The icy grip of winter is slowly but surely tightening its hold on the northern hemisphere. Chill winds blow, cold rains fall and brittle mists swirl through the streets and alleyways. Sure, there are a lot of things to love about winter; a warming drink in front of the crackling fire, that first beautiful snowfall and of course, Christmas.
But once the novelty has worn off and the snow turned to icy slush, most of us can’t help but crave a little bit of sunshine. Which is why for me, winter presents one of the greatest seasons to do a bit of travelling! Why put up with icy cold weather, while there are places where the sun still shines?
Winter on the West Coast of America is sure to offer something different. A few years back I took a winter road trip, enjoying the warmth of the winter sun, exploring desert landscapes and taking in the serene beauty the area has to offer. There’s loads of things to do on the West Coast in winter, and as fewer people travel at this time of year, you’ll often find a tranquility that is sadly vacant during more popular summer months.
Los Angeles, where the sun always shines
My winter on the West Coast started in L.A, a city that enjoys sunshine and moderate temperatures all year round. For anyone who really wants to escape the snow and ice of winter, it’s the ideal place to flee to. While the rest of the country is shivering, the folk in L.A. are sipping seasonal cocktails on rooftop bars, enjoying the views over the city.
While you may not feel like stripping down and sunbathing, a trip to the beach in winter is always a treat. Forget the crowds of summer, and relish in the tranquility of solitude. Be sure to wrap up warm though, that ocean breeze can get a bit nippy even here!
If you need to warm up, why not head to one of the famous ‘Fireplace bars’. Complete with crackling fire and sumptuous cocktails, they’re ideal for relaxing in the cool evening. I recommend the rustic ‘Old Man Bar’ for a tasty tipple and a comfortable atmosphere.
While in L.A, one of the best things to do on the West Coast in winter has got to be visiting the famous theme parks; Disneyland, Universal and Knott’s. Stroll carefree through the nearly deserted thoroughfares and enjoy not queuing or baking in the scorching sun. Some rides may be down for maintenance, but the majority stay open year-round.
Winter is also a fantastic time to head out of the city and up into the hills on a hike. With cooler temperatures, the going is far easier compared to the heat of summer. Plus, winter offers some of the clearest skies and the best views over the surrounding countryside. The Corral Canyon Park offers rugged, natural beauty and a number of well-marked trails, as well as some of the most colourful, spectacular sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
Deserts and Mountains
You may find it difficult to tear yourself away from the warm, sunny L.A. days, but if you do fancy a Winter road trip, you’ll find a lot of things to do on the West Coast in winter. Leaving the coast behind I headed north and east, toward the ever looming, slightly snowcapped mountains. The first stop? Death Valley.
If you’re spending winter on the West Coast, Death Valley is a must. While open year-round, the scorching hot desert is unbearable for all but the hardiest souls during summer months. Winter however is a different story.
Offering some of the starkest landscapes in California and stunning rock formations, the heat is toned down somewhat over winter, allowing explorers to enjoy this other world sanctuary. There are a wealth of hiking opportunities, such as the epic ‘Sidewinder Canyon’ on the Badwater Road.
I stayed in Furnace Creek, where you’ll find a number of campgrounds and the famous Furnace Creek Inn. From here there a number of great hiking trails and drives, and the drive down to Badwater is thoroughly recommended during your winter road trip.
One of the best things about Death Valley in winter is the spectacular night sky. Miles away from any large cities, countless stars shine bright throughout the night. In December, the Geminid Meteor Shower lights up the skies, a showcase of colours, almost like a natural firework display.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Leaving the heat of the desert behind, I made my way north to the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Temperatures soon dropped and the snow became far more apparent, but if you’re looking for more seasonal things to do on the West Coast in winter, this area is superb.
Be sure your vehicle is winterised, carry snow chains with you and keep an eye on local road conditions before heading up into the higher passes. Head to the Grant Grove and Giant Forest area to try out cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery and humungous trees, it’s a real winter wonderland. Of course, you can also stay in the car and enjoy some spectacular drives.
Chinese New Year; San Francisco
San Francisco in winter is a great place to visit. While colder than L.A, it’s certainly a lot warmer than other parts of the country, although the rain can put a dampener on things. Plus, accommodation prices in the city plummet during winter months, making a stay far more affordable.
I visited to witness the largest celebration of Chinese New Year in the States. Typically kicking off around the end of January and the beginning of February, this is a celebration of epic proportions. The parade through the streets of China Town is the star of the show, awash with colour, noise and smells. The climax of the parade is the emergence of the mighty Chinese dragon, its entrance announced by the crack and bang of fireworks.
The atmosphere is incredible, noisy and chaotic and you cannot help but get caught up in all the excitement. Aside from the parade, it’s well worth tucking into some of the best Chinese food in the State and soaking up the culture by taking a long stroll through China Town.
Cruising the Coast Road to Craft Beer
After an all too brief, but interesting stay in San Francisco, I made my way back down south. My West Coast Winter getaway was drawing to an end, but there was just one thing I wanted to do before flying back home. I spent a couple of days on the coast road, which to be fair wasn’t the most interesting part of the journey, possibly due to the rain. The highlight was the great food and drink at the Baywood Alehouse in Los Osos – a very pleasant discovery!
The San Diego Winter Brew Fest
Who said beer festivals were only for spring and summer? The annual San Diego Winter Brew Fest is held every February and features over 30 different breweries. The atmosphere is as good as the beer, with a lively, friendly crowd, live music and fabulous food. It’s a fantastic place to discover some new and exciting beers and meet the brewers behind them.
And the Winter Sun Sets…
I awoke somewhat groggy the next day, but nothing a big breakfast couldn’t fix! After that it was time to head back home to the snow and ice. But I had a great time during my winter on the West Coast. My only regret is that I didn’t spend the entire season in the area, as there are so many more things to do on the West Coast in winter.
But I can’t complain, it was a fantastic winter road trip and a great escape from the miserable snow and ice back home! What are your top tips for a West Coast winter getaway? Let me know in the comments section below!