Does it Snow in San Diego?
Do you want to build a snowman? I know, you’re thinking a cute sandy beach version, right? No, I’m talking about a real snowman, one that’s white and made from snow! Or, if you’re not into that, how about some sledding, skating, tobogganing, or skiing?
Though some are of the notion that it doesn’t snow in San Diego, that’s not exactly true. Yes, it snows in San Diego – at least in the county of San Diego. San Diego County definitely has some great destinations to experience the magic of snowfall. You may have to drive a bit to get to them. But they’re here, and they’re so worth it. Out in the mountains surrounding San Diego, snowfall is quite common, especially at the higher elevations.
The city of San Diego has only experienced snow 5 times in the last 125 years though, the last time on February 14, 2008. A perfect gift for Valentine’s Day!
So, check the weather forecast, bundle up with warm coats, hats, mittens, and wraps, and head off to some places where you and your family and friends can enjoy a true taste of winter wonderland.
Where to See Snow in Southern California
We’ve calculated the distance from downtown San Diego to help you plan your fun outdoor excursions to these San Diego snow destinations…and a few just a bit further out.
Mt. Laguna (1 Hour)
At over 6,000 feet elevation, this lofty hamlet in the Cleveland National Forest is one of the best places to experience snow in San Diego as it happens to register the most snowfall in the entire county. Here you’ll find a general store, local restaurants, rustic cabins, a campground, and even a lodge in town.
Sunrise Highway (County Route S1) and the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area are popular with local families, featuring numerous pull-offs just off the road. Trails make for great snowshoeing here, though these should be rented from a local sporting goods store like REI before you embark.
You’ll need a $5 adventure permit which can be purchased at the Laguna Mountain Lodge.
Cayamaca Rancho State Park (1 Hour)
A great place for a day trip, Cayamaca Rancho State Park is an ideal place for snow play. Visitors can park in turnouts along the highway, or better yet, enter the park itself by purchasing a day pass at the park entrance.
Hikers love the more than 100 miles of marked trails. And if hiking isn’t your thing, just admiring the views of the incredibly picturesque area with its snow-capped mountains is worth the drive. Or…you can always make your own snow angels!
Julian (1.5 Hours)
Julian is gorgeous any time of year, but winter brings its own special magic to this historic mining town. The area is filled with hiking trails, riding stables, shopping, restaurants, local community parks, and more.
With an elevation of 4,226 feet, Julian receives an average of 22 inches of snowfall per year. So, each winter there’s an excellent chance of experiencing the glistening falling white flakes with a visit.
A good snowfall blankets the hills, parks, trails around the town, and even the streets of Julian itself. And it’s always nice to know there’s apple pie and hot cider or hot cocoa readily available after playing in the snow or building your perfect snowman.
Palomar Mountain (1 Hour, 45 Minutes)
Renowned for its impressive Palomar Observatory, owned and operated by Cal Tech, Palomar Mountain also boasts splendid winter snowfall- well worth a scenic wintery drive.
This conifer-filled forest with a Sierra-Nevada-like atmosphere sits at an elevation of over 6,000 feet with an average of 18 inches of snow from December through March.
There’s a $10 admission fee (exact cash only) that can be paid at the Ranger Station at the park’s entrance. Visitors are rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas of this storybook winter wonderland. There are several hiking trails including the one-mile out and back Silvercrest Trail (perfect for little feet).
The Doane Valley Nature Trail is another easy one-mile hike that crosses two streams and a magnificent pond.
Idyllwild (2 Hours)
A cozy, idyllic mountain town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County, Idyllwild is a perfect winter getaway. The mountain hamlet has no stoplights, fast-food restaurants, chain merchants, or franchises. But it does have snow. Lots of snow to satisfy outdoor lovers, with December through February registering the highest amount.
Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and ice skating are popular outdoor activities and hiking is year-round due to its numerous trails close to town. Permits are required and can be purchased from the San Jacinto Ranger Station.
One of our favorite ways to celebrate winter is sitting in the hot tub in the evening surrounded by the beauty of the season. Airbnb offers a host of places to spend the night from A-frame cabins to more luxurious accommodations.
Big Bear (3 Hours, 45 Minutes)
Pack your warm coats and get ready for winter frolics in the snow!
Big Bear is totally about snow play and winter family fun, and though any time of the year is perfect for a visit, winter brings its own unique treats to this frosty paradise in San Bernardino County.
From snow tubing and alpine bobsleds to tobogganing and ice-skating, Big Bear’s summits satisfy skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Winter enthusiasts here are guaranteed snow. How? If winter storms don’t deliver, snow machines are busy pumping out the fluffy white stuff.
The alpine village of Big Bear Lake is absolutely enchanting. And the best part about strolling the town is that the sidewalks are heated, making it much safer for residents, shop-owners, and visitors.
For those wanting to hunker down and enjoy a longer stay in this wintery dreamland, Big Bear offers a choice of accommodations from rustic cabins to more lavish indulgences. It is the perfect winter weekend getaway from San Diego!
Some Tips Before You Go:
Check websites for closure information. This could be related to COVID-19 restrictions or severe winter storms.
Make sure to check weather and traffic conditions before heading into the mountains, and dress accordingly. San Diegans can leave 70-degrees and find freezing conditions at their destination. Layering is your best bet.
Bring chains as they are often required on certain roads or areas after heavy snowfall.
Have tools to clean off the top of your car if it gets covered in snow and ice. Cars with huge chunks of winter precipitation flying off the roof can be extremely dangerous to other drivers on the road.
Whether you’re in a state park or national forest, always take your trash out with you. The “leave no trace” practice protects the environment and wildlife for future enjoyment.
When hiking, make sure to have plenty of water and snacks. Even in the colder weather, you’re still burning calories, and the higher the elevation, the thinner and dryer the air can be.
Wherever your winter wanderlust takes you, have fun, and be safe.
Best Places to see Snow in San Diego was written by Noreen Kompanik for San Diego Explorer.