Spring is around the corner and the energy is palpable around the Golden State. Ski season is still thriving, both in terms of snowfall and parties (just ask the folks in Tahoe City, who celebrate this sweet spot of the season each year at its Mardi Gras–esque Snowfest). But it’s also a great time for wine and food festivals—there are two great barrel-tasting events in Wine County, and two creative foodfests at theme parks. Whether you want to nosh, smell flowers, or watch elite athletes in action, here are 25 ways to kick off your spring in California.
Explore Silicon Valley’s non-tech accomplishments in this monthly salute to the local wines. Choose from 32 wineries offering tastings—some have small bites and live music—and your Passport book also gets you discounts at other Silicon Valley restaurants, hotels, and attractions.
Through Mar. 10: Tahoe City Snowfest
This “Mountain Mardi Gras” was launched in the early 1980s to prove how good the snow around here can be in March. See for yourself on the nearby slopes, but make time for the Snow Queen parade, the pet costume contest, and the many events going on in the area’s festive bars and restaurants.
Starts Mar. 1: Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, Anaheim
Sure, it may be a small world, but the tastings are wide and varied at this foodfest in the Disneyland Resort theme park, with culinary demonstrations, junior-chef cooking experiences, and a lots of kiosks offering small plates created with California-grown ingredients. Come on Sundays for a pastry-making demonstrations, or check dates for the wine, beer and mixology seminars. Runs through April 23.
Mar. 1–3: Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, Death Valley National Park
The International Dark-Sky Association has designated the national park a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park—the highest rating of darkness—meaning that this three-day festival has rich opportunities for stargazing. During the day, make the most of the guided hikes, ranger talks, family programming, and planetarium programs. Evenings bring activities such as night sky photography programs and a star party; on Saturday night, look through telescopes with the Riverside Astronomical Society.
Mar. 1–10: Annual Barrel Tasting, Healdsburg
This annual double weekend event along Wine Road offers the chance to sample the best wines of Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys straight from the barrel, and chat with winemakers. Since this is an event about wine, and not nibbles, the event organizers encourage you to BYOPB (bring your own picnic basket).
Mar. 2–3: Mendocino Whale Festivals, Mendocino County
It’s high season for whale watching along the North Coast. The lineup of whale weekends begins on Mar. 2–3 with the Mendocino Whale Festival, followed by Little River Whale Festival and the Fort Bragg Whales Festival (Mar. 16–17). All three weekends have their own combinations of whale-watching tours and hikes, along with sea kayaking events, talks, and lots of chowder, paired with local wine and beer.
Mar. 2–3 and 9–10: Dana Point Festival of Whales
The quiet waters off the coast of the Orange County town of Dana Point attracts the big mammals year around. This time of year, though, there are enough migrating grey whales in the distance to merit two weekends of fun, including talks about whales, a parade, stand-up-paddle clinics, a chowder cook-off, and more.
Mar. 4–17: BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells
This top-tier tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, about 15 miles from Palm Springs, gets you rivetingly close to the world’s best players as they duke it out under the desert sun. This year’s players include Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Mar. 6–9: Toyota US Snowboard & Freeski Grand Prix, Mammoth Mountain
Watch elite skiers and snowboarders compete in the Unbound Main Park and 22-foot halfpipe in the final slopestyle and halfpipe events of the season. It’s a great way to see stars who regularly train in Mammoth, like Chloe Kim, Judd Henkes, Brock Crouch, Maddie Mastro, and Josh Bowman.
Mar. 8: ArtNight, Pasadena
For one evening, Pasadena’s solid inventory of art museums and performance spaces—including the Norton Simon Museum, KidSpace Children’s Museum, and the art-and-crafts masterpiece Gamble House—open up their doors for free. The biannual art celebration includes shuttle buses and an also-impressive selection of food trucks, like local favorites Pie ’n Burger and the cupcakes of Dreamy Creations.
Mar. 8–9: The Race of Gentlemen, Santa Barbara
This Santa Barbara drag race event started in 1949 at the Goleta airport and has continued in some form ever since—one year James Dean was even a competitor. Today, watch the pre-1947 hot rods and tank-shift motorcycles race down the city’s Cabrillo Boulevard.
Starts Mar. 10: Butterfly Jungle, Escondido
Behold more than 10,000 butterflies inside a tropical greenhouse during this roughly 3-week-long event at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the rambling sister property of the famed San Diego Zoo. Take one of the Butterflies and Friends Behind-the-Scenes tours, or enjoy one of the butterfly-themed breakfasts. Runs through April 15.
Mar. 13–17: Cirque du Soleil: Crystal, Ontario
The Citizens Business Bank Arena, in the Inland Empire town of Ontario, welcomes Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever ice show, which features synchronized and “extreme” skating, along with the traditional trapeze and aerial feats seen in other Cirque du Soleil shows.
Mar. 14–17: Yountville Live, Napa Valley
Enjoy Wine County cuisine against a backdrop of mellow singer-songwriters at this annual festival in Napa Valley. This year’s headliners include musical acts Anderson East and Drew Holcomb as well as culinary stars Chris Cosentino, of San Francisco’s Cockscomb and Timothy Hollingsworth of L.A.’s Otium.
Mar. 15–17: 74th Santa Barbara International Orchid Festival, Santa Barbara
Horticulture meets art at this acclaimed flower show in Santa Barbara County. Stroll through the garden-sized exhibits of flowers and make your own picks for which orchid will win the Grand Champion Cymbidium.
Mar. 15–24: PaleyFest, Hollywood
Now that movie high season is over, it’s time to get back to some serious TV watching. This weeklong event at the Dolby Theatre, sponsored by the Paley Center for Media, is the perfect gathering for TV nerds: screenings of new shows and meet-and-greets with stars. This year’s lineup includes This Is Us, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an evening with Stephen Colbert, and a 10-year reunion of the Parks and Recreation cast.
Mar. 16: 2nd Annual Arbor Day Festival, Oroville
Bask in the shade of the trees of Butte County’s Oroville Botanical Gardens, watch the TreeCircus (including the feats of an expert climber) and check out the tree-hugger games and booths. Stay in the area for the evening: In nearby Chico, the Rocking for Paradise Relief concert will benefit folks impacted by the recent Camp Fire wildfire.
Mar. 16–23: El Paseo Fashion Week, Palm Desert
It’s the biggest annual fashion show on the West Coast, with a week-plus of trunk shows, cocktail receptions, and fashion-star-sightings, all in tents along Palm Springs area’s luxury magnet The Gardens on El Paseo.
Mar. 17: AutoClub 400, Fontana
This boisterous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend is a five-wide race event, and the only NASCAR race in Southern California. The action kicks off Friday on qualifying day, with NASCAR drivers competing for the top starting position; the weekend also includes live music, great food, and Monster Energy stunt shows.
Mar. 19: Return of the Swallows Celebration, San Juan Capistrano
Legend has long had it that flocks of the birds come back to nest on this day each year at this Spanish mission in Orange County. While you have a good chance of seeing some birds around here this time of year, you can definitely count on the party to welcome the swallows, which includes mariachis, flamenco dancing and a re-telling of the story around the swallows.
Mar. 23–24: 11th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend, Livermore
You can easily fill the weekend trying local wines (and beer) along the Painted Barrel Trail, located between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Each day starts with brunches, and your ticket gets you access to more than 30 wineries offering tastings of young wines still in development.
Mar. 23–24: California Artisan Cheese Festival, Santa Rosa
This Northern California area has a long heritage of dairy cows and creameries, so it’s an excellent locale for tasting world-class cheeses, like the blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company or the Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery. The weekend includes guided tours of local farms and cheese-making facilities; lectures on cheese-and-wine (or beer and cider), cooking demos, and lots of chances to nibble at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
Mar. 29–31: WonderCon, Anaheim
Break out your best cosplay for this sister of San Diego’s famed Comic-Con, held in Orange County, which covers the same genres—comics, movies, TV, and animation—with featured artists, writers, and more. Best of all, as of press time badges are still available.
Mar. 29–31: 5th Annual Winter Wondergrass Tahoe, Squaw Valley
Snow season is still booming and it’s hard to argue with this fabulous take on après-ski: three days of bluegrass/acoustic roots music on four stages, and a collection of area craft breweries offering tastings. This year's musical headliners are Greensky Bluegrass, Tramples by Turtles, and Leftover Salmon.
Begins Mar. 29: Knott’s Boysenberry Festival, Knott’s Berry Farm
Celebrate the origins of this Buena Park theme park: the hybrid berry that tastes great in pies and cakes, but also gives zing to savory dishes, from salsa to barbecue and more. Your admission to the festival gives you samples at tasting stations scattered amidst the park's rides and shows. Runs through April 28.