Between harvest season, music and film fests, and holiday fun, fall is typically prime time for California festivals. This year, of course, some events have been cancelled due to COVID-19, but others have figured out ways to carry on anyway. Some organizers are offering outdoor events with built-in distancing (say, public art displays), while others are holding drive-thru or online events, so you can watch new films or dog-surfing contests from home.
The silver lining? This fall, you could potentially enjoy two or more fall events every weekend—and in different cities. Here are 23 ways to make the most of the season, listed in order of their starting dates:
Through Sept. 20: Wide Open Walls, Sacramento
See this year’s latest lineup of city murals as they debut one by one over social media. This year’s artists include Ana Valentina, 594evah, and Brandon Alxndr. Murals from past years of this street-art event still adorn the capitol city; to see them, create your own in-person walking tour.
Through Sept. 20: Sample the Sierra, South Lake Tahoe
Going virtual this year means that the farm-to-fork festival in South Lake Tahoe, typically just one day, will now last 10. Cooking demos, performances, and giveaways will pop up on social media, and if you’re in town you can enjoy special takeout and outdoor menus featuring regional ingredients as part of Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week (Sept. 10–20). On Sept. 12, watch (for a small fee) the live Sierra Chef Challenge, as local chefs work their magic with mystery ingredients.
Through Sept. 27: Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews, San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego is celebrating its partial reopening with this weekends-only opportunity. Eat from special barbecue-themed menus, sample local craft beers, and hobnob with the marine life with a reduced number of fellow visitors. The reservations-only event at the San Diego theme park includes a lanyard for each participant, so you can do touchless transactions as you get your food and drink. Plus, markers will help with distancing at the three open presentations and at the animal viewing exhibits, so you can still say hi to the dolphins, otters, flamingos, and more. Runs Fridays through Sundays.
Through Oct. 31: Oktoberfest Big Bear, Big Bear
This year’s stein-hoisting, music-enjoying, and log-sawing festivities will go on in the Inland Empire town—it’s just reservations-only this year. First launched by a pair of German immigrants in Big Bear Lake in 1969, this is one of the biggest Oktoberfests in the region.
Sept. 19: Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Haus Party, Chico
The Butte County–based brewery is making this annual festival virtual: Check its site to see where you can buy this year’s seasonal brews near you, then tune in on Sept. 19 for a free livestream concert so you can chicken-dance in your own space.
Sept. 19: Ventura County Farm Day
Usually Ventura's annual festival includes self-guided farm tours and farm-to-table wine dinners; this year you can watch two streamed films—one on how the Central Coast’s agriculture influences the world stage and another about developing farmworker safety in the COVID-19 era.
Sept. 26: Surf City Surf Dog, Huntington Beach
Surf City, USA’s premier event for dog surfing will go on as planned in 2020—just without in-person spectators. Watch pooches catch waves on the livestream event , and make a note to bring your own pooch here someday too—or to one of these 11 great dog beaches in California.
Sept. 26–Oct. 31: Peltzer Pumpkin Farm Fall Event, Temecula Valley
This year’s funfest at the Murrietta farm will lack carnival games, but there will still be pumpkins to pick, along with pony rides, the Peltzer Express train, and photo ops among the sunflowers and vintage farm equipment. It’s also a short hop to the nearby Peltzer Winery, which offers a “Witch’s Brew” sangria this time of year.
Starting in October: Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience, L.A.
Scratch your itch for seasonal haunted houses with this drive-thru experience in downtown Los Angeles, created in part by Netflix for its Stranger Things fans. Soak up the 1980s vibes while you drive in and then safely park amid sets from the series, as characters and creatures interact outside your car (you get full sound from your smart phone). Book your day and time online—slots have been filling fast, but dates are available into 2021.
Oct. 1–31: Nights of the Jack, Calabasas
This annual Halloween event in Los Angeles County’s Conejo Valley is going drive-thru-style this year. During the evening, cruise through King Gillette Ranch, where the trail is illuminated by thousands of jack o’lanterns. During the daylight hours, and in any season, visit the Santa Monica Mountains park (named after the razor magnate who once owned the property) for scenic hiking and biking.
Oct. 1–31: Cambria’s Scarecrow Festival
Here’s a good excuse to stroll around this idyllic town in Highway 1: Each October, hundreds of scarecrows take up residence around Cambria’s East and West Villages, and Moonstone Beach. Some are seasonally themed (say, dressed as a headless horseman) while others tip a straw hat to the local cycling community. Keep walking into San Simeon and you’ll notice that the scarecrows look distinctly like zombies.
Select dates in October: Halloween Moonlight Steam Train Rides, Fish Camp
Near the southern entrance of the national park in Mariposa County, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers this safely distanced, Halloween season event with a BBQ dinner, trick-or-treating, and an evening train ride on the narrow gauge rails through Sierra National Forest, with a stop for a campfire and a ghost story.
Oct. 3–4: Berkeley #Unbound
Alice Waters, W. Kamau Bell, and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr are just a few of the notables who will participate at this online installment of Berkeley's Bay Area Book Festival. October 3 will feature a ticketed keynote speaker, while events on Oct. 4 will be free.
Oct. 4–6: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco
As the name promises, the musical fare at this annual music fest in Golden Gate Park doesn’t limit itself to the mandolin and banjo, but encompasses blues, rock, country, Dixieland, and zydeco. This year’s all-streaming lineup includes Alison Brown, Yola, John Doe, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Sierra Farrell.
We sure wish we could get our hands on these Lobster Fries from Sharky’s Fish Fry on this Fair Food FRYday! Try saying that five times fast! ? - While you can’t get it today, you can grab yourself some at our Drive-Thru Eats on Fri, 10/9 through Sun, 10/18 at the Fresno Fairgrounds! Weekday hours are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and weekend hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. This is a cashless only event; debit or credit cards accepted. Masks will be required for Fairgoers who are ordering and/or receiving food. Persons in the vehicle must be of the same household. For more details visit our website at www.FresnoFair.com. . . #2020BFF #BigFresnoFair #FresnoFair #FresnoFairgrounds #BigTimesAreBack #WeAreHere #FairStrong #StayHealthyHappyHopeful #FairFoodFriday #DriveThruEats
Oct. 9–18: Big Fresno Fair’s Drive-Thru Eats
Some events at Fresno's annual fair will be online this year, such as a Virtual Livestock Auction and a Virtual Competitive Exhibits Show. But you can also get your fair-food fix in person, with a drive-thru lineup of fried delights—plus live entertainment while you wait in your car.
October: Newport Wine & Food Festival
This year’s version of the posh Newport Beach foodfest combines virtual offerings—online wine tastings and chef demos—with bespoke, in-person chef or sommelier events that you can book on your patio or in your home.
Oct. 8–18: Mill Valley Film Festival
The low-key film festival based in Marin County is known for showcasing future Oscar winners. This year’s films will be announced during September (one entry is Blithe Spirit, with Judi Dench and Dan Stevens), then shown either online or at regional drive-in theaters, such as the one in the East Bay town of Concord.
Oct. 10: Corning Olive Festival
Olive trees cover more than 13 square miles in Tehama County, the Shasta Cascade home of this festival that dates back to 1947. Come to Corning's Community Park to sample the savory pitted fruit, along with its accompanying oils and other products.
Oct. 10: McCloud Apple Harvest Festival
It’s the sixth year for this classic fall festival in the charming Shasta Cascade town. The outdoor festivities, which will run on Main Street from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., include a scarecrow competition and apple pie contest.
Oct. 31: Crowning the Pumpkin King: The Building of a Disney 'Nightmare', The Walt Disney Family Museum
Celebrate Halloween by watching this Zoom-style panel chat (1 p.m. PT) hosted by the San Francisco museum. Artists and creators from 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will discuss their memories of making the animated masterpiece with director Tim Burton.
Nov. 5–8: Laguna Art Museum’s Art & Nature Festival
This annual event of special exhibitions and commissioned works in Laguna Beach always focuses on art’s connection to the natural world. This year, that theme is even more resonant since the works will all be on display outdoors, and admission is free.
Nov. 5–8: Palm Springs Pride
While most cities do their annual pride events in June, this desert town has always celebrated its LGBT community in the fall. This year’s events go mostly online with a virtual 5K and a big flag unfurling, but in Palm Springs itself, homes and businesses are invited to “light up the night” each evening with pink or rainbow lights to show their pride.
Nov. 13–15: California Swan Festival, Yuba City
Migratory season means more than 50 million birds are making their way along the Pacific Flyway route in the Yuba-Sutter area, 45 miles north of Sacramento. This all-outdoor festival, with its exhibits and walking tours, is a great chance to see some of those birds—including gorgeous tundra swans, which winter in the area’s rice fields.
Note: Check with individual events for more information on schedules and changes. For more ways to be a respectful traveler in California, visit our Responsible Travel Hub, which includes helpful Travel Updates and information to help you plan ahead.