California in September
Visit California in September and not only do you beat the summer crowds, but it's also a beautiful time to see the state's natural wonders.
Boasting iconic cities, dramatic national parks, miles of beaches and an enviable lifestyle, California offers something for everyone. The weather can be changeable but on the whole is Mediterranean-mild, and San Francisco, often shrouded in fog during the summer, sees some of its sunniest days during the 'Indian Summer'.
In a nutshell
• Will suit: families of all ages, couples, groups of friends
• Flying time: 11 hours
• Time difference: GMT-8
• Average temperature: big variations depending where in the state you go, but as a rule Southern California has average temperatures of 20°C, Northern California averages 15°C
• How to get there: Fly direct from Heathrow to LA, San Francisco or San Diego with carriers including British Airways and Air New Zealand. Fly to LA and San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines.
• Tourist information: Visit California
What to do and top tips
- Visit the Golden Gate Park, an oasis in the heart of the city and one of the world's largest city parks with over 1,000 acres, and featuring art galleries, museums and the new California Academy of Sciences.
- Hire bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate bridge - it's a fairly arduous trip and the route can get crowded so kids need to be competent and able to negotiate a few hills - or you can get tag alongs.
Make a day of it and stop at the Trident for lunch on the other side of the bridge in Sauselito - a fabulous institution of a restaurant right on the water with wooden deck and a view of the bay serving seafood, burgers and other local specials with a good kids menu. Book in advance and if the weather's good reserve an outside table on the deck.
- Do take the Alcatraz tour. This is a boat ride out to Alcatraz Island which was once a prison made famous by the film Escape from Alcatraz/Birdman of Alcatraz. Take the audio tour of the prison which is fabulously evocative and includes the fascinating testimony of former inmates and guards. Tickets sell-out so book well in advance.
- If timings permit, get tickets to a baseball game at AT&T - the current home of San Francisco Giants.
- Visit San Francisco Neighbourhoods. The stylish clubs, restaurants and bars of the Mission district, the artistic and hippy Haight-Ashbury, and the exclusive shops and winding roads of Russian Hill to name just three. San Francisco also boasts the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
- About an hour's drive (70 miles) south of San Francisco is Santa Cruz - a proper beach town complete with beachside amusement park including a venerable, but still thrilling, roller coaster. From here you can explore the magnificent coastline of Highway 1.
- Stay at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn - a relaxed, comfortable, family-friendly hotel with a groovy vibe set right on the beach. The rooms are spacious and have balconies with sea views, there's a great restaurant, with a fabulous outlook onto the coast, and a warm beachside swimming pool and jacuzzi.
- Santa Cruz Whale Watching as Monterray Bay is one of the few places in the world you're pretty much guaranteed to see whales year-round, along with a healthy smattering of dolphins and sea lions.
- 12,000 square miles of national park with forest, meadows, waterfalls, streams and mountains.
- If you want to stay in the park, a good option is Camp Curry - basic but clean and comfortable wooden huts with very good bathrooms - and you can beat the crowds that arrive in the morning.
- For a treat book dinner (or even just go for a drink) at The Ahwahnee - a famous grand hotel set right in the backdrop of the El Capitan mountain. The extraordinarily beautiful vaulted restaurant offers terrific food in a grand setting. If you're loaded and book about a year in advance you might also be able to get a room!
- Outside the park try staying at the Evergreen Lodge forest camp - tonnes of activities for the family including nature trails, bike rides, marshmallow baking, games room, a pool. Beware the portion sizes in the restaurant - they're enormous! Well worth a visit are the ancient, giant sequoia trees.
Other National Parks worth a visit: Redwood, Sequoia and Joshua Tree
- A 90 mile stretch of coastline in central California, a drive along the Big Sur is a US road trip must.
- One Mumsnetter recommends the Big Sur Campground:
"We stayed in an A-frame cabin which slept our family of five, and had a cooker, fridge and fire-pit. Really beautiful cabins under the tall redwood trees and a river for swimming (and intertubing) amongst really beautiful countryside - we managed to get the kids on an 8-mile hike in Andrew Morena State park which was amazing (though the kids may beg to differ - I think they enjoyed in in the end!). A night under the stars having s'mores in the fire pit by our lovely cabin was a definite highlight."
- Tick off Hollywood and visit Rodeo Drive.
- Outside the city, Universal Studios and Disneyland California are both good day trips.
- A great place to stay is Santa Monica, with fantastic beaches and plenty of people watching opportunities especially along Venice Beach/Muscle beach.
- Santa Barbara County is home to the movie Sideways, so make sure to stop and enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir.
- The town of Santa Barbara, often described as the American Riviera, has a variety of top restaurants and the Urban Wine Trail – 17 tasting rooms all within walking distance of each other.
You'll definitely need a car to explore properly - Rhino Car Hire comes highly recommended, to find you the best rate from all providers.
What Mumsnetters say about holidays in California
- California really offers the perfect vacation as there is such a diversity of experiences. Pitmountainpony
- We did Yosemite and Napa a couple of years ago - both gorgeous, particularly Yosemite. Stayed in the Foresta area of Yosemite which is inside the park and very peaceful. BonyM
- Big Sur is a nice stop off (with some very fancy hotels if you want a splurge) as is Santa Barbara. Hearst Castle is totally bonkers in an utterly brilliant way. CityDweller
- San Francisco is GREAT, especially the Alcatraz tour. Haight Street is a bit cheesy, but has great cafes. There are lots of open-air theatre events in Golden Gate park. If you have a car you can head out to see the Redwoods. EnjoyResponsibly
- Reviews: where to go and what to do in California
- Share your California holiday tips
- Other places to go in September
- More travel tips and destination guides