San Diego is famous for its iconic palm trees, but our spectacular city is home to deciduous trees too and they’re quite showstopping in autumn––you just have to know where to look. We’ve set our sights on nine spots where you can go leaf-peeping locally. Read on for our insider’s guide on where fall colors are in full bloom.

Stroll the Japanese Friendship Garden

Littles will sprint to see the giant koi fish swimming in the ponds. You can take a breather and enjoy the beautiful fall colors of the garden. The Japanese maple trees run in shades of red plus you'll see bursts of yellow, orange and green. Stroll the garden and then explore the latest exhibit. (Also, if you can swing it, the third Tuesday of the month is free!)

Fun fact: Did you know that some of the bushes in the Japanese Friendship Garden are pruned to be an egg shape? During the fall season when there aren’t as many leaves on the trees, this gives more texture to the view! Learn about the different types of pruning at the garden during a docent tour! 

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $12/adult; $10/students; free for kids 6 and younger

Balboa Park
Japanese Friendship Garden
2215 Pan American Rd. E,
San Diego, CA 92101
619-232-2721
Online: niwa.org

Fall in Love with Balboa Park

Ahhh.. autumn in Balboa Park. Get dazzled by the fiery red of the sweetgum trees on the corner of 6th and Quince St. at the park's edge. (That alone is worth the trip)! Then stroll the park with the littles in tow and see vibrant shades of gold, yellow and green. Finally, make a day of it at The San Diego Air & Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and you've found your fall fun in San Diego.

Read our complete guide to family fun in Balboa Park.

Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92101
Online: balboapark.org

Visit Palomar Mountain State Park

Pack a picnic and drive up Palomar Mountain to see fall colors. The state park features over 11 miles of trails through oak forests, chaparral, expansive meadows, and staggering fir and cedar woodlands.  From the brightly lit golden yellow of the black oaks to the surrounding red shrubs, you'll feel like you've landed right in New England. If you're up for a hike, try French Valley to Weir trail, it's a relatively flat 3.8-mile trail that offers a prime destination and will incite plenty of oohs and ahhs from your little hikers. 

Cleveland National Forest
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Online: friendsofpalomarsp.org

Go Apple-Picking in Julian

Say hello to fall with a day trip to the historic gold mine town of Julian––famous for its fall colors, U-pick apples, apple pie and apple cider. Head to a U-pick farm to pluck apples from the trees, then make your way to downtown Julian and look through the adorable gift stores. Miner's Diner is a good place to grab lunch with the tots in tow. Before leaving, stop by a local pie shop for a freshly baked apple or pumpkin pie. If you're on a mission to see the best fall foliage experience you can in Julian, we recommend hiking the 1.65-mile Canyon Oak Trail within William Heise County Park for views of the great oaks towering above.­­

Read our where to go apple-picking guide for bushels of fun and plenty of multicolor cheer.

Julian
San Diego, CA 92036
Online: visitjulian.com

Camp at Cuyamaca State Park

Sleep under the stars with the crew at Paso Picacho campground and experience fall up close and personal. The state park is home to 24,700 acres of oak and conifer forests and at an elevation of 5,000 feet, the seasons come and go similar to Northern California. This is a great family campground where you can secure a spot through Reserve America. Your happy campers will love the fresh air, the climbing trees and lots of easy hikes from the camp spot. Weekends are busy, so book early. 

Paso Picacho Campground
(4 miles North of Julian)
12551 Hwy. 79
Descanso, CA 91916
760-765-3020
Online: parks.ca.gov

Behold Fall Colors at Sweetwater River Bridge

This historic East County bridge is a sweet spot for fall color––plus it makes a beautiful backdrop for family photos. Now a pedestrian bridge, it's easy to spot off Hwy. 94 and worth a look-see if you're in the area. Weekends get busy with fams taking pics and strolls. Built in 1929, the bridge is made of iron and has triangular trestles that were popular at that time. Come experience a little history.

2951 Jamacha Rd.
El Cajon, CA 92019

Photo-Ops at Bates Nut Farm

This pumpkin patch is worth visiting as a yearly tradition. You'll find all kinds of pumpkins from Big Mac to Jack O' Lantern (and they're all grown on-site). From tractor hayrides to a hay bale maze, there's plenty to do. Bring a picnic lunch to sit under the autumn trees. Shop the central store, (be sure to grab some homemade fudge!) then head home and chalk up a cool fall day.

The pumpkin patch is open from Sept 18, 2021, to October 31, 2021
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 8:30 a.m.- 6 p.m.

15954 Woods Valley Rd.
Valley Center, CA
760-749-3333
Online: batesnutfarm.biz

Explore Mt. Laguna’s Kwaaymii Trail

Hike the easy half-mile loop trail with a small hill. About a 50-minute drive on 8-East, you'll appreciate being surrounded by the black oaks' golden leaves mixed in with the green pine trees. Bring a lunch to munch. The trailhead starts at and loops back around to the Visitor's Center. You'll need to purchase a $5 adventure day pass to access the forest.

Laguna Mountain Visitor Center
Sunrise Hwy & Los Huecos Rd.
(10 miles North of I-8)
Mr. Laguna, CA 91948
619-445-6235
Online: lagunamountainvisitorcenter.gov

Hike Amongst the Black Oaks at Volcan Mountain

This fall, enjoy a family-friendly hike at Volcan Mountain. View the changing yellow and red leaves of the black oaks that are abundant in the area. They offer guided hikes and educational children's events for visitors. It's the makings of a perfect fall family day.

Volcan Mountain Foundation
Julian, CA 92036
760-765-2300
Online: volcanmt.org

—Nikki Walsh,  Beth Shea & Aimee Della Bitta,

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