The month of May typically kicks off the summer season in California, accompanied by the fanfare of festivals and new roller coasters. While the past year has been anything but typical, this May is happily bringing back both some familiar events as well as the reopening of more attractions around the Golden State.
Having said that, some classic May events will wait until next year while others have just been moved to later in 2021, such as Bottlerock Napa Valley (Sept. 3–5). But under the latest guidelines, the wine is starting to flow again at a few annual festivals, and more museums and theme parks are opening their gates, with additional reopenings expected soon. (As of press time, for instance, though the Getty Center has not announced an exact date, plans are in place to open in late May).
Some annual events are still happening virtually, too. San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers Virtual Run will last from May 16–June 2, with some proceeds benefitting 2020 wildfire victims. In Humboldt County, the annual Kinetic Grand Championship—the 50-mile race of wacky, people-powered vehicles—will be the Kinetic Sculpture in Place (May 29), where you can see videos of this year’s ingenious contraptions.
As you make plans to attend in-person attractions, remember to check relevant websites and local resources for the latest information, taking note of safety protocols such as advance bookings, distancing markers, and face-covering requirements. Then, check out these ways to start your summer early:
May 1: Monterey Bay Aquarium Reopens
The legendary Monterey aquarium opens to members on the first of the month, and then to the general public on May 15. While a few hands-on areas are closed for now, everything else is open, with one-way paths set up to help you explore both the Ocean’s Edge area (with the kelp forest, aviary, and penguins) or the jellies and deep-sea creatures of the Open Sea area. As with many attractions these days, you just need to buy dated tickets online and reserve your arrival time.
May 13–16: Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, Angels Camp
Inspired by the Mark Twain story “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County,” this Gold Country festival dates to 1893. While the availability of rides is still in question for this year’s event, the fair will include traditional treats, livestock exhibits, arena events, and the showstopping competition of jumping amphibians.
May 14–15: Lodi Row x Row Festival
The Lodi festival formerly known as ZinFest returns this year—and now takes place at Lodi Lake. Friday features a vintner’s dinner, while Saturday offers the Grand Tasting with wine tastings, food trucks, and cooking demos.
May 20–23: Paso Robles Wine Festival
This annual Central Coast wine festival is comprised of 150-plus area wineries that will host their own events this year—such as winemakers’ dinners or plein air painting sessions. Keep in mind that some Paso Robles wineries will be operating outdoors only, or at limited capacity. Leading up to the event, the festival’s Virtual Auction (May 10–16) includes rare wines, vertical collections, and large-format bottles.
May 21: Knott’s Berry Farm Reopens, Buena Park
The Buena Park theme park reopens May 6 for season-pass holders, and then May 21 to the public. As of press time, only California residents will be allowed admission, but check the park’s reopening page for the latest guidelines. Here’s another reason to celebrate: Through September 6, the park will be celebrating its 100th anniversary with special food, entertainment, and merchandise.
May 22: Gilroy Gardens Reopens, Gilroy
The Artichoke Dip spins again, along with the other agriculturally themed rides and attractions at this charming Gilroy theme park. For a limited time, kids and grownups will pay the same price for season passes. Check the calendar as you plan a trip: The park will operate mostly on weekends (with more open days during summer), and the regular season ends Sept. 26.
May 22: California’s Great America Reopens, Santa Clara
The rides of the Santa Clara theme park will start rolling this month, with the new South Bay Shores Waterpark—featuring six slides and a tide pool—opening at a not-yet-announced date. On weekends from July 17–August 1, nosh your way around the theme park at the Taste of Orleans event. This year’s season will end September 6.
May 26: The Broad Reopens, Los Angeles
The Downtown Los Angeles museum will reopen its doors to guests with reserved (but still free) tickets; you can start booking your spot online on May 12. The reopening will also bring a new exhibit, Invisible Sun, featuring works by artists including Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman, and El Anatsui.
May 27: LEGO Movie World Area Opens, Carlsbad
San Diego County’s LEGOLAND California will complete its April reopening with the debut of a highly anticipated new attraction. Based on the LEGO Movie series, the area is comprised of three new rides as well as play areas and distanced meet-and-greets with characters such as Emmet and UniKitty.
May 29: The Tech Interactive Reopens, San Jose
The crowd-pleasing technology museum in San Jose will welcome back visitors with a new exhibition, Solve for Earth, which explores how technology can help with environmental issues. A handful of permanent exhibits will be closed for now—including Birdly and the Cyber Detectives Mission Rooms—but the IMAX theater will be open with spacing protocols and extra cleaning.
May 29–30: McCloud Mushroom, Music & Wine Festival, McCloud
It’s mushroom-foraging season in this Siskiyou County town near Lassen Volcanic National Park. This annual festival showcases vendors of artisan crafts, mushroom workshops, and actual mushroom foraging with the "King of Mushrooms" Todd Spanier.