In May, spring is booming in California: Flowers are flourishing, waterfalls are flowing, and strawberries are piling up on shortcakes. May also means that festival season goes into full swing, and the theme parks are gearing up for summer. Here are 16 events to inspire your May trip to the Golden State:
May 3–4: Star Wars Day, Disneyland Resort
There may be no better place to say “May the 4th be with you“ to strangers in cosplay than at Anaheim’s Happiest Place on Earth. The in-the-works Galaxy’s Edge area will not open until 2019 but the force is still strong around Disneyland Resort: May 3 brings a Star Wars Nite After Dark party, and on both days Captain Phasma and his stormtroopers will periodically stage a “March of The First Order” through Tomorrowland, while Rey does meet-and-greets in Launch Bay. Space Mountain has also turned back into the Star Wars–themed Hyperspace Mountain for a limited time.
May 4–6: Steinbeck Festival, Salinas and Monterey
This annual festival celebrates the American author who had strong ties to California’s Central Coast region. This year’s theme is Steinbeck’s Women—with discussions about Steinbeck’s sisters and mother to his famed characters, like The Grapes of Wrath’s Ma Joad. There are tours of Steinbeck’s cottage and Kate’s East of Eden path, live performances, screenings and even beer tastings in both Monterey and Salinas.
May 5: Flavor of SLO, San Luis Obispo
Get a taste of the Central Coast hotbed for wine and farm-to-table cuisine and a dose of historic mission ambience. Your $30 admission ticket ($10 for kids ages 6–20) grants you access to tastes from a wide variety of local vendors in the Mission Plaza San Luis Obispo, with live music playing in the background. Vendors include Tahoe Joe’s Famous Steakhouse, SLO Provisions, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., and Tablas Creek Vineyard.
May 5: Rhythm & Brews Music & Craft Brews Festival, San Diego County
If you’ve wanted to immerse yourself in the San Diego craft beer scene, this is a fabulous opportunity. Set in Vista’s historic village, home to breweries such as Prohibition Brewing and Wavelength Brewing Co., your admission gets you tastings from more than 60 breweries.
May 11–12: Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Celebration, Universal Studios Hollywood
It’s been 25 years since an ornery group of dinosaurs stampeded through movie theaters—and the L.A. theme park is celebrating with exhibits, character sightings, live entertainment, and a fan costume show—along with exclusive after-hours access to the park’s 50-foot T. rex on Jurassic Park® – The Ride. If you need a refresher on the story, there will also be a private screening of the first film at Universal Cinema on CityWalk.
May 12: Electric Eel Opens, Sea World San Diego
The marine life theme park launches its tallest and fastest roller coaster—a 150-foot-high coaster with an inverted-loop view of Mission Bay. May at Sea World San Diego also brings the debut of the Sesame Street Party Parade (running through September 2), featuring characters, floats, and music.
May 12: BoldPAS, Pasadena
Explore another side of the quaint city of Pasadena at this one-day art festival with 13 large-scale installations in Old Pasadena’s historic, pedestrian alleyways. This year’s works include giant faux-fur figures in bright colors, a haiku garden, and a giant postcard with carnival-style cutouts for photo ops. There will also be live painting performances, activities for kids, and stops to shop and snack.
May 13–19: Amgen Tour of California, Multiple locations
Watch Olympic medalists, Tour de France competitors and world champions pedal through some of California’s most beautiful scenery on challenging routes. There are good spots to watch the race scattered around the state—from the beginning of the men’s race in Long Beach and the women’s race in Elk Grove to other host cities such as Ventura, Santa Barbara, Folsom, South Lake Tahoe, and Sacramento.
May 17–20: Calaveras County Fair & Frog Jumping Jubilee, Angels Camp
This Gold Country festival dates back to 1928, and is inspired by the Mark Twain story “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County.” Watch amphibian competitors execute their best jumps, or take in the fair’s rides, exhibits, junior livestock show, and a (non-frog-based) rodeo.
May 17–20: Paso Robles Wine Festival, Paso Robles
This is the 36th year for this Central Coast weekend wine-fest, which now features more than 100 wineries. There are winemaker talks and dinners scattered around the region during the festival, but the main event is the Grand Tasting in Paso Robles’ Downtown City Park—with 70 wineries, local food vendors, and live music.
May 18–20: Zinfest, Lodi
See why the Central Valley’s Lodi wine country is known for big-red Zinfindels. Friday brings an evening of local cuisine and pairings at Lodi Lake Park, while Saturday offers festival-style tastings and Sunday features winery open houses.
May 19–20: California Strawberry Festival, Oxnard
The Ventura County town of Oxnard is a hotspot during strawberry season, as evidenced by the 50 booths of treats at this fair, offering anything from strawberry shortcake to strawberry nachos, deep-fried strawberries, strawberry beer—you get the idea. Cleanse your palate with the live music and kids activities. If you want another round, head to San Diego County the next weekend for May 27’s Vista Strawberry Festival.
May 20: Bay to Breakers, San Francisco
This 12K race has been around since 1912, following a path from the Embarcadero (the Bay) to Ocean Beach (the Breakers). While it’s a little more challenging than a typical fun run, the emphasis is still clearly on fun, with a long tradition of costumed participants—often linked up with bungee cords as “centipedes”—and lots of live music at stops along the way.
May 25–27: BottleRock Napa Valley, Napa
In Wine Country, rock ‘n’ roll always pairs well with good food and wine, and this weekend festival with 80 musical acts celebrates all three. This year’s BottleRock headliners are Muse, The Killers, and Bruno Mars; while the festival is officially sold out, you can likely still score passes on the ticket exchange, where ticketholders who had a change of plans can cash in theirs.
May 25–27: McCloud Mushroom Festival, McCloud
The Shasta Cascade town sits on the southern slope of Mount Shasta, not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. It’s a fertile spot for edible fungi, and spring is prime season for foraging. The festival features cooking demos, wine pairings, and plenty of booths with foraging experts. One highlight is the Mushroom Dinner at the McCloud Hotel: This year’s menu includes black truffle fritters, Mount Shasta mushroom risotto, and a Beef Wellington with porcini duxelle and morel demi-glace.
May 26–28: Kinetic Grand Championship, Humboldt County
Come watch this 50-mile race in part for the competition, but also for the utterly unique contenders: handmade, people-powered vehicles that are works of art as much as they are feats of engineering. Each day starts in a different locale—Arcata, Eureka, and Ferndale—and crosses over land, water, sand, and mud around the scenic North Coast region. Year round, check out past champs at the Kinetic Museum Eureka, open on weekends.