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September 2021 Events in California

Raise your glass to the end of summer with these festivals for wine, farms, and zombies

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In any year, September is a peak time for weekend festivals, whether you want to bid farewell to summer, welcome autumn, or make the most of the harvest season. This year, that festival energy is stronger than ever as several beloved events return for the first time since 2019.

Of course, it’s important to check the event/attraction’s website for any special protocols. Some bigger-capacity events require that festivalgoers show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Face coverings are still mandatory in some situations and several events are going cashless as much as possible. Here are more than two dozen events to consider.

Throughout September: California Wine Month

This monthlong celebration returns with 60 events across California’s many wine regions, including in-person tastings, vineyard hikes, dinners, virtual tastings, and tours. Check the schedule of events and choose your favorite ways to celebrate California’s most famous crop.

Sept. 3: Mingei International Museum Reopens, San Diego

This acclaimed folk art museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park reopens after a three-year renovation that includes a new theater, a café, and reimagined spaces. Keep an eye out for the Dale Chihuly glass chandelier in the building’s belltower, which is being utilized for the first time.

Sept. 3–5: BottleRock Napa Valley, Napa

Usually held over Memorial Day Weekend, this festival showcasing wine, local cuisine, and rock ‘n’ roll is making its comeback on Labor Day Weekend. Headliners include Chris Stapleton, Guns N’ Roses, and Foo Fighters, and some passes remain available.

Starting Sept. 9: Halloween Begins at the Theme Parks

The jack ’o lanterns and zombies start coming out this month at theme parks across the state. On Sept. 9, Disneyland Resort kicks off its all-ages-friendly Oogie Boogie Bash, while Universal Studios Hollywood debuts its famously scary Halloween Horror Nights. (Look out for the Bride of Frankenstein and a maze inspired by The Exorcist). California’s two Six Flags locations launch their Fright Fests this month, too, at Magic Mountain (Sept. 11) and Discovery Kingdom (Sept. 25). In Buena Park, Knotts Scary Farm begins Sept. 16, and Sea World San Diego will debut its crazy-clown-and-zombie-fueled Howl O’ Scream starting Sept. 17. All these events run on select dates (mostly weekends) though Oct. 31.

Sept. 9–12: Burbank International Film Festival

The entertainment-industry town of Burbank stages most of its screenings, tributes, and panels at the easy-access AMC Burbank 16. This year’s 180 films include the thriller Riders of Justice with Mads Mikkelson, and Acting the First Six Lessons, starring Beau Bridges and directed by his daughter Emily Bridges.

Sept. 10–12: Maritime Festival, Dana Point

Dana Point—the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas—embraces its maritime history at this annual festival that used to be called the Tall Ships Festival. Come see the historic tall ships, watch cannon battles, and enjoy mermaid breakfasts and a beer garden.

Sept. 10–12: SoCal BeachLife Festival, Redondo Beach

The Los Angeles County beach town is bringing back this weekend music festival that embraces a sand-and-surf mindset. Headliners include Jane’s Addiction, Cage the Elephant, Counting Crows, and Ziggy and Stephen Marley, along with performances by Sugar Ray, Paris Jackson, and Men at Work.

Sept. 11: Oktberfest Big Bear Begins, Big Bear

First launched in 1969 by a pair of German immigrants in Big Bear Lake, this series of weekend parties in the San Bernardino Mountains is still one of the biggest German festivals on the West Coast. This year’s festivities include live music, dancing, and contests (such as log-sawing and beer-stein-holding), and will take place both indoors and outdoors. Runs on select dates through Nov. 7.

Sept. 11–12: 12th San Diego Spirits Festival

Taste new and unique cocktails showcasing about 60 brands of whiskey, vodka, tequila, and more (including San Diego distiller Cutwater Spirits) at this two-day event at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier. Alongside the tastings, watch samba and belly dancers or listen to live 1980s music on the pier.

Sept. 17–18: Sacramento Farm-to-Fork Street Festival

Sacramento celebrates its status as Farm-to-Fork Capital with this mile-long (and free-admission) taste-fest along the Capitol Mall. Watch chef demos, taste local wine and craft beer, and listen to live music.

Sept. 17–19: LEGO VIDIYO Music Fest, LEGOLAND California

The Carlsbad theme park is debuting a new celebration this year—a weekend of music and dance parties helmed by D.J. L.L.A.M.A., the hoofed main character from the LEGO VIDIYO series. Come for games, prize competitions, and sing-alongs.

Sept. 18: Santa Barbara County Farm Day

Tour farms, meet growers, and check out the livestock and produce at this free event that celebrates Santa Barbara County’s farm-rich Santa Maria Valley. The dozen-plus participants, nicely charted on a map, include baby-vegetable grower Babé Farms and the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery.

Sept. 18–19: Colfax Railroad Days

Back in the 19th century, the Placer County town of Colfax played a big part in the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. This annual festival celebrates that heritage through Old West entertainment, model railroad displays, and tours of Union Pacific engines. Browse the street-fair area for food and drink, including craft beer from Auburn’s Knee Deep Brewing

Sept. 18–26: Open Studios Napa Valley

Experience the work of more than 50 artists during self-guided tours of Napa Valley studios. Over the course of two weekends, these open houses offer the chance to meet artists, watch demonstrations, and buy locally made pieces. Check out the online catalog of works on display.

Sept. 19: Fancy Hat Tea Train Begins, West Sacramento

The historic River Fox Train, which runs themed rides in Yolo County, is introducing a new two-hour excursion with a High Tea Luncheon, bubbly, and live music. Top tip: Be sure to wear your most fabulous chapeau for a chance to win the Best Hat Contest.

Sept. 20–26: US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach

September 20 is California Surfing Day—a recognition of the official state sport—and therefore the perfect day to kick off this competition among the world’s best surfers, at Huntington City Beach. (Keep tabs on the schedule of events, which was still in the works at press time). Celebrate the day by watching the experts, or by planning your own surfing getaway: Check out our A-to-Z Guide to Surf Culture, tips on learning the sport, and 11 awesome surfing spots in California.

Sept. 23–26: FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, Big Bear

This open-class downhill race returns to Snow Summit Bike Park as the last stop in this year’s US Downhill National Series. Pro-class racers will compete for cash prizes, but there are also amateur contests and a US Open NextGen Youth Downhill, which gives kids the chance to race a legit downhill course.

Sept. 24–26: Monterey Jazz Festival

The world’s longest-running jazz fest returns to Monterey County this year, albeit at reduced capacity. The lineup is full, though, thanks to acts such as Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Pat Metheny Side-Eye, Las Cafeteras, Miho Hazama, and the Next Generation Women in Jazz Combo.

Sept. 24–Oct. 2: Ohana Festival, Dana Point

The work “ohana” means “family” in Hawaiian, and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder created this festival at Doheny State Beach to feature his favorite musicians. Besides Vedder and Pearl Jam, headliners on the opening weekend include Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket, Brandi Carlisle, and the Black Pumas. The second weekend features Beck as well as encore performances from Carlisle and Pearl Jam.

Sept. 25: California Nut Festival, Durham

Sample the bounty of nuts that grow in Butte County—including almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios—along with nut-inspired dishes created by local restaurants. While you explore the historic Patrick Ranch Museum grounds, chat with local farmers, learn about nut farming, and listen to live music. You can make a bigger day of it by also stopping in at the nearby Oroville Salmon Festival, which includes a street festival and a 3K Salmon Dash, celebrating the local fishery.

Sept. 25: Surf City Surf Dog, Huntington Beach

On the heels of California Surfing Day, come to Surf City USA to watch this premier dog surfing event. Register your own dog to compete, or just bring her along to pick up pointers. Even if you can’t come in person, you can browse the online store.

Sept. 25–26: Cotati Accordion Festival

The longtime festival known as the “Woodstock of the Accordion World” returns with its mix of polka, zydeco, and good cheer in Sonoma County. This year’s lineup includes acts such as Kugelplex, Motordude Zydeco, and the Steve Balich Polka Band—a regular at the festival for 29 years now.

Sept. 30: Academy Museum Opens, Los Angeles

The new museum that explores the history of moviemaking debuts in a dramatic, Renzo Piano–designed building on Wilshire Boulevard. The museum’s 8,000-piece collection includes original scripts, costumes, and props—like the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the Mt. Rushmore backdrop from North by Northwest. Make your reservations online—and kids 17 and under get in free.

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