English (US)English (US)
Places to Visit
Things To Do
Road Trips
Local Tips
Visit Native California

Travel Videos
Travel Guides
Welcome Centers


Near me

Rodeos in California

Rodeos in California

Experience an Old West tradition at these action-packed competitions across the Golden State

While California is better known for its major-league teams and such sports as surfing and beach volleyball, the Golden State is also a big-time player in the world of rodeo. With both amateur and leading professional rodeo events held annually throughout the state, this Old West tradition continues to thrive in contemporary California.

Thousands of Californians turn out every year for major Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) competitions, including the Clovis Rodeo, California Rodeo Salinas, and the Red Bluff Round-Up. Whether you’re an old hand at rodeo or just curious about the sport, attending one is an experience like no other. In addition to high-energy competitions across an assortment of events, a rodeo is a veritable fandango for the senses, with live music performances, equestrian parades, and plenty of good eating. (Don’t miss the barbecue cooked over red oak at the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo.)

Here's a look at where to see a live rodeo in California and how to get the most of attending a competition.

Saddle Up for Rodeo

Rodeo traces its roots to Spanish and Mexican ranching traditions. In fact, rodeo is a Spanish word that loosely translates as “round-up”—and the true pronunciation is ro-day-o.

The earliest rodeos were friendly competitions between vaqueros and cowboys who competed against their counterparts working at nearby ranches. As recounted on the Clovis Rodeo website, there’s a legend that the sport began when “one ranch said it had a horse that couldn’t be rode, and another ranch said they had a cowboy that couldn’t be thrown.”

From those humble origins, rodeo has evolved into a major and fast-growing sport. The individual competitions during a rodeo, both then and now, test the kinds of skills that cowboys typically need to use while working at a ranch: roping, riding, and wrestling. Broadly speaking, these competitions fall into two main categories.

In such timed events as tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping, calves and steers are given a head start out of the chute and cowboys are scored on how quickly they restrain and control the animals. Roughstock events include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding (rodeo’s classic event), and bull riding (the most dangerous), and scores are determined by a combination of the competitor’s performance and just how vigorously the animals buck, spin, and jump.

Cowboys aren’t the only competitors; cowgirls get in on the action too. Women compete against each other in several roping events, while barrel racing—a test of speed, agility, and the bond between horse and rider—is considered the most prestigious event.

California Rodeo Scene

California is home to several of the most venerable rodeo traditions in the country.

For more than 100 years, the last weekend in April has been the time to head to the Clovis Rodeo, and the Red Bluff Round-Up is the nation’s largest three-day rodeo. The California Rodeo Salinas is the biggest in the state and also regularly earns a spot in rankings of the country’s leading rodeos. And in 1988, the Redding Rodeo took its place in the sport’s history when Lane Frost became the first cowboy to ride the bull Red Rock, who was considered unrideable after throwing off 307 consecutive competitors.

The rodeo tradition even thrives in the state’s major metropolitan areas. You can experience Southern California’s ranching heritage at  Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in Orange County and during the Poway Rodeo in San Diego County. Every October, San Francisco’s historic Cow Palace lives up to its name when it hosts the Grand National Rodeo, Horse, and Stock Show, and while Livermore is best known these days for its outstanding wine country, the Livermore Rodeo boasts a reputation as “the world’s fastest rodeo.” That’s because the large number of chutes ensures almost non-stop action—all bucking, no waiting.

California is also a major center for the Mexican rodeo tradition known as charreada or charrería. It’s the official national sport of Mexico, and while some roping and riding events overlap with western-style rodeo, the charreada is known for its pageantry and contestants’ elaborate attire. As one participant told the Los Angeles Times, “Dressing as a charro is dressing up as Mexico. You’re wearing your culture.”

The most colorful and beautiful event at a charreada is the escaramuza charra, in which all-woman teams of eight precision riders dressed in flowing traditional outfits perform equestrian moves choreographed to music while riding sidesaddle.

The sport has continued to evolve and while there’s no question that rodeo is a rugged sport, both for humans and livestock alike, California rodeos are in the vanguard to protect the health and safety of animals. For example, the California Rodeo Salinas follows both state laws and a set of more than 70 regulations established by the PRCA— from staffing rodeos with on-site veterinarians to mandating the use of dull, unsharpened spurs.

The Golden State’s rich rodeo heritage is reflected in the fact that nearly 50 Californians have earned induction into the National Cowboy Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame. The honorees include such all-around champion cowboys as the Central Valley’s Clay Carr and the Santa Ynez Valley’s Leo Camarillo.

A native of Kingsburg, cowboy actor Slim Pickens (of Blazing Saddles fame) was inducted in 1986, and bronc rider Jesse Stahl, who lived in Salinas and became a legend after riding a bronco backwards at the city’s rodeo in 1912, was enshrined in 1979—only the second Black cowboy inductee. Clayton Biglow of Clements, winner of the 2019 bareback riding championship, five-time steer wrestling champ Luke Branquinho of Los Alamos, and 2016 All-Around Rookie of the Year Taylor Santos of Creston are among the athletes that have carried California’s rodeo tradition into the modern era.

California Winery

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up and get weekly travel inspiration and ideas

Subscribe to our Newsletter