November brings all the best things about the coming winter: Snow season, the holidays, and lots of good eating. California offers all of the above in spades, from the five-million-lights-strong display at one Southern California hotel, to the seasonal fun at theme parks and delicious food festivals up and down the coast. It’s also season-kickoff time in two of California’s most distinctive regions, whether you want to party in the desert or start schussing down the slopes in the mountains. Here are 20 festive events around the state worthy of a November getaway.
All month: Opening days at ski resorts
The Golden State’s ski resorts start opening this month, often accompanied by first-day live music, hot cocoa, and other festivities. Mammoth Mountain opens on Nov. 8, while Heavenly, Northstar and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows are slated to open Nov. 16; Kirkwood‘s and Big Bear’s November kickoffs are still TBD.
All month: Holiday season at the theme parks
The halls get all decked out well before Thanksgiving at the SoCal theme parks, and the holiday season perks multiply, from the snowfall at Knott's Merry Farm (starting mid-November) to the much-anticipated candy canes at Disneyland Resort (Nov. 9). November 17, meanwhile, is the holiday start date for Universal Studios Hollywood, Magic Mountain, and LEGOLAND California.
Nov. 1–4: Día De Los Muertos, Downtown L.A.
Celebrate the Day of the Dead at this downtown L.A. park, which will host 50 altars and art installations created by local artists and community groups, all channeling this year’s theme of “Looking to the Past to Build the Future.”
Nov. 2–11: Feast Mendocino
This annual festival on the North Coast used to be known as the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, and fungi, paired with beer and wine still play a central role. Peruse the wide range of events, from mushroom-foraging walks to winemaker dinners, along with beach horseback rides, historic tours, and tastings of (yes) mushroom ice cream.
Learn about the bounty of this Central Coast region by way of self-guided farm tours, meet-and-greets with goats, and dining at the county’s farm-to-fork restaurants (like the cheese-and-wine-rich Paradise Pantry).
Nov. 1–4: Palm Springs Pride
While most cities do their annual pride events in June, November is the perfect season for the LGBT weekend in Palm Springs, just as the desert’s high season kicks off. This year’s events include a Spirit of Stonewall Street Party, musical revues, and a 5K.
Nov. 2–11: 25th Annual Placer Studio Tour
Experience Placer County’s thriving art scene in this open-house-style festival spread over a variety of Gold Country towns. The suggested itinerary takes you to watercolor, glass-blowing, and craft galleries in towns such as Auburn and Colfax, with stops at wineries and cheese shops along the way.
Winter’s pomegranate season is starting in farm-rich Madera County—but this annual festival near Yosemite National Park recently expanded to include the local almonds, pistachios, and walnuts too. Taste the local crops, watch cooking demos, pan for gold, let the kids ride a mini train—then take some of the local treats home.
Nov. 3–4: Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival
This Kern County town has one of the world’s best treasure troves of ancient rock drawings, which are only accessible by tour. They’re also the centerpiece of this annual festival during Native American Heritage Month; festivities include a street fair, Native American live music and dancers, and tours to the Coso Petroglyphs, some of which are more than 10,000 years old.
Nov .4: Summit Stomp 30K, Concord
Mount Diablo is a scenic hike on any weekend—with views all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge—but this annual fun run offers the chance to hike the mountain and it surroundings, from a 5K to a 10K, half-marathon, and 30K.
Nov. 4–16: Taste of Yosemite, Yosemite National Park
Chefs from around the nation come together at this annual event of cooking demos, meet-and-greets, and a lavish dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel. The menus highlight traditional American favorites, blended with anything from French to Asian accents.
Nov. 10: House of Happy Walls Museum reopens, Jack London State Historic Park
Set amid the 1,400-acre state park in the Sonoma Valley, the stone house known as the Happy Walls Museum was originally built in 1916 by Jack London’s window, after the author’s death. The Happy Walls Museum reopens this weekend with 22 new exhibits, all devoted to the life of London and his wife Charmain.
Nov 11-18: San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival
The annual food festival set against downtown San Diego’s Embarcadero offers plenty of local flavor, such as home-grown chefs, local crops, and the famous San Diego craft beer. But it also looks beyond the SoCal city: the weekend’s Grand Tasting has more than 200 domestic and international wines, and this year’s chefs include Venice Beach’s Alex Thomopoulos, along with Baja California-meets-San-Diego chef Javier Plascencia.
Nov. 15: Rodeo Drive Lighting Ceremony, Beverly Hills
What better way to kick off the holiday shopping season than to see Rodeo Drive twinkling under a night sky? This lighting ceremony, with live music performance and fireworks heralds in the BOLD (Beverly Hill Open Late Days) Holiday season. On select evenings through November and December, the area will host evening entertainment (like art walks or crystal-studded motorcycle coach rides) and extended shopping hours.
Nov. 17: 146th Anniversary Celebration Pigeon Point Light Station, Pescadero
Set on a cliff 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay, this 1872 lighthouse is one of the tallest in America, standing 115 feet tall. To celebrate, come for the live music, native plant sales, tours, and the lovely views over the water.
Nov. 17–18: Star of India Companion Sails, San Diego
One of the core exhibits of the Maritime Museum of San Diego—a floating museum of ships—is this National and State Historic landmark that mostly sits in dock. For the first time in five years, though, the 1863 Star Of India (the oldest active ship in the world) will sail for the weekend, and you can book passage on a full-day sail shadowing the ship—riding on either the Californian, the official tall ship of the state; the San Salvador, a replica of a 1542 Spanish galleon; or America, a replica of the yacht that won the 1851 America’s Cup. The $249-per-person passage includes breakfast, lunch, drinks, and Champagne.
Nov. 17–18: 2018 Colony of Coastside Artists Open Studios, Half Moon Bay area
This weekend art walk features artists who work in paint, ceramics, photography, textiles, jewelry, and more. Get your passport brochure stamped at each studio you visit and you’ll have a chance to win a piece of art to take home.
Nov. 22: Illuminate SF Festival of Light begins, San Francisco
For holiday-lights superfans, it’s hard to beat this citywide event of light art installations that runs through New Year’s Day. See 37 works stretching from the Castro to Yerba Buena neighborhoods, accompanied by events like a neon walking tour and a stargazing party at the Presidio.
A big tree lighting and parade of lights provide the focal point of this nearly-four-decade annual tradition in the Bay Area town. Come earlier in the day for a holiday marketplace and for kids to go snow-sledding down a hill.
Nov. 23: Mission Inn Festival of Lights begins, Riverside
Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, the grand dame resort in the Inland Empire flips on the switch for their annual holiday extravaganza—and it is just that, with 5 million lights covering the resort and its grounds, along with 200 animated figures, carriage rides, decorated trees, and the world’s largest mistletoe. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to explore the free festival, which lasts for six weeks—but you’ll likely be tempted to stay, just for the quicker access to the holiday treats at the hotel’s own Casey’s Cupcakes.