What is Fall like in Southern California versus Wisconsin?

I felt silly but determined. I was driving with my camera at the ready when a voice in my head screamed, “That one! That tree is so orange! Take a picture of that one!” At the time of this entry, I’ve been living in Wisconsin for less than one month, but I’m amazed just how different fall in Wisconsin feels from fall in Southern California.

Fall in So Cal

Growing up in So Cal, there wasn’t a significant change in wardrobe between summer and fall. Instead of t-shirts and jean shorts, we wear long sleeve t-shirts and jeans. It does get a little chillier at night, but we’re talking sweater to sweatshirt to “thick” sweatshirt. If you’re close enough to the ocean, it’s always “freezing” (not literally but dramatically) at night because there’s no humidity. A sweatshirt or jacket becomes a necessity starting around September, but it’s not because of the outdoors. It’s because of the indoors.

For some absurd reason, public buildings in So Cal keep the temperature indoors uncomfortably cold. Lecture halls. Restaurants. Office Buildings. Convention Centers. I have overheard every one of these places declared “colder than being outside”.  I don’t understand it, and I don’t know if this is an anomaly exclusive to So Cal. To me it seems the states that have real winters don’t have this problem.  With September comes a return to college, family outings, conventions, and other events that increase one’s exposure to these cold venues.

Trees in So Cal may or may not change colors depending on where you are. It’s hard to speak for all the cities in So Cal, but colorful trees weren’t a big part of my childhood in North Orange County (see map below for reference).

To me, finding trees that do change felt like finding a rainbow. Yes, they are out there, but you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Google Mpas of Orange County in relation to Los Angeles
FOR REFERENCE: This is Orange County. Please note its relation to Los Angeles.

The weather, the wardrobes, and the flora are all poor indications the seasons are changing. The biggest indication of Fall is the Halloween decorations and the traffic. When September and October roll around, the traffic on the 405 increases significantly. I used to drive from Long Beach to El Segundo every day for work (see map above). When school started back up, my commute would go from 60 to 75 minutes. During the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, it would increase to a maddening 90 minutes.

Thanks to the popularity of Knotts Scary Farm, the 405 isn’t the only place traffic increases exponentially. Beach Boulevard is a very popular street and a major exit off not one, not two, but FOUR DIFFERENT freeways! Since the main entrance to Knotts Berry/Scary Farm is on Beach Boulevard, you would be wise to avoid it at night. Once I was driving back to Huntington Beach from my family’s place in La Habra and I found myself stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I was thinking there was a major accident or some construction which closed a lane. I was two cities away from Buena Park, so it didn’t dawn on me until it was too late that the traffic was from the line of cars trying to get into Knotts.

Fall Traditions in So Cal

Some of these may be traditions nation-wide, but these are the traditions that come to mind when I think of Fall in So Cal:

  • Turkey Trot – A run of various distances the day of Thanksgiving (burn all your carbs before you eat them)
  • Dark Harbor – A spooky night aboard the Queen Mary
  • Halloween costumes that are basically lingerie (because sure, it is warm enough to go around naked)
  • Baseball playoffs!!!
  • Pumpkin choosing – it’s not really picking since the pumpkins are just sitting there, usually in the parking lot of a church or hardware store
  • The Tree of Thanks – My Mom has this tree upon which we hang foam leaves. On every leaf, we write things we are thankful for
  • The Wreath of hands – Many years ago, my mom had all her kids trace their hands on different colored pieces of foam, then she cut out the handprints and glued them together to make a wreath. Looking at how teeny tiny our hands were that year is a warm reminder of how much we’ve all grown.

Fall in Wisconsin

This will be my first fall in Wisconsin, so I am just beginning to experience it. Thus far people have told me I need to make sure I have a good jacket. Not just any jacket will do. There’s also piles of leaves as big as golf-carts! As a person who LOVES stepping on crunchy leaves, I am in heaven. In So Cal, people are happy when they have trees in their backyard (#treehouse). In Wiscoinsin, having a tree means having more yard work when fall comes.

I want to make the most of my first fall, andhere’s what I’ve got on my To Do list thus-far:

  • Leaf Peeping – from a kayak! The only thing more fun than admiring colorful leaves is doing it while exercising! (nope, I’m not being sarcastic here)
  • A MAIZE Maze! I’ve passed enough corn fields during my regular commute to know there’s got to be a corn maze around here somewhere. I cannot resist this (or the puns) an a-maizing maze of maize?!?
  • Football – it appears the great state of Wisconsin is really into football, which starts up in Fall. Apparently the whole state is into football, not just the neighborhoods around a pro stadium or a college with a football team. Since I grew up in Orange Country, neither the Oakland Raiders  (NorCal) nor the San Fran 49-ers (also Nor Cal) nor the San Diego Chargers (so south it’s almost Mexico) felt like “my team”.
  • Pumpkin picking – I’m sure there’s a place around here where I can actually see a pumpkin on a…vine(?) and actually pick the one I want


What are YOUR favorite fall traditions?



One comment

  1. OMG I truly experienced the “colder indoors than outdoors” at school during the summer semester. It was ridiculous!! I asked (and so did just about ever other student) “can we pleeeze turn down (or is it up?) the AC? Well no, the entire campus is controlled by the powers that be. Each classroom does not have a thermostat. Try to remember to wear long pants, socks and closed shoes AND bring a sweatshirt when it’s 92 degrees!!!


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