Thanks in large part to the state’s reopening on June 15, summer seems to have truly begun in California. July kicks off with a flurry of Independence Day events all over the state, and the rest of the month brings the return of some iconic forms of summer fun.
Some top attractions are still in the process of welcoming back guests, while a number of fairs and festivals are back with gusto after last summer’s closure. (As always, check each event’s website before arriving to get the latest on any special protocols.) Here are 16 ways to make the most of the season around the Golden State.
July 1: Exploratorium Reopens
The famed interactive museum at San Francisco’s Pier 15 opens its doors after more than a year of closure. Capacity will be at 50 percent to begin with, and a few exhibits will remain closed for now—such as the Tactile Dome and several hands-on activities. But otherwise, the museum is ready for exploring and enjoying—including the ping-pong balls darting around a model of San Francisco made from toothpicks. The Exploratorium has some protocols similar to other California museums right now, and visitors are encouraged to book timed entry online.
July 2–4: Two Classics Return to Disneyland
Two more beloved parts of the Disneyland Resort experience return this month. First, the Disneyland Hotel welcomes back guests starting July 2 (get 25 percent off stays through October 3). Then, the nightly fireworks start up again on—perfect timing—July 4th, with a new display called Mickey’s Mix Magic.
July 5–Sept. 3: Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach
This beloved Orange County event featuring tableaux vivants—live recreations of famous works of art—returns this year with the theme of “Made in America: Trailblazing Artists and Their Stories.” The festival dates back to 1933 and prior to last year’s cancellation had only ever stopped during a few years of World War II. Tickets often sell out ahead of time but as of press time plenty of spots are still available.
July 7: Season Begins at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
The racetrack at Monterey County’s Laguna Seca Recreation Area begins its 2021 season with the GEICO Motorcycle MotoAmerica Superbike Speedfest (July 9-11) followed by the AHRMA Classic MotoFest of Monterey (July 16–18). To try cycling the 11-turn, 2.2-mile course yourself, join one of the Twilight Cycling Nights, which begin July 7. One highlight of the ride is the legendary Corkscrew, which drops 59 feet in just 450 feet of track.
July 9–18: San Diego Pride
San Diego always throws its LGBTQ+ party in July, and this year’s events include a mix of virtual and in-person events, from a 5K run and a roller skating night to rooftop parties at downtown’s Hotel Solamar.
July 16: Del Mar Racetrack Opening Day, Del Mar
Come watch the ponies race at this track, located just steps from the beach in the north San Diego County town of Del Mar. Opening Day offers serious people-watching, thanks to the many women donning fabulous hats. Racing season lasts through Labor Day, typically punctuated by concerts and local beer tastings. This year, just buy your seating package online ahead of time.
July 16–18: El Dorado Wines Great Out There
Pick up a 1-, 2-, or 3-day tasting pass to explore more than 20 wineries in this innovative Gold Country-meets-mountains wine region. Tastings often include food pairings, live music, art demonstrations, and historical tours. Passes start at just $20.
July 16-25: Festival Napa Valley
This 10-day wine-and-music festival will be held completely outdoors this year but will still combine both classical and timeless music. The lineup includes performers such as Jennifer Hudson and Cuban-American opera singer Lisette Oropesa performing at picturesque venues like Theorem Vineyards and the outdoor stage at Charles Krug.
July 21–Aug. 1: California MidState Fair, Paso Robles
This year’s state fair in Sacramento will be delayed until later in 2021—but you can still go to the “Mid-State” fair in San Luis Obispo County—a classic that dates back to 1946. Along with the rides, exhibits, and fair food, this year’s music headliners include Dwight Yoakam, Big & Rich, Pancho Barraza, and Little Big Town.
July 22-25: Taste Our Terroir, Livermore
You can easily fill the weekend sampling local wines (and beer) along the Painted Barrel Trail between San Francisco and Silicon Valley—a route dotted with artistically rendered wine barrels and more than 30 wineries. This year’s event includes both virtual and in-person activities featuring winemakers, food, and live music.
July 23–25: Comic-Con@Home, San Diego
This summer’s version of the annual pop culture festival will be virtual, including a panel about Snake Eyes, the upcoming G.I Joe origin film, as well as an online cosplay contest. Stay tuned, though—an in-person Comic-Con Special Edition is scheduled to take place in San Diego November 26-28.
July 23–Aug. 1: Bear Valley Music Festival, Bear Valley
This decades-old music festival, held halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, is the ultimate crowd pleaser: You’ll hear classical performances by the Bear Valley Orchestra as well as plenty of pop and rock. This year features Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, folk-bluegrass band Crawdad Republic, and Santana and Linda Ronstadt tribute bands.
July 23–Aug. 1: Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy
This beloved Central Coast festival got its start in 1979 with cooking competitions and tasty garlicky interpretations of barbecue, kettle corn, and the famous ice cream. This year’s two-weekend celebration will include a Drive-Thru Gourmet Alley as well as a Garlic Festival Golf Classic and a Farm-to-Table dinner at Fortino Winery.
July 24: Farm + Fish + Flowers, Half Moon Bay
This day-long event in the idyllic town of Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, offers behind-the-scenes tours of local farms, greenhouses, historic sites, and a working dairy farm—most of which aren’t usually open to the public. Buy one tour for $20, or a package of three tours for $40.
July 24-25: Castroville Artichoke Festival, Monterey County
The Monterey County festival, which debuted in 1959, returns this year with the theme “Thistle Be a Good Time.” You’ll find plenty of tasty ways to enjoy the local edible thistle flower: grilled, fried, or even in cupcakes. The weekend includes chef demos, field tours, kid-friendly activities, and lots of local wine and craft beer pairings.
July 26–Aug. 2: Lazy Bear Week, Guerneville
The LGBTQ+ summer party continues at this annual event and fundraiser in Sonoma County. This year’s all-outdoor festival includes pool parties, trivia nights, and mini golf paired with wine tastings. There are no day passes for the 2021 event—just pre-register for your pass online.