Beautiful Parks to See Fall Colors in the Bay Area, California

William Land Park, in Sacramento, is a great spot to see the trees in all their dazzling fall colors
William Land Park, in Sacramento, is a great spot to see the trees in all their dazzling fall colors | © Anthony Dunn / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Courtney Holcomb
25 September 2020

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.

Golden Gate Park

Botanical Garden, Museum, Park
Map View
Tea House in the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, United States.
Tea House in the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, United States. | © Derrell McCain / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re in glorious and foggy San Francisco, make your way to the west edge of the city to catch a glimpse of the trees in Golden Gate Park. Peak-time fall colors can also be enjoyed at the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. The Botanical Garden showcases everything from golden ginkgo trees to purple vine maples – and be sure to look out for the colorful Persian ironwood tree, too. At the Japanese Tea Garden, you can enjoy the changing leaf colors while walking across the Drum Bridge.

Tilden Park

Park
Map View
Tilden Park, in East Bay, is a lovely spot for enjoying fall in all its glorious colors. This huge park spans 2,079 acres (841ha) between the Berkeley Hills and San Pablo Ridge, with a number of trails for hiking, biking and horseriding. If you’re looking for foliage during September and October, the best trails are around Lake Anza and on the Redwood Valley Railway. Other park attractions to explore include a model farm, an environmental education building and the Regional Parks Botanic Garden.

Orinda Community Park

Park
Map View

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.

Rancho San Antonio Preserve

Natural Feature
Map View

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.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park

Park
Map View
In the north side of the Bay Area, Samuel P Taylor State Park, located between Lagunitas and Tocaloma, offers several picturesque trails for hiking and biking (most of which are dog-friendly), tranquil picnic areas and several camping grounds. The best place to look for changing leaf colors is along the Cross Marin Trail, running next to Lagunitas Creek. This area features a mixture of warm colors on its oaks, firs and madrones, especially from early September to late October.

Filoli Gardens

Museum, Shop
Map View
Gardens, Filoli Mansion, California, United States of America
© LHB Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the best spots to enjoy the tree color in fall on the Peninsula is Filoli, a historic site near Woodside comprising an early 19th-century mansion, manicured gardens and an extensive nature reserve. The gardens and house are well worth a visit, but the reserve is where to head for fall foliage: during peak-time fall, its oak-madrone forests put on spectacular displays. There are plenty of fall-themed activities too, including a harvest festival, orchard day and nature walks through the reserve. Watch out for the resident deer as you hike.

Henry W. Coe State Park

Park
Map View
Henry W Coe State Park is northern California’s biggest state park, protecting 87,000 acres (35,208ha) of hilly and mountainous landscapes. During peak-time fall, its resident maples turn bright yellow and its black oaks are topped with canopies of dark red, making for a memorable display of changing leaf colors. It’s also a popular spot in spring, when the landscapes are transformed by blooming wild flowers. There are more than 250mi (402km) of hikeable trails, ranging in length from the 3.7mi (5.9km) Forest Trail Loop to the 10mi (16km) China Hole Loop.

Wine Country (Napa)

Park
Map View
Scenic vineyards wine country
© Steve Hamblin / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Hakone Gardens

Botanical Garden
Map View
Hakone Gardens, in Saratoga, are some of the oldest Japanese gardens in the western hemisphere. Originally the private estate of Oliver and Isabel Stine – San Franciscans who fell for eastern culture and Japanese gardens during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition – they now consist of four separate areas: the Hill and Pond Garden, the Tea Garden, the Zen Garden and the Bamboo Garden. Visit during peak fall to see the gardens transformed by changing leaf colors of species such as black pine, as well as delicate Japanese plants and flowers.

William Land Regional Park

Park
Map View

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.

University of California Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden
Map View

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.

Sequoia National Forest

Forest
Map View
California Sierra Nevada Ancient Woodland. Giant Sequoia Trees in Sequoia National Forest
© Tomasz Zajda / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Park
Map View

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.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Park
Map View
Burney Falls with fall color McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park California
© Dennis Frates / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

San Jose

Park
Map View

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

These recommendations were updated on September 25, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.