Is California the best state in the country to go leaf-peeping?

Although the colors will never be as wide-ranging as the fall foliage on display in New England, California has plenty of autumn leaves worth celebrating. "Few Californians know our state has the longest, most diverse, and - I believe - the most spectacular show of fall color in the nation, perhaps the world," proclaims John Poimirro, who runs the website californiafallcolor.com. It issues weekly blog updates with photographs showing the latest fall color conditions throughout the state.

"It's different than the East Coast," said Poimiroo. "We have the landscape, and they have the architecture." In California, there are mountain ranges and crystal clear blue lakes. The East Coast has beautiful villages and churches nestled within rolling hills of trees turning color.

LATEST UPDATE: Go now! Brilliant fall colors peak in Eastern Sierra

"In California, we can have intense mountainsides of colors, especially in the Eastern Sierra," said Poimiroo. Although California can't compete with whole forests of trees changing colors in New England, it's a lot easier to predict when and where the colors will show in California.

"That is because our color drops by elevation," said Poimiroo. The fall foliage line descends about 500 feet a week throughout the season, making it easy to predict where the best colors will be viewable. If you miss the peak colors back east, he explained, you are out of luck. In California, you can drive to a lower elevation.

"I think this is going to be a good season," said Poimiroo, who predicts this year's fall foliage forecast based on last winter's record rainfall that saturated the Sierra mountains. "There's a lot of water that has come down from the mountains, and continues to come down."

As for the timing for the leaves to change colors, he expects it to be a normal autumn with the forests in the mountains starting to turning color in late September through the middle of October. "We have gotten so used to drought, which causes the fall colors to be early," he added.

Mono, Plumas and Inyo counties are your best bets for changing fall colors of native California trees in the Sierra mountains.

"I really think that everybody who loves nature, and wants to see the forest at its best, wants to plan to go to the Eastern Sierra's Mono and Inyo counties when it's peaking," he said. "It's just breathtaking."

Poimiroo's best-of list starts with the aspen trees at Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierras that is usually one of the first regions to show autumn colors. The area is just west of the town of Bishop on US Highway 395 at an elevation above 9000 feet. This year peak conditions should start at the end of September and last into the first week of October. There are three forks to the creek (known as upper, middle and lower Bishop Creek) and it is possible to drive on paved roads to each of them.

The aspen trees in that area include a stunning mixture of pink, yellow, orange and lime green leaves. In particular, he recommends hiking on the Mount Whitney trail near the town of Lone Pine. "There is one section of it that is literally a thousand feet of orange, yellow, and red color that is out of this world."

Next on his list is the area around June Lake and Mammoth Lakes in Mono County, which has rugged granite canyons to contrast with golden-orange-crimson fall leaves.

He also recommends driving through the Carson Pass and Hope Valley along state Route 88 south of Tahoe to see the maples and aspens (plus, Yosemite Valley has fewer crowds in the fall).

The only locations that might be a disappointment this year are Martis Creek Meadow off Highway 267 and areas near Sorensen's resort on Highway 88, where the trees were affected by Aspen Blight. The affliction, caused by late-season rains, creates black marks and holes on the leaves.

By mid-to-late October, the Eastern Sierras should be almost past their peak conditions, and he recommends the Northern Sierras in Plumas County for its beautiful colors.

For a taste of New England style fall foliage, visit Nevada City in the Sierra foothills. The town has many sugar maples and liquidambar trees throughout its easily walkable historic downtown area.

Even after the leaves have fallen in the mountains, there are plenty of other opportunities to see fall colors in Northern California.

Poimiroo noted that California's Orchards, in particular, walnut, pistachio, almond, or apple trees, can be quite beautiful as well. They turn color in November. Wherever you go, he recommends combining your leaf-peeping with local events.

In coastal California, there is minimal natural fall color, so the best locations to see fall foliage are public gardens or arboretums. Poimiroo recommends Golden Gate Park at the Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Arboretum, or Tilden Park in Berkeley. "Many exotic trees [like the gingko Biloba and Acer palmatum] have been planted in these gardens, and that is what people should be looking for." Several Bay Area towns also have streets lined with trees that change color, including Danville, Palo Alto, San Rafael, and Campbell.

The Salinas River, a wildlife corridor running through the Central Coast Ranges south of Monterey, generally comes into color in November. The Santa Cruz mountains have some fall foliage along Highway 9 through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Further north, Ukiah has some foliage that rivals Vermont, and the sugar maple trees are amazing to see against a crystal clear blue sky in Mt. Shasta.

Finally, the vineyards of California are another great Bay Area option. Each vineyard has a different species and variety of grapes, and their leaves turn color at different times. That means if you make a trip to Wine Country from mid-October into mid-late November, you should not be disappointed. "And, of course, you get to add wine tasting with fall color viewing," added Poimiroo.

Click on the above slideshow for ideas on where to see the fall colors in Calfornia. Missed anywhere? Leave your suggestions in the comments below. For the most current fall foliage conditions in California, check californiafallcolor.com

_______________

Online Photo Editor Douglas Zimmerman oversees SFGATE's Instagram and covers the Bay Area soccer scene on SFGATE's Beautiful Blog. View his latest stories and send him news tips at [email protected].  Follow on Twitter @zimpix