When you think about California, you’re likely to start daydreaming about sunny beaches and endless summers. However, California is so much more than just hot weather. But does it snow in California, or is the entire state sunshine and summery breezes all year long?
Parts of California do experience snow; in fact, some areas in California get a lot of snow. California has a lot of higher elevation points and mountain regions, especially on the northern border, and many of these places will see significant snowfalls every winter.
If you want to get a break from the sandy beach and enjoy some winter sports and activities, you have a lot of options for some special and unique spots to visit during the winter in California.
Does It Snow In California?
Northern California gets some substantial snowfalls, while Southern California tends to stay clear of it. Southern California also tends to get pretty mild winters compared to the chilly north. There are many destinations throughout California that are highly desirable for winter vacations, attracting snow bunnies and winter sport enthusiasts alike.
California is a unique state in that, even though it gets snow in some spots, it doesn’t get especially cold. Despite this, snow will stick to the ground and remain there for much of the winter season. As such, you can enjoy some of the most fun aspects of winters outdoors without having to bundle up tremendously or worry about frostbite.
How Much Snow Does California Get?
In parts of California that get snow, it’s not uncommon for those spots to get blanketed in snowfall. This is even despite how mild temperatures remain in the winter. A typical winter season can start in November and typically comes to an end in February.
On average, Californian areas see snowfall that amounts to between 60 and 70 inches per winter. Rain is also pretty common due to high precipitation, as are frosty conditions.
Where Does It Snow In California?
As mentioned, snow only tends to fall in the northern regions of California. In Western California, there are also some expansive mountainous areas that see snow as well. Spots such as Sierra Nevada, Big Bear, and Tahoe are known to receive heavy piles of snow during the winter months.
Furthermore, there are some destinations closer to Southern California, and even in Southern California, that will see some snow as well. For example, Mount Whitney can be found in California right near Las Vegas. Since the mountain reaches such high elevations, snow will surround the area. There’s a very long list of places to see and stay at when visiting California in the winter with varying degrees of snow.
Snowy Destinations In California
One of the most famous spots to enjoy winters in California is Big Bear. Big Bear is a stunning area within the San Bernardino National Park, where you can stay for a few days and enjoy activities like hiking, snowboarding, and so much more. Lake Tahoe also offers something unique each season, including winter, as you can find several snowy destinations surrounding the expansive lake.
California is also home to many national parks, with some becoming a different type of beautiful when blanketed in some snow. The Lassen National Park is one such destination that sees snow, making it a perfect place to spend a day sledding or snowshoeing amongst other winter activities. You can then warm up at the Sulphur Works hot springs nearby. The famous Yosemite National Park also gets some snow.
Mount Shasta also has its own ski resort, known as the Mount Shasta Ski Park in the Cascade Mountain Range. The region of and around this volcano gets significant snowfall throughout the winter, with an average of close to 300 inches each year. The resort has multiple lifts for skiers, and even offers the option to ski safely at night.
The Badger Pass Ski Area is another great spot to travel to in winter. There’s a gorgeous national park that offers plenty of skiing opportunities as well as snowshoe hikes throughout the picturesque area. California is home to many more popular ski resorts, including Sierra-At-Tahoe, Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort, and the China Ski Resort.
What Is Winter Like In California?
When November rolls around, snow starts to fall, mixed with some precipitation that spans past the northern region. Temperatures still remain quite mild, not typically getting colder than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Once December comes, the temperature will drop even lower, as does an increasing amount of snow.
In Southern California, it can get colder than usual during December and November. As mentioned, rain is also fairly common in these spots. January is usually the coldest month of the winter all throughout the state of California, with warmer air and melting snow coming to the state in February.
Tourism tends to slow down, especially in snow-filled spots, outside of those who are looking for a winter getaway inside the state. The beauty and uniqueness of a Californian winter is vastly underrated, especially outside of the well-known national parks.
One thing to be mindful of when traveling throughout snowy areas in the winter is road conditions. Once you get closer to the mountainous areas, roads can end up getting closed down temporarily because they are too unsafe for driving.
What Is Spring Like In California?
Spring-like conditions tend to not last long in California. The season is fairly short, typically running through March, April, and May. Camping season in California often starts in spring before summer days get unbearably hot. The air is crisp, and the flowers are in full bloom.
In the mountains of California, snow is just starting to melt. Some days, the weather will still be cool, but not enough for the snow to stick around. Tourists start making their way to the sunny state around the spring, but not to the point where you’re trying to maneuver through large crowds.
Rain is fairly infrequent in the spring, with sun winning out the majority of days throughout this fairly short season. When May starts turning into June, temperatures are going to start to drop and the heat and fog starts making its way into the state.
What Is Summer Like In California?
Some areas of California will feel like summer all year long. However, the actual summer season will start in June, with July and August usually being the hottest months on average. The intense heat can also create foggy and humid conditions on some days. California also gets pretty crowded in the summer, as many enjoy the climate and the summer sun during this season.
Temperatures tend to be between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit on average. August can see temperatures reach upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so thankfully, plenty of beaches are open to take a dip in the water. Northern regions of California tend not to be as hot, so they also offer a nice escape from the intense sun.
What Is Fall Like In California?
Fall seems to come and go quickly in California. September and October will stay warm, with evenings becoming a little more chilly than throughout the summer months. Autumn foliage in California is diverse throughout the state, with warm conditions making it extremely comfortable to spend your days outdoors.
In September, a few days will still be very warm, with a very slow-paced drop throughout the next couple of months. October evens out temperature wise, and in November, days get more crisp.
The California Climate
California would best be classified as having a Mediterranean-like climate. This type of climate is warm, with some regions getting hotter than others. In the winter, temperatures stay fairly mild and conditions get wet, with lots of rain and, as mentioned, snow in some parts of the state.
Areas throughout the state will experience their own little bubbles of climates that slightly differ from their neighbor based on factors such as latitude and elevations. How close the particular region is to the ocean and its elevation levels will determine whether or not the climate is desert-like or alpine-like.
Temperatures get more arid the farther south you go in the state on the eastern side, and on the western side, it still gets very hot, with drier conditions throughout the winter. Therefore, parts of California will experience definitive seasons, while others will feel like summer for the majority of the year.
So does it snow in California, or is it summer sun all year long? It absolutely does snow in the Golden State; just not in every part of the state. California has something to offer everyone throughout every season, including in the winter. Many who haven’t realized just how many snowy destinations there are in the state may be intrigued to make northern California their next wintertime travel destination.
There are opportunities to experience many types of weather in California. A short plane ride or a carefully planned road trip will take you from sandy beaches to snowy ski hills without having to leave the state.
About the author: Marta Kovachek graduated from the university with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.