 days of snow in December at the higher elevations, which means you might get some snow capped mountains. It does warm up to the high 40s during the day so you can hike and enjoy most of the park activities that you would in summer. You’ll also be able to do winter activities like cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and tubing. There are Christmas activities in December at Tenaya Lodge.
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Partake in Some Local Winter Fun in Big Bear
When people talk about being able to surf and ski in the same day, they are heading toBig Bear and Lake Arrowhead. It’s one of the best places to go for a December snowy escape in Southern California. At Snow Valley and Big Bear Mountain Resort. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, you can take advantage of all kinds of winter activities including snowshoeing, sledding and tubing at Grizzly Ridge Tube Park.
Big Bear Village is a charming area with fun shops and restaurants. In the evenings there are many delicious dinner options as well. Neighboring Lake Arrowhead is a 45 minute drive for a day trip or a base for your weekend. Make sure to stop at Santa’s Village on your way in to Lake Arrowhead for some Christmas fun. Check out our Lake Arrowhead Travel Guide for restaurants, places to stay and things to do in the area. Hotel: Big Bear Village, Ascend Resort Collection Airbnb: Dala Haus
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Get Charmed in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Some places in California are so charming that they are on the top of every tourist bucket list. Skip the summer tourist traffic because December in Carmel, California is dreamier than ever. Crisp air, cute cottages, tons of boutiques and art galleries to peruse and a gorgeous beach to enjoy are all part of the allure. The restaurants are phenomenal and you can also do some wine tasting of the regional wines.
Sandwiched by Big Sur to the south and Monterey to the north, a trip to Carmel also deserves some exploring nearby. Cross the Bixby Bridge overlooking the California coast. Stop at Big Sur Bakery for breakfast or lunch then venture further south to see McWay waterfall at Julia Burns Pfeifer State Beach.
Heading north to Monterey you can see the wild seashore along 17 mile drive, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, also filled with colorful Victorian houses. The Monarch butterflies are all over California in December but Pacific Grove has the most impressive amount. Hotel: Bernardus Lodge & Spa or Carmel Green Lantern Inn
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Skate into San Francisco Holiday Fun
Nothing is more festive than Union Square at the holidays. Ice skate in the middle of the city’s tall towers from November through January. Get a photo with Santa when you see Macy’s holiday windows. Kids will love the Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz Carlton. Check out the crazy inverted tree at Westfield San Francisco Center and City Hall lit up. The lights in Golden Gate park and the San Francisco zoo are also worth a visit. Don’t miss SF Ballet’s Performance of the Nutcracker with the best costumes ever!
Get out on the bay when you go to visit Alcatraz or cross the Golden Gate Bridge on your way to see giant redwoods in Muir Woods. Explore the iconic San Francisco neighborhoods of Haight Ashbury, North Beach and Chinatown. There’s no end to the fun things to do in San Francisco. Hotel: Citizen M San Francisco Union Square or Hotel Emblem San Francisco Viceroy
Hit the Slopes in Mammoth
December is when the ski season really gets underway at Mammoth Mountain. With more than 3,500 areas of skiable area, Mammoth Mountain is one of the premier ski areas in the California Eastern Sierras. On the mountain, activities include downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and more. Non-skiiers can enjoy perusing the town or riding the Gondola to the top.
There are multiple places to visit in the nearby area. Right outside the the town of Mammoth is the Hot Creek Geologic Site where scalding hot water enters a creek. While you cannot enter the water for safety reasons, you can view this beautiful and fascinating area from multiple viewpoints. Also nearby are various hot springs where you can take a dip. Otherworldly Mono Lake is a 30 minute drive with an amazing view at the Conway Summit Overlook. Hotel: The Village Lodge Airbnb: Sierra Sky Retreat
Now that you’ve seen all the best places to visit in California in December, which one would you choose? Getting away for the holidays is just what we all need. The Golden state has every type of vacation available. All you have to do is make reservations.
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