Who says LA kids can’t truly experience a change in seasons? It may be hot, hot, hot right now, but wait a few short weeks and you can discover a full-on display of fall foliage right here in sunny SoCal. While we can’t predict exactly when the leaves will start to change colors, this handy California Fall Color Map indicates that trees in the Los Angeles Forest and San Bernardino Mountains are just starting to show shades or reds, oranges and yellows. So grab a pumpkin spice latte (maybe make it iced?), load the kids into the car and get ready for a full-on fall experience!

Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Located at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, the LA Arboretum is a great place to experience a New England-style fall without ever getting on a plane. Boasting 127 acres of trees and plants from all over the world, the Arboretum produces a brilliant display of colors. Little ones can collect fallen red leaves from the Freeman’s maple trees or snag a few beautiful yellow ones fallen from the Shagbark hickories. 

Know Before You Go: Peek leaf-peeping is typically from late Oct. through early Nov. The best and brightest fall foliage can be found in the Arboretum’s Celebration or Meadowbrook Gardens. For a fun family event, check out their Moonlight Forest magical lantern art festival Wed.-Sun. from the beginning of Nov. through early Jan.

301 North Baldwin Ave.
Online: arboretum.org

Lacy Park

Beautiful and historic Lacy Park is home to several varieties of deciduous trees, spanning over 30 acres of lush beauty. An afternoon stroll around its mile-long walking path is sure to foster that fall feeling in the whole family so make sure to have a thermos of hot cocoa on stand-by for an after-walk treat. Bring bikes, trikes, scooters and roller-skates as the path is perfect for all things with wheels (and fur—take your four-legged friends for a leashed romp around the very dog-friendly grounds). Your tiny foliage followers will love the super expansive playground and you will love the array of color splashed across the trees come late Oct. and early Nov.

Know Before You Go: While this park is free for all during the week, on weekends those who don’t live in San Marino must pay a $4 entrance fee.

1485 Virginia Rd.
San Marino
Online: ci.san-marino.ca.us/277/Lacy-Park

South Coast Botanic Garden

Palos Verdes is a pretty amazing place to visit in general and when you add cool coastal breezes into the mix, you get a whole lot of fall color options at South Coast Botanic Garden. With 87 acres of well-maintained flora and fauna, this is truly PV's best kept horticultural secret and a must-visit in the autumn months! You won't find New England oak trees here but pink leaves from the Silk Fox Trees and the vibrant orange blooms from the Dwarf Trumpet Trees will be bursting with colors before they fall onto the ground (along with lots more tree leaf varietals). The littles will love the Children's Garden developed around nursery rhymes and also featuring an enchanted dollhouse and bridge, a secret tunnel, worm bin, alphabet garden, butterfly garden, and whimsical characters.

Know Before You Go: The best time to wander through this colorful expanse is the end of Oct. through mid-Nov. when the temps cool down. This might be the perfect time to check out the Great Pumpkin Hunt where Autumn in the garden takes on a whole new spin when hidden pumpkins are scattered throughout the grounds! 

26300 Crenshaw Boulevard
Palos Verdes Peninsula
Online: southcoastbotanicgarden.org

Malibu Creek State Park

The Santa Monica Mountains provide some of the best opportunities for local leaf-peeping, and at Malibu Creek Park (or what the locals call the “Yosemite of Southern California”) you’ll discover some lovely old growth trees that turn all shades of fall as cooler air comes to town. A great place for beginning hikers, Malibu Creek lives up to it's name with a gurgling stream and low elevation trails. If your plan is to picnic only, try entering at Tapia Park, where you’ll find an abundance of large oaks and a great spot to settle. Fitness buffs (or families with older kids) looking for a more challenging hike can follow backcountry trails past the visitor center to the spot where MASH was filmed making sure to check out the beautiful yellow-leaf Sycamore trees along the way. Want to make a day of it? Check out our family-friendly Malibu guide.

1925 Las Virgenes Rd.
Agoura Hills
Online: malibucreekstatepark.org

The Huntington Botanical Gardens

Let's be honest - there is never really a bad time of the year to visit The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. And while the gardens in Autumn might not pass for a New Hampshire forest, it's still a wonderful spot to see trees you might not associate with all things Fall (but certainly come alive throughout the season)! Check out the colorful leaves on trees like the  American Sweetgum, Koelreuteria Henryi, and Lion’s Ear before feasting your leaf-peeping peepers on the bloom of fall fruits, including the berry-like variety that grows on Washington Hawthorns. 

Know Before You Go: Peak fall foliage at the Huntington is typically found during the month of November so plan accordingly (and maybe check out their Centennial Family Day on November 16 while you're at it). 

1151 Oxford Rd.
San Marino
Online: huntington.org/gardens

Ice House Canyon

For those looking to surround themselves in both majestic mountainous beauty and the vibrancy of Autumn, travel no further than Ice House Canyon, the crown jewel of the Angles National Forest, located just below Mt. Baldy. Kids will love the year-round babbling creek, the old cabin ruins sprinkled along the trail and the abundance of ladybugs. Parents will delight in the crisp clean air, soaring peaks and gorgeous fir, cedar, oak and sycamore trees that reach to the sky in a dazzling display of color during fall months. The lower parts of the trail are more family-friendly but if you’re craving added adventure (for more accomplished hikers), head up to the 4.5 mile to check out some of the most incredible foliage views this side of the Grand Canyon.

Know Before You GoTo park at the base trail in Mt. Baldy, guests must purchase an Adventure Parking Pass for $5 from either the Mt. Baldy Visitors Center or from any REI or Big Five Sporting Goods store. Ice House Canyon can get snowfall as early as late Nov. (making for an even more difficult hike), so plan to go during peak peeping times which are usually mid-Oct. to early Nov.

Ice House Canyon Rd.
Mt. Baldy
Online: alltrails.com/trail/us/california/ice-house-canyon-trail

Oak Glen

Fall takes celebrity status in Oak Glen where the mile-high climate lends itself nicely to the brightly colored black walnut and oak trees found during autumn months. Snuggled in the heart of apple country, Oak Glen is worth the 1.5 hour drive from Los Angeles to get a taste of fall and not just for the leaves. See why we love this destination for apple picking, fresh-pressed cider and other quintessential fall favorites.

Know Before You Go: If your little leaf peepers are excited to combine fall color sightseeing with apple picking, make sure to head out of Los Angeles early in the morning. The Oak Glen apple harvest begins after Labor Day weekend and makes for a very busy drive along the five mile loop through town. Our recommend? Arrive before 10 a.m. especially if it’s on a weekend.

Oak Glen Rd.
Oak Glen
Online: oakglen.net

Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead is a beautiful, cozy and quaint mountain resort. Like Big Bear, it’s often thought of as a winter or summer retreat, but the fall months are when the foliage is part of the stunning scenery (and the crowds are not) making this town a must-visit. Black oak, cottonwood, and maple trees create a painters palette of rose, orange and gold colors that will delight the most seasoned of foliage followers. Need another reason to make the drive? Oktoberfest in Lake Arrowhead takes place from mid-Sep. to late Oct. and is a great way to cheers your leaf peep-a-palooza.

Know Before You Go: Located 80 miles East of greater Los Angeles, Lake Arrowhead is about an hour and a half hour drive (depending on traffic). Peak colors are generally from late Oct. to early Nov.

Online: lakearrowhead.com

Big Bear

Like Lake Arrowhead, people tend to think mainly of the snow in the winter or maybe the lake in the summer in Big Bear. Fall, however, is also a spectacular time to visit this forested getaway and take a hike (or three). You can leave the city behind and with the crisp blue skies, the smell of pine and the trees turning those beautiful fall shades you can pretend you’re trekking through the White Mountains. Take your leaf-lovers to Big Bear’s aspen groves where all of the trees turn a fairy tale shade of golden yellow at the same time or grab a coffee in town where the streets are adorned with red maples. With so much for families to do (check out our Big Fun in Big Bear article for more), you and your loved ones won't want to leave this idyllic mountain retreat.

Know Before You Go: Located 100 miles east of greater Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake is about a two-hour drive (depending on traffic). Foliage reaches peak colors from mid-Oct. through early Nov.

Online: bigbear.com

West Valley

If a quick drive down a tree-lined street is more your speed, pack up your little botanists and head to West Valley. There are several stretches of streets planted with non-native deciduous trees that really put on a show. There are Sweet Gums on Lindley Ave. from Reseda to Northridge that turn a vibrant red.

Yellow Modesto Ash can be found on Winnetka Ave. from Oxnard St. to Victory Blvd. Also, the poplars at nearby Warner Center Park turn a beautiful yellow. Strap in your carseat travelers, drive through a coffee shop for something warm and pretend you're driving through a tiny New England town.

–Jenifer Scott

feature photo: Seth Lemmons via flickr


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