Here's a regional leaf peeper's guide to California, culled from recommendations from both arboreal and tourism experts:

EASTERN SIERRA

This region boasts "absolutely the best color in California, hands down," says John Poimiroo of www.californiafallcolor.com. "It's the combination of brilliant color and dramatic landscape that makes the Eastern Sierra so breathtaking." An outdoor recreation website, www.gorp.com, has backed up that view, once ranking this area second in the nation. Color will peak soon at the 8,500- to 9,000-foot elevation and in the next couple of weeks throughout Mono and Inyo counties. Look for quaking aspen in shades of red, orange, gold, yellow and lime, plus the golds and yellows of cottonwood, willow, water birch, creek dogwood and rabbitbrush.

YOSEMITE: The leaves of a black oak tree that have turned bright orange frame Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park. (John Poimiroo)
YOSEMITE: The leaves of a black oak tree that have turned bright orange frame Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park. (John Poimiroo)

HIGH SIERRA

In Plumas County, plan on stopping frequently to ooh and aah over the aspens, dogwoods, cottonwoods, and bigleaf and silver maples. Prime spots include Highways 36, 70 and 89. Look for ruby Indian rhubarb spreading its wide leaves near Nelson Creek on the way to La Porte, and yellow aspen, golden bigleaf maple and orangy-red mountain ash in the woods. For frequent updates on color, click on the "Awesome Autumn" report on the tourism and recreation council's site, http://plumascounty.org, which is edited by Karen Moritz, a local tourism specialist.

SHASTA-CASCADE

In Shasta County, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, north of Highway 299, will be awash in burgundy and yellow as the oaks change color. Also, check out the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, which starts at Lake Almanor in the south, then runs through Shasta and up to Oregon.

LAKE TAHOE REGION, YOSEMITE

South of Lake Tahoe, in the Hope Valley region where Highways 88 and 89 converge, aspen groves, willows and cottonwood flourish. In Yosemite, look for Pacific dogwoods in red, pink and yellow, bigleaf maples in yellow and gold, and black oaks in deep orange, from mid-October until early November.

CALAVERAS BIG TREES STATE PARK

Amid the giant sequoias, visitors can see dogwoods in red and bigleaf maples transitioning to yellow and gold along the north grove and south grove trails. Farther north, aspens can be seen along the highway. Get there on Highway 4, four miles northeast of Arnold.

HENRY W. COE STATE PARK

Look for bigleaf maples turning bright yellow, and black oaks dressed with deep orange leaves, Poimiroo says. Madrone trees can sprout reddish-orange berries, with trunks in brownish orange. Poison oak turns a flaming red -- a lovely shade to gaze at, but still dangerous to touch. The park is located on East Dunne Avenue in Morgan Hill, off Highway 101.

BUTANO STATE PARK

Old-grove redwoods provide a striking evergreen contrast to changing colors of California sycamore (chartreuse), bigleaf maple (yellow), willows (golden) and poison oak (crimson) with vines up to 30 feet. Maple is beginning its swing from yellow to gold; willows are more likely to change in December and January. The park is off Highway 1, southeast of Pescadero.

WINE COUNTRY

The seasonal crush isn't the only reason to make an autumn trip to the Wine Country of Napa or Sonoma counties. "About harvest time," Poimiroo says, "the vineyards begin to glow with tints of burgundy, crimson, orange, yellow and lime, as grape leaves turn color." You can see the vineyards change color in Santa Clara and Monterey counties, too. Prime time should be mid-October to early November.

URBAN PARKS AND MORE

For exotic (non-native) beauty, you can find lovely displays of fall color at Filoli in Woodside, the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, Land Park in Sacramento and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, Poimiroo says.

-- Linda Zavoral