Nowhere else in the U.S. offers the blend of sun, fun, and amazing sounds that California provides, and 2023 is shaping up to deliver another fantastic batch of outdoor music festivals. There’s something for everyone, no matter your preferred genre of music. This year’s festival highlights span the entire state, so you have plenty of opportunities to explore diverse destinations once the shows are over.
Coachella (April 14–23), Stagecoach (April 28–30)
What is there to say about Coachella that hasn’t already been said? Held at the Empire Polo Club in the Coachella Valley, the massive, two-weekend event has become the unofficial kick-off to the summer festival season, with celebrities, influencers, and fashion icons peppering the music-loving crowd gathered in the desert. The festival’s 2023 lineup covers a wide range of acts, from Bad Bunny and Gorillaz to Blackpink and Björk, and it promises to be yet another year of FOMO-fueling experiences. Indio also plays host to one of the largest (mostly) country music festivals in the world just a week later, when Stagecoach rolls into town April 28–30 with headliners Luke Bryan, Kane Brown, and Chris Stapleton, who will be sharing the bill with dozens of other country acts as well as ZZ Top, Nelly, Diplo and more.
While you’re around, make some time to explore more of what the region has to offer, whether it’s an excursion to the sunbaked beauty of Joshua Tree National Park or an aerial tram ride to the heights of Mount San Jacinto.
Note: As of press time, tickets for the first weekend of Coachella are sold out, but you still have two options: Join a waitlist for the sold-out first weekend or buy tickets for the second weekend, which are still available. Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that there are still plenty of ways to enjoy Coachella, with or without tickets.
Skull & Roses (April 19–23)
If the glitz and glamour of Coachella isn’t your speed, there are plenty of other great opportunities to usher in the festival season—especially if you’re a fan of jam bands. The Grateful Dead–inspired Skull & Roses festival pays tribute to the seminal, psychedelic rockers’ legacy with a host of tributes, cover bands, and similar acts across five tie-dyed days of music in sunny Ventura. This year’s festival hosts performances by Grateful Dead founding member Phil Lesh and celebrated cover band Dark Star Orchestra, and offers the perfect soundtrack to a trip that should also include some stops along the Ventura County Wine Trail.
BeachLife Festival (May 5–7)
What happens when you mix sand and surf with some of the hottest pop and rock music acts in the country? The answer looks a lot like BeachLife, which celebrates the Southern California lifestyle by assembling a list of high-profile performers including The Black Crowes, Gwen Stefani, and Modest Mouse for three days of live music on the beach. The festival’s proximity to Hollywood and the iconic Sunset Strip makes a lot of sense—and offers a great opportunity to star-gaze or explore some rock ‘n roll history—given the iconic entertainers taking the stage each year.
The chill, sun-and-fun vibe of this oceanfront festival extends to the attractions outside the venue, too. Prime surfing and volleyball destinations can be found on the laid-back Manhattan Beach, which offers plenty of opportunities for long walks in the sand. When hunger strikes, be sure to take advantage of the Ramen Trail in nearby Torrance, where you can find restaurants famous for their Japanese-style tonkatsu ramen.
Cruel World Festival (May 20)
Dig out your eyeliner and prepare to get swept away by new-wave nostalgia with this festival that celebrates that magical time when synthesizers and mixtapes defined music, and angsty rock offered an alternative to cheery pop hits. The second installment of Cruel World brings together ‘80s icons Billy Idol, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Adam Ant, among others, while also delivering Iggy Pop, Siouxsie's first North American performance in more than a decade, and the reunion of former Bauhaus members Love and Rockets. With the festival unfolding in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium, you’ll find yourself surrounded by history as you take a trip down a musical memory lane. Also at the Rose Bowl a week earlier is the Just Like Heaven Fest, a two-day indie rock event featuring MGMT, Hot Chip, M83, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
BottleRock (May 26–28)
Wine country hosts a top-tier lineup of musicians in this annual festival, which brings California mainstays Red Hot Chili Peppers to town along with Post Malone, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, The Smashing Pumpkins, Wu-Tang Clan, Dayglow, and more chart-topping performers. Typically offering one of the biggest and best lineups of popular acts on the West Coast, BottleRock also provides a great reason to enjoy everything the surrounding wine region has to offer. With several days of the festival already sold out, you can purchase tickets for the available days, add your name to the waitlist for any you missed, and start planning a wine tour. Whether you opt for a more traditional tour of Napa Valley and its world-famous Cabernets and Chardonnays, or a more unique exploration of wine country (by hot-air balloon or horseback, perhaps), a visit to Napa isn’t complete without a wine experience.
Lightning in a Bottle (May 24–29)
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Lightning in a Bottle blends electronic music, colorful crafts, fascinating symposiums, and eclectic culture into a six-day experiential event. While the camping-friendly festival draws on a rich tapestry of artistic and cultural influences for both its energetic musical performances and the myriad activities happening around the event, its location in Bakersfield also offers a great opportunity to learn why the city is regarded as the “Country Music Capital of the West Coast.” That tour should include a stop at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, where country music royalty gathers to celebrate the Bakersfield Sound—the seminal country music style popularized by Owens and Merle Haggard, among others.
Newport Beach Jazz Festival (June 2–4)
Jazz and R&B always have a home on the West Coast thanks to annual festivals in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and Monterey, and 2023 continues that trend with strong lineups at all three locales. The three-day event in Newport Beach is headlined by Grammy nominees KEM and Boney James, bringing a uniquely intimate musical experience to Orange County.
Beyond the festival, Newport Beach offers a charming mix of relaxed, oceanside vibes and luxurious sights, from high-end waterfront boutiques to boat cruises and the family-friendly Balboa Fun Zone. Orange County’s beautiful beaches attract surfers and sun lovers throughout the year, and the coast isn’t too far from the iconic Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (June 16–18)
California’s North Coast offers one of the most spectacular ranges of environments the state has to offer, so it’s fitting that this annual festival held in the Mendocino County Fairgrounds draws from a wide-ranging spectrum of world music. The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival returns in 2023 after a multi-year hiatus, and as in past years, it promises a mix of music from around the world, built around a foundation of celebrated roots-reggae performers. Of course, a trip to the festival pairs well with a visit to one of the region’s acclaimed vineyards, but you’ll want to make time for a few other local destinations, too, like the gorgeous Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens or the Point Arena Lighthouse.
Splash House Festival (June 9–11, Aug. 11–13, Aug. 18–20)
Combining sun and music in the desert with a set of beautiful pools makes a lot of sense, and yet, you won’t find any festivals quite like Splash House. Unfolding over three weekends, each three-day festival offers attendees the opportunity to dance the day away at three of Palm Springs’ hottest hotels (or more specifically, the hotels’ pools) to a mix of house and disco provided by an impressive lineup of visiting EDM artists. Guests are invited to splash it up at all three hotels—Saguaro Palm Springs, Margaritaville Palm Springs, and Renaissance Palm Springs—with shuttles offering transport between all three pools. And when you want to dry off, some shopping (and eating) along El Paseo, the region’s own “Rodeo Drive,” only adds to the overall experience.
Ascension Music Festival (July 28–30)
The most northern-reaching festival on this list, Ascension offers a truly unique experience due to its location at the base of Mount Shasta in California’s Shasta Cascade region. Mount. Shasta Ski Park hosts the festival, and along with live music from some of the hottest bands in NorCal across all three days, attendees can camp on-site, peruse a cornucopia of craft fairs—and craft beers—and even ride the chair lift up the mountain for spectacular views and plenty of trail-walking opportunities. A bit of extra time could also be spent exploring many of the other breathtaking natural attractions the region has to offer, from Lassen Volcanic National Park to North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve.
Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza (Aug. 3–6)
You don’t need to be an alpinist to appreciate the appeal of this festival nestled amid the mountains of the state’s scenic High Sierra region. The four-day celebration of blues music and locally brewed beer is the city of Mammoth Lakes’ biggest event of the year, and unfolds surrounded by the sort of natural, mountain-filled beauty that defines California’s northeastern border. This is the same region where you’ll find Mount Whitney, the tallest summit in the continental United States, after all.
Outside Lands (Aug. 11–13)
Outside Lands is celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer, and this year's star-studded lineup is worthy of the occasion. Kendrick Lamar, Odesza, Foo Fighters, Lana Del Rey, Janelle Monae, Megan Thee Stallion, and Interpol are just a few of the many big names who will perform at Golden Gate Park. The musical artists are the main draw, of course, but the culinary experiences offered are noteworthy too: Taste of the Bay Area will showcase more than 95 Bay Area restaurants while Wine Lands, Beer Lands, and Cocktail Magic will serve up plenty of potent potables. Want to go party like a rock star? The 3-Day Golden Gate Club pass will set you back about $5K, but the list of perks is off the hook.
Nocturnal Wonderland (Sept. 16–17)
Okay, so maybe you’ve experienced an outdoor electronic music festival. But have you experienced an outdoor EDM festival at night? Immersive, interactive light installations and luminescent art are a hallmark of Nocturnal Wonderland, a festival that warms up after the sun goes down. With on-site camping and no shortage of eye-catching attractions in addition to all of the music, this festival offers a unique treat for both the ears and the eyes.
Of course, there’s no shortage of things to see during the day in San Bernardino, too—from the quirky unofficial McDonald’s Museum and Wigwam Motel to the San Bernardino Mountains and the always-active streets of downtown Riverside.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (Sept. 29–Oct. 1)
The only festival in this list with free admission (yes, you read that correctly), Hardly Strictly Bluegrass offers exactly that: A mix of music across various genres, with a healthy dose of bluegrass and some classic Americana thrown in for good measure. The festival is held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and its rare, no-cost, non-commercial (as in, no corporate sponsors) status has made it a mainstay of the region’s music scene for more than two decades.
While you’re exploring San Francisco, a visit to the Mission District can check off all the boxes for great food, fine art, and unique shops and eateries you won’t find anywhere else. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art provides another opportunity to expand your horizons with a wide-ranging selection of exhibits certain to spark your senses.
Aftershock Festival (Oct. 5–8)
Electronic music and jam bands are fine and all, but if you really want to rock, put Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival on your calendar. Pantera, Guns N’ Roses, Queens of the Stone Age, Korn, and Megadeth are just a few of the head-banging acts scheduled to perform at this year’s four-day symphony of heavy metal and hard rock held in Discovery Park. The festival features a mix of classic and modern rockers, as well as up-and-coming acts looking to tear up the stage.
If you’re in the mood for a palette-cleanser, you can’t go wrong in the farm-to-fork capital of California, where all that abundant sun and fertile soil provide some of the freshest, most seasonal cuisine in the state. While exploring Sacramento, you can also get a taste of Gold Rush history, explore the mural-lined streets, taste local craft beer, or see the Capitol in person.
Power Trip (Oct. 6–8)
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a lineup of metal and hard-rock heavyweights to top this bill appearing in Greater Palm Springs. Over three days, headliners Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, and Tool will rock the Indio’s Empire Polo Club, and for fans, a potential case of tinnitus and “I was there” bragging rights will be secured. On-site camping and hotel packages will be available, as well as an array of food and activities.
While in Indio, take the opportunity to explore the myriad attractions this desert gem has to offer. For a dose of art and culture, visit the Coachella Valley History Museum or take a tour of Palm Springs’ mid-century modern architecture. Another option is to unwind at the natural hot springs of Desert Hot Springs or hit the green at one of the many worlds-class golf courses in the area.
Carlsbad Music Festival (November TBD 2023)
Assembling a spectrum of artists under the banner of “adventurous music,” the Carlsbad Music Festival blends chamber music with an eclectic batch of regional performers hailing from classical, experimental, Latin, folk, and other genres. The festival’s beachfront location makes it an especially enjoyable day, delivering some of the best weather the state has to offer. San Diego County is home to plenty of attractions, so leave some extra time to visit the family-friendly LEGOLAND California resort and theme park, engage in some retail therapy amid the shops of Carlsbad Village, or relax on the South Carlsbad State Beach.
While you’re in the music mood, consider these other great festivals: The sustainability-focused California Roots features Rebelution, Wu-Tang Clan, and Dirty Heads in Monterey, along with yoga and interactive art May 25–28. Head to San Francisco August 11–13 for Outside Lands, an outdoor festival held in Golden Gate Park that combines popular acts (Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar) with food, wine, beer, and art. Country fans, check out Golden Sky Festival to see Eric Church and Jon Pardi on October 14–15 in Sacramento.