Summer has officially arrived in California, which means that the festivals are as good and as frequent as surfing waves. Whether your idea of a gratifying weekend (or whole week) means live music,wine tasting or plentiful fair food, you’ll find plenty of festive options in gorgeous settings around the Golden State. There are also a number of decidedly mellow festivals, from a yoga-and-meditation gathering in Squaw Valley to a classic music festival near Yosemite. Here are 16 ways to make your summer the best in the Golden State:
July 4: Statewide
Choose any region of California and you’ll find plenty of fireworks, but some have a twist: In San Diego County, LEGOLAND California salutes the nation’s birthday with its annual Red, White & Boom, featuring bedtime-friendly fireworks (at 8:30), while up in Pasadena, Americafest at the Rose Bowl offers American food, a motorcycle stunt show, and a huge fireworks display. In San Francisco, listen to The Golden Gate Park Band play patriotic “musical fireworks” at 1 p.m. at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park; by evening, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are good spots to watch the displays over San Francisco Bay.
All month: Bluesdays, Squaw Valley
For 10 years now, Tuesdays during the summer mean a free outdoor concert series at the Village at Squaw Valley and at High Camp. As the name suggests, the weekly lineup of musicians leans heavily toward the blues, but Tuesdays also bring upbeat sales on lodgings, starting at $99 a night.
July 6–8: Beerfest & Bluegrass Festival, Northstar
How does craft beer taste when brewed at high altitudes? Find out at this weekend of tasting at this Lake Tahoe resort near Truckee, complemented by mandolin-and-fiddle-fueled live music. This year’s festivities also include a fun run, craft soda tastings, and a yoga hike called Mountaintop Mantra.
July 7–Sept 1: Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach
This beloved Orange County event presents tableaux vivants ("living pictures"), which are ultra-detailed recreations of classical and contemporary works of art. Tickets can sell out well ahead of time, but as of presstime plenty of spots are still available.
July 13–27: Dine L.A. Restaurant Week
California Restaurant Month may be in January, but Los Angeles can’t wait a whole year for another round. This two-week event offers prix fixe specials at a long list of restaurants, such as 189 by Dominique Ansel, Mr Chow in Malibu, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air.
July 13–29: California State Fair, Sacramento
While this classic fair has plenty of blue-ribbon sheep, rabbits, and crafts on display, it also showcases a wide range of Golden State delights, including cooking demos, wine tastings, and craft beer competitions. This year’s live music headliners include Trace Adkins, The Spinners, and UB 40.
July 14–15: San Jose Obon Festival, San Jose
The Silicon Valley hub has one of the few Japantowns left in the nation, and this weekend it will celebrate a Buddhist Japanese holiday similar to the Day of the Dead—a joyful remembrance of departed ancestors, complete with 1,200 dancers, game booths, food booths, and taiko performances.
July 14: Gloria Ferrer Festival of Paella, Sonoma
The Gloria Ferrer winery in Sonoma is known for its bubblies—as well as its long love of Spanish Catalan culture. This festive evening features Flamenco dancing, saber demonstrations, and Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, along with two styles of paella, all paired with the winery’s award-winning wines.
July 18: Del Mar Racetrack Opening Day, Del Mar
Come watch the ponies race at this track, just steps from the beach in the north San Diego County town of Del Mar—but Opening Day has serious people-watching, too, thanks to the crowds of women wearing fabulous hats. Racing season lasts through Labor Day, punctuated by race days that include concerts and local beer tastings.
July 19–21: 15th Annual California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara
Taste the best of the Central Coast’s wines at this three-day event, where you can buy a pass for one event, or all three. One evening salutes Santa Barbara’s roots with local wines and flamenco music, while the next night highlights rare and reserve wines. The third day is a big beachside tasting with hundreds of California wines, regional craft beers, and local chefs.
July 19–22, Wanderlust Festival, Squaw Valley
Bask in summer in North Lake Tahoe at this five-day festival of bliss: yoga, meditation, workshops, and nature hikes by day, then organic cuisine and live music in the evening. This year's activities include HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and body-meets-yoga-mat painting.
July 19–22: Comic-Con International, San Diego
The annual confab has grown from a lovefest for comic book nerds to a launching pad for sci-fi films and the ultimate venue for cosplay. Even if you didn’t score a pass for this year, there are fun ways to enjoy the festival from all around downtown San Diego.
July 20–29: Festival Napa Valley
This 10-day festival combines both classical and timeless music (such as performances by violinist Joshua Bell or orchestral selections from West Side Story), paired with vintners luncheons and dinners at such wine country gems as Carneros Resort, Calistoga Ranch, and Castello di Amorosa.
July 20–August 5: Bear Valley Music Festival, Bear Valley
This 50-year-old music festival, located halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, is the ultimate crowd pleaser, learning toward classical pieces and show tunes (as performed by the Bear Valley Orchestra), but also including pop and country acts. This year features Pablo Cruise, jazz violinist Mads Tolling, and a wine tasting event accented with chamber music by the Thalea Quartet.
July 27–29: Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy
This beloved Central Coast festival has been running since 1979, with cooking competitions, garlic-braiding crafts, and its own queen. Come for the garlic-infused barbecue, cocktails, and the famous ice cream, but also check out the chef demos, including a kids’ cooking contest. This year’s big event, Sunday's Garlic Showdown of competing chefs, will be hosted by Iron Chef Michael Symon.
July 28: Farm + Fish + Flowers, Half Moon Bay
Formerly known as the Tour des Fleurs, this day-long event offers behind-the-scenes tours of local farms, greenhouses, historic sites, and a working dairy farm—most of which aren’t usually open to the public—in this idyllic town south of San Francisco. Buy a package of three tours for $30, then choose from options such as Root Down Farm—with pasture-raised chicken, ducks, and pigs—and Shelldance Orchid Gardens.