(credit: Randy Yagi)

The autumn months are an especially nice time around the Bay Area. But unbeknownst to many visitors, the Bay Area also hosts a number of locations offering spectacular fall colors, some of which rival the best of what the East Coast has to offer. Here is a list of just five great places in the Bay Area to enjoy fall colors.

Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
www.japaneseteagardensf.com

Located in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the country. First built as a Japanese exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter Exhibition, the tranquil garden lies on five acres not far from the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Visitors will discover an exquisitely maintained garden with an array of breathtaking autumn colors, in addition to a classic koi pond, Japanese sculptures and impressive Japanese architecture including pagodas, a drum bridge and a charming tea house. First-time visitors should also set aside time to visit the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest public conservatory in the western hemisphere, less than a mile away and also in Golden Gate Park.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
204 Santa Rosa Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 524-5445
www.lutherburbank.org

A visit to the home of the horticulturist whose birthday is celebrated on California’s version of Arbor Day should be high on the list to enjoy fall foliage. The world renowned botanist spent much of his 55-year career at this home in Santa Rosa, where he conducted plant breeding experiments inspired by the works of Charles Darwin, most notably the 1868 landmark work “The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication.” Burbank’s greenhouse and garden showcase many of the hundreds of flowers, vegetables and fruit trees he developed. Among the colorful highlights to enjoy in the month of October are gladiolus, dahlias, sunflowers and hydrangeas. Although there is no charge to visit the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, the tour season ends on October 31, with a holiday open house on December 6-7. Another place to visit in Santa Rosa that’s open year round except for major holidays are the gardens outside the Charles Schulz Museum. It’s not as impressive as the Luther Burbank property but it’s an excellent choice for families with children.

(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


Napa Valley
www.napavalley.com

There are simply too many marvelous places to enjoy fall colors in the spectacular Napa Valley to list just one. The grape harvest, which commenced in late July, typically runs through mid to late October and is the busiest time of the year for wineries. But crowds are generally smaller after the Labor Day weekend. It’s also the time of year when the grape vine leaves on more than 40,000 acres create a stunning cavalcade of colors, with an abundance of brown and gold, variations of red and mustard dominating the landscape. A visit to the Napa Valley in November might be even more enjoyable, with even smaller crowds and typically clear skies throughout the month.

Portola Redwoods State Park (credit: Randy Yagi)


Portola Redwoods State Park
1820 Portola State Park Road
La Honda, CA 94020
(650) 948-9098
www.parks.ca.gov

The Portola Redwoods Park is just one shining example of brilliant fall colors that can be found within the Santa Cruz Mountains. The evergreen colors of the coastal redwoods and Douglas fir tend to prevail throughout vast acres of land, but big-leaf maple and coast live oak trees help paint some of the most breathtaking fall colors in the Bay Area. Despite the late summer announcement of the early closure of camping, the state park is open all year except under severe weather conditions. The journey to reach Portola Redwoods State Park might take some time but the trek along scenic Highway 9 and Skyline Boulevard makes it all worthwhile. Some may argue that Castle Rock State Park is a better option for fall colors, especially since it’s a bit closer to Bay Area cities.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park
9037 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
(415) 488-9897
www.parks.ca.gov

This state park about 30 miles north of San Francisco is frequently mentioned as one of the best Bay Area spots to enjoy fall foliage. Known for its natural beauty throughout the year, Samuel P. Taylor State Park is awash in fall colors primarily of burnt red, goldenrod and evergreen. Trails throughout the park can be found laden with colorful leaves of big-leaf maple trees while majestic redwood trees and firs tower overhead. While the location seems like a bit of a drive, perhaps the best reason to visit this park named after a gold rush pioneer during the fall is the relative peace and tranquility of a Bay Area park less traveled.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.