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Embrace the onset of fall this year by getting outdoors to watch the leaves change color. We’ve compiled a list of the leafiest parks and natural areas in the Bay Area, California, to visit and enjoy the season in its full glory.
Further east, you’ll find Orinda Community Center Park, just off the Caldecott Tunnel, where yellow leaves pile up on the avenues in peak fall. Here you’ll find two playgrounds, a library, a large grassy area, picnic and barbecue spots, lit tennis courts, a gazebo and an amphitheater, ensuring plenty of space and opportunities for entertainment. Within the park and along Camino Pablo, you’ll be able to see the firs and maples changing into their fall costume; it’s not far from Orinda BART station and there’s a variety of delicious restaurants nearby.
In the South Bay and Peninsula area, the best spot for peak-time fall foliage is the Rancho San Antonio Preserve, home to a huge population of maples, oaks and flowering persimmons all displaying glowing colors of red, orange and yellow. Self-guided tours of the park are available all year round; sometimes there are also organized tours and festive holiday events on offer. Visiting the park should also include a trip to Deer Hollow Farm, a traditional ranch with piglets, sheep, goats, chickens and cows running around.
California’s world-famous Napa Wine Country offers a multitude of locations to enjoy fall in all its glory. In the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, just south of Calistoga, you can hike through forests of Douglas fir, tanoak and madrone trees, where the leaves change color dramatically throughout October. Meanwhile, Sonoma Wine Country, especially the Anderson Valley and Dry Creek regions, is a great spot to marvel at the vine leaves as they dress for winter. Complement your leaf-spotting with lunch and wine tasting at one of the prestigious local wineries.
It’s often said (especially by Sacramentans) that Sacramento has the highest number of trees per capita in the US, so it’s unsurprising that it’s a popular area for visitors in fall In the city itself, head to the 207 acre (84ha) William Land Regional Park during September and October, where you’ll see native species such as maple, ginkgo and scarlet oak exploding with color. Other amenities in this well-equipped green space include jogging paths, an amphitheater, a zoo, lakes and picnic areas.
The University of California’s Botanical Garden, in Berkeley, is one the best places in the East Bay area to leaf-peep during peak fall. It’s home to species of tree from almost every continent, and its Asian section is especially beautiful during fall, showcasing maple trees, as well as more than 450 different types of Japanese plants and flowers. Make sure you visit before the end of November, or early December at the latest, when the bright fall colors start to fade.
Almost four hours southeast of San Jose, the Sequoia National Forest explodes with color in fall as the largest tree in the world sheds its summer look. In the foothills, you can see the leaf color of blue oaks and chaparrals change dramatically throughout October. The resident dogwoods and ferns also put on a spectacular show during the fall. Other key natural attractions include glacial landscapes, granite monoliths and the Needles – a series of peaks towering above the Kern River.
This 53,000-acre (21,448ha) state park is one of the best locations in North Bay to view the trees change color. Around 17,000 acres (6880ha) is made up of old-growth redwood forest, which constitutes the largest concentration of ancient redwoods left in the world. Impressive as they are, most of the redwoods are evergreen, but the big leaf maples, dogwoods, black oaks and red-and-white alders all change their leaf color in grand style. Don’t miss driving the 32mi (51km) Avenue of the Giants to admire the park’s star attraction.
If we liberally define the northern border of North Bay, the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park appears on this list. An hour’s drive northeast of Redding, it offers an abundance of trees – from big leaf maples and deciduous oaks to Oregon ashes and Californian black oaks – to admire during peak-time fall, which is around mid-October in this case. The park’s key natural feature is the 129ft (39m) Burney Falls, over which 100m gallons (455m liters) of water tumble every day.
Despite being built-up, the city of San Jose has some magnificent trees in and around the campus of San Jose State University, including a radiant Raywood ash that’s at its best during spring and peak-time fall (September to early November). St James Park is also another popular spot, with zelkova and sycamores that change their leaf color in attention-grabbing style. You can also just wander the tree-lined avenues of the city’s central residential districts, many of which are decorated in warm ambers and golds throughout the fall.
Additional reporting by Mark Nayler