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22 Seriously Cool January Events in California

Celebrate winter California-style with film festivals, snowy getaways, and great dining deals

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Posted 2 years agoby Katrina Hunt

Who says January is sleepy? California embraces the new year with a deep selection of cool things to do, whether you want a balmy escape from winter or a world-class way to play in the snow.

Arguably, the biggest event of January is California Restaurant Month, during which 40 cities, towns, and regions host lineups of culinary events, including prix fixe deals that make it easy to experience the Golden State’s best restaurants and flavors. The start of the year is also peak time for some exciting cultural and outdoor attractions: like awards season in Hollywood, whale watching along the coast, and ideal sunny temps in the dessert. Here are 22 excellent ways to kick off the new decade in California:

Jan. 1: Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl, Pasadena

L.A. County’s Pasadena has been throwing this epic New Year’s Day party since 1890. Come watch the famed parade (whether you camp out or get grandstand tickets) or the Rose Bowl game, which this year pits the University of Oregon against the University of Wisconsin. Come to town a few days early for the leadup festivities, such as the Equestfest and a behind-the-scenes look at floats.

Jan. 2–13: Palm Springs International Film Festival

One way to celebrate Hollywood's high season is to attend this star-studded festival in Palm Springs and Cathedral City, showcasing 188 films (including lots of independent films and documentaries) from 81 countries. This year’s focus is on Italian cinema and international feature film Oscar submissions, and awards will go out to A-listers such as Laura Dern, Martin Scorsese, and Renee Zellweger. To sample the films, buy a six-pack of vouchers than can be exchanged for tickets to screenings.

Jan. 4–5: Alpenglow Lake Tahoe Backcountry Demo Day, Alpine Meadows

If you’ve ever wanted to try backcountry snow sports such as alpine touring, telemarking, or splitboarding, head to Alpine Meadows—which is known for its out-of-bounds terrain—for this well-known demo day. The event is free, but you will need to buy a lift ticket for admission.

It’s a great weekend to be at this dual resort, too. Saturday, Jan. 4, is also the first of Squaw Valley’s Winter Fireworks shows (running every Saturday night in January and February).

Begins Jan. 4: Rainforest Weekends, Santa Cruz

Just a few miles from the beach and boardwalk of Santa Cruz, you can check out huge gorgeous trees from the vintage cars of Roaring Camp Railroads. This seasonal route leaves from Felton and winds through the coastal redwood forest on Saturdays and Sundays through March 31.

Jan. 5: Golden Globes, Beverly Hills


Awards season kicks off this month in Hollywood, bringing with it increased chances to spot stars on a red carpet. The first chance is at the foreign-press-fueled Golden Globes at Beverly Hills’ Beverly Hilton, and then at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 19, held at downtown L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium.

Begins Jan. 5: Sunday Polo Games at Empire Polo Grounds, Indio

Coachella happens on these grounds every April, but during the winter months it’s a solid polo field. It’s a great deal to watch a match: At $20 a head you can watch games on Sundays and select Friday nights in February and March. Bring your own food for picnics or tailgating, or buy snacks on-site.

Begins Jan. 11: Lunar New Year Festivities

The Year of the Rat officially begins on Jan. 25, but parties and parades will start early and keep rolling all over California. Sea World San Diego (Jan. 11–Feb. 2), Disneyland Resort (Jan. 17–Feb. 9), and Universal Studios Hollywood (dates still TBD) all host celebrations, with seasonal menus, strolling characters, and live performances. Costa Mesa will hold its Vietnamese Tet Festival from Jan. 24–26.

Save the dates, meanwhile, for Feb. 1, when Los Angeles holds the 121st Golden Dragon Parade and Feb. 8, for San Francisco’s huge Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade.

Jan. 11–19: Napa Lighted Art Festival

Missing those holiday lights? Come to this free, open-air lighted art walk created by local and international artists at 13 locations in and around Downtown Napa. This year’s unique installations include light art, 3D video mapping projections and lighted sculptures; festivities include meet-and-greets with artists and tours of historic Napa buildings.

Jan. 15–25: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Hollywood’s A-listers love getaways to Santa Barbara, and this 11-day festival gives anyone extra incentive, with 200-plus films, tributes, and panels featuring directors, producers, and writers. This year’s honorees so far include Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, and Adam Driver.

Jan. 16–19: Big Sur Foragers Festival

Whether you love mushrooms or the sweeping views along Highway 1, this weekend on the Central Coast is gratifying. The festival includes dinners, guided foraging walks, and the popular “Fungus Face-Off” featuring culinary tastings paired with local wines and beers.

Jan. 16–19: Fog Fair, San Francisco

Contemporary art goes beyond framed works and sculpture at this festival located at Fort Mason. Check out the furniture and visual art and other design pieces affiliated with 48 art galleries and the SFMoma. The festival kicks off with a design-inspired breakfast called ArtBites. The whole month of January is a good time of cutting-edge art in San Francisco: The Fresh Festival, happening Friday and Saturday nights from Jan. 6–26, features experimental dance and music in the Mission District.

Jan. 17: Rise of the Resistance Debuts, Anaheim

The opening of Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be complete with the arrival of this new ride. The all-indoor attraction places you in a showdown between the good guys of the Resistance and the stormtroopers and other villains of The First Order, battling it out on a Star Destroyer from the movie series.

Jan. 17–20: Napa Truffle Festival

January means the beginning of Cabernet Season in Napa Valley, with events and dinners that celebrate the iconic red wine that pairs nicely with chilly winter days. It also goes well with truffles, which get the spotlight during truffle orchard tours (including truffle-sniffing-dog demos) at Robert Sinskey Vineyards and a special dinner at La Toque. Be sure to check out the Festival Marketplace (with more truffles and cooking demos) at Oxbow Public Market.

Jan. 18–19: Celebrate Petite Sirah, Lodi

This a great way to experience the excellent reds of the Central Valley’s Lodi Wine Country. Pick up your “passport” (either in person or register online) and you can enjoy free tastes of Petite Sirah wines at any of the 17 participating wineries. Visit at least three and you could win a whole case of Petit Sirah.

Jan. 18–19: 28th Annual Winter Wineland, Sonoma County

Taste Sonoma-grown limited production wines, new releases, or library wines along Northern Sonoma County’s Wine Road. Each participating winery will showcase a vintage, varietal, or vertical tasting that weekend. The weekend kicks off with a breakfast (one event without wine) with winemakers.

Jan. 22–26: 21st Annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway, Chico

During winter the Shasta Cascade’s Butte County becomes a serious magnet for snowbirds—waterfowl, raptors, and tens of thousands of snow geese. This five-day festival in Chico welcomes them with art exhibits, field trips, workshops, and plenty of food and wine.

Jan. 23–26: Farmers Insurance Open, San Diego

For more than 50 years now, this PGA tour tournament has been held at the scenic, bluffside Torrey Pines Golf Course, known for its feathery-needled pine trees. Check out the lineup of players and consider getting a great view by staying at the adjacent Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Jan. 24–Feb. 2: Crab Feast Mendocino

California Restaurant Month coincides nicely with high season for fresh crabs along the North Coast. This 10-day crab foodfest includes wine dinners with cioppino (the fish stew beloved by 19th-century San Francisco fishermen), as well as crab feeds, distillery tastings, and a crab cake cookoff.

Begins Jan. 25: Knott’s Peanuts Celebration, Buena Park

The Buena Park theme park salutes the Peanuts gang during winter weekends. Bring the kids to see Snoopy and his cohorts in live shows such as “Space Beagle” and take part in cartoon-sketching classes, a silent disco, and lots of meet-and-greets, from Lucy to Pig Pen. Runs weekends through March 1.

Jan. 25–26: Crab Feast Mendocino

Year round, the krill-and-anchovy-rich waters off Monterey Bay provide an ongoing buffet for whales, orcas, and dolphins, but ocean-mammal traffic sees a serious uptick during winter as migrating gray whales start passing through. This two-day festival around Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf features marine-life-themed talks, films, musical performances, and whale-watching tours.

Jan. 29–Feb. 1: Land Rover U.S. Freeski & Snowboard Grand Prix, Mammoth

Watch top-tier skiers and snowboarders compete in the Unbound Main Park and 22-foot halfpipe, in both slopestyle and halfpipe events. The competitions are held conveniently close to the resort’s Main Lodge, making this a very fan-friendly event.

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