You can learn a lot about a place at its local festivals, and California’s North Coast is no exception. Consider the Kinetic Grand Championship, a cosmically silly three-day battle between human-powered works of art (imagine a speeding dragon made out of hubcaps) that race from Arcata to Ferndale. Even if you’re not a whimsical mechanical engineer at heart with a contraption in the race, you can still get a huge kick out of the competition as a spectator, cheering your favorites on and maybe even helping them get back on track when they inevitably wipe out.
If you’d like to explore Northern California cuisine, come fall when early rains usher in the Feast Mendocino festival, a celebration of such local specialties as mushrooms, wine, and beer. Don’t miss this opportunity to sample the elusive candy cap mushroom or go on a wine tasting tour of such area wineries as Goldeneye, Harmonique, and Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. Also on Feast Mendocino’s menu of activities: go on a lighthouse tour, have a meal on the Skunk Train, go horseback riding on the beach, or take an art walk in downtown Ukiah. Following that event by a few months is the Mendocino Crab & Wine Festival—also known as Winter Feast Mendocino—held in January, where you can wash down fresh-from-the-sea crab with local brews and wines.
Not all festivals in Mendocino revolve around food, however. In the spring, a series of Mendocino Whale Festivals—in Mendocino, Little, and Fort Bragg, consecutively—celebrate the annual migration of gray whales as they swim and spout along the North Coast on their way to Alaska. Book a spot at one of the whale-watching and wine-tasting shindigs, or simply take to the high ground and keep your eyes peeled (and don’t forget your binoculars).