Top 8 Places to Visit in California in December

If you want to go on a vacation in December but are not a fan of snow and cold breeze, California might be the place you want to check out. While the rest of the country is getting covered in a white layer of snow, most of California is glowing under the sunlight. The temperatures go down only by a few degrees and there are occasional rain showers. What’s more, there aren’t as many tourists so the crowds are gone. This leaves all the beautiful sights for you to see in an even more beautiful edition. Now you might only wonder, which places to visit in California in December?

Regardless of which side of California you wish to see, beautiful cities or astonishing nature and countryside, you can see both. If you like warm weather you can find it here, but also, if you suddenly feel like going on a colder journey, California offers both.

Since it’s December, the cities look absolutely magical with all the holiday decorations, festive menus, and the whole warm holiday atmosphere. If you have never seen Christmas in summer-like weather, but you want to, then you have one more reason to choose this exact state as your December trip destination.

So if you’re interested in any of these, then be sure to check out this list of top 8 places to visit in California in December.

#1 San Diego

One of the best places you can visit in California during this cold month is San Diego. If you like walking the empty beaches on sunny days, this place is perfect in this season. What’s more, whale season also starts in the middle of this month so you can go on a cruise or watch them from the shore. Since there aren’t that many people, you’d probably be able to get a pretty good look at them.

Another place you should visit is Balboa Park. This is an amazing complex of museums and gardens. It hosts December Nights with incredible food and performances. The buildings here, such as the Botanical Building, are decorated with tons of lights which makes them magical and perfect for taking pictures.

And if you are a fan of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, then make sure to visit the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. Their annual rendition of this movie will take you back to childhood and make your trip to this place even more memorable.

Another must-see is the Parade of Light in San Diego’s Bay. Over 80 boats are decorated with beautiful holiday lights cruise from Shelter Island, past Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, and the Ferry Landing on Coronado. It’s one event you must not miss if you decide to visit here.

#2 San Francisco

San Francisco is a perfect vacation spot at any time of the year and December is no exception. If Christmas is what you’re after, then this city is perfect as red and green carpets are rolled out for this special occasion. The whole city celebrates the Festival of Lights which lasts the whole month. You’ll be able to see huge light sculptures either by going on a walk, riding a fire engine, or taking a cruise on the bay.

There is also an adult-only party SantaCon where people dress up in Christmas costumes, play games, and watch the Chocolate and Art Show in the streets. You can also watch usual holiday shows like The Nutcracker, Christmas Carol, and Handel’s Messiah.

Besides all this, you can always visit basic San Francisco locations as they are as beautiful in December as in any other month. Such places are Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Cable Cars, and China Town.

places to visit in California in December - San Francisco

#3 Palm Springs

If what you’re looking for is a super warm vacation in California then look no further than Palm Springs. This city is one of the warmest places in California in winter and it is surely going to keep you engaged. You can find everything here. From luxurious hotels and restaurants, modern architectural buildings, and vintage boutiques to hot springs and spas.

There are numerous things you can do here to fill your vacation and make unforgettable memories. Try visiting the Moorten desert botanical garden or going on a walk along Palm Canyon Drive. This is the main street in downtown Palm Springs and here you can visit many galleries and stores if you want to buy something.

Another place you must visit is Sunnylands, the estate of Annenbergs in Rancho Mirage. The gardens here are absolutely captivating and you can also go on a birdwatching tour. If you’re a bit more active, you can try playing golf at one of the Palm Springs resorts. Another thing you can do is visit  Joshua Tree National Park which is one hour drive away from the city. Here you can see incredible rock formations and Joshua trees.

But if you decide that you want to relax and just enjoy the beautiful views, you can check out the Visitor Center. If that’s not what you’re after and you want a different type of relaxation, you can go to one of the many spas in Palm Springs. You can also lounge by the pool and get a nice Palm Springs tan or even go stargazing.

Around Christmas time, you can enjoy many light shows since Palm Springs is the home to RoboLights. RoboLights is the biggest holiday lights display in the whole country and it had over 8 million lights. That surely is a wonderful view and is perfect for taking some amazing pictures.

#4 Santa Monica

Among the great places to visit in California in December is Santa Monica. It’s a beach town west of Los Angeles. The temperatures are a little lower but you can still enjoy the beautiful, several miles long, Santa Monica beach. You can also visit Santa Monica Pier. There you can find a small amusement park, areas for view and fishing and other things to do with your friends and family.

Santa Monica is also great for enjoying that classic Christmas spirit. You can watch Christmas carols and events and even go ice skating. There are also a lot of shops so you have many options to choose your presents from. Restaurants and cafes are also very nice here. You can go and spend some quality time with your friends and try some delicious Santa Monica specials.

Some other places that are definitely worth visiting as well are the California Heritage Museum, Museum of Flying, and Santa Monica Camera Obscura. With all of this, Santa Monica is surely one of the best places to visit in California in December.

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#5 Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park may be almost impossible to handle in the summer months, but in December it is just perfect. Daily temperatures are around 20 degrees celsius so you can easily enjoy your time here. One of the best things you can do here is hiking. You can see amazing colors and formations of rocks, incredible badlands, and breathtaking landscapes.

One of the best hikes you can take is a 4-mile Mosaic Canyon hike. Zabriskie Point is also a great place to start the day. It looks awesome at sunrise and it’s a great starting point for your hike. If you decide to start here, we recommend you follow the golden Canyon trail. The scenery is gorgeous and will surely leave you breathless.

Since it’s further away from the city, there is no light pollution here so you can also go stargazing. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the place you’re looking for if you want to play in the sand. If you’re looking for the lowest point in North America, then head to the salt flats at Badwater Basin. And if you go a little north, you’ll see not as popular but very beautiful Ubehebe Crater.

Artist’s Drive is another must-visit here. Here you’ll see Artist’s Palette which is one of the most photographed places in Death Valley National Park.

places to visit in California in December - Death Valley

#6 Yosemite National Park

This wonderful park is incredibly beautiful and very popular in spring and summer, but in December it’s on another level. If you enjoy hikes and peace in nature, this place is perfect for you as it provides exactly that. Since there isn’t a lot of people there at this time of the year, you’ll surely find a spot at Tunnel View. You can take awesome photos here and capture Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan in one shot. But besides that, you can also let your eyes rest on the beauty of nature that this place holds.

You can also get awesome views from Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. It also only snows for around 7 days in December so if you’re lucky to be there at that time, you’ll see some awesome scenery. But don’t be discouraged if you come after it had snowed. After the snow or rain, Yosemite Falls start flowing so which is surely a magical view.

#7 Lake Tahoe

As one of the most beautiful lakes in California, Lake Tahoe should definitely be on your list of places to visit in California in December. This place gets a lot of snow and temperatures vary from -2 up to around 5 degrees celsius. So make sure to bring some warmer clothes and get ready to explore this magical place.

There is a wide number of things you can do here. If you’re a fan of sports you can go snowboarding, cross-country skiing, or downhill skiing. You can also have fun on snowmobiles or go sledding and snow tubing since Heavenly Mountain in South Lake Tahoe has special slopes for those. Try building a snowman, start a snowball fight or go ice skating. The list is almost neverending.

Another thing you must do is go sightseeing. Mountains covered in snow, wonderful blue lake, icicles hanging from the snow-covered branches. It’s like a winter wonderland you have to see. You can go on a walk in the Hope Valley or along the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Another thing you should check out are sleigh and carriage rides. They are offered at multiple places around the lake. Hop on a ride and enjoy the magical scenery drinking hot chocolate or hot mulled cider.

And if you’re not in the mood for cold outside adventures, you can always wrap yourself in a blanket next to the fireplace, have a hot drink and watch the snow fall. You can even have a nice spa day. Who wouldn’t want that?

Places to visit in California in December - Lake Tahoe

#8  Los Angeles

You can’t go to California and not visit Los Angeles, right? This city is amazing at any time of the year including winter. The temperatures here go around 20 degrees celsius in December which is pretty good for exploring the city the whole day. Winter doesn’t stop this city from having numerous festivities and holiday events. The atmosphere in the city is very lively even then. But the popular tourist attractions are a little less crowded which is a good thing if you want to get a good look and take some nice pictures without anyone disrupting your background.

You can find many light displays and gardens which are a must-visit. County Arboretum and Descanso Gardens have wonderful light displays that take up to 90 minutes to tour. You can also check out boat parades on the LA Harbour.

While you’re here, make sure to pay a visit to Universal Studios. There you’ll be able to enjoy the Chrismas in the magical world of Harry Potter. If you head to Who-Ville you’ll be able to celebrate with Grinch. Besides that, there are also plenty of shops to buy some souvenirs to remind you of this place.

LA museums are a must-visit in December just as at any other time of the year. You can check out indoor and outdoor exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Urban Light especially. You should also check out the Getty Villa and the Getty Center or head to the Infinity Mirror Rooms at The Broad.


This concludes the list of top 8 places to visit in California in December. There are many others of course. California is huge and full of many wonders for you to explore at any time of the year. All you have to do is pack your bags as soon as possible and start making some awesome memories. Happy traveling!

Author: Editorial team