February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s action-packed in California. Hollywood star-watching season reaches its peak in the days around the Academy Awards (Feb. 9), plus it’s prime time for snow play in the mountains, cool parties in the desert, and festivals celebrating swoon-worthy treats. It’s also the season for some catch-’em-now phenomena, such as fruit blossoms in the heartland, the “firefall” at Yosemite, and the acclaimed Pliny the Younger IPA in Sonoma County. Here are 22 good reasons to plan your own Golden State getaway this month.
All Month: San Diego Museum Month
The Southern California city has a treasure trove of museums, from the Fleet Science Center to the New Children’s Museum, Timken Museum of Art, and the floating Maritime Museum of San Diego. Throughout February, use an easy-to-get pass (picked up at local libraries, or if you book a stay at a Hilton) to get half-off entry at more than 40 museums.
Jan. 31–Feb. 2: Surf City USA Marathon & Half Marathon, Huntington Beach
Choose from the marathon, half marathon, or the 5K on this popular run along the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County’s Huntington Beach. If you need extra motivation, the route is dotted with surf bands and a beachfront beer garden at the finish line. Check out the weekend festivities that lead up to the races, too.
Feb. 1, 8: Lunar New Year Festivities
The Year of the Rat officially starts on Jan. 25, but the two biggest parties are February. In downtown Los Angeles, Feb. 1 brings the 121st Golden Dragon Parade and San Francisco’s huge Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade happens on Feb. 8. Meanwhile, you can celebrate the new year with parades, characters, and special treats at the theme parks for a few more days: SeaWorld San Diego (through Feb. 2), Disneyland Resort (through Feb. 9), and Universal Studios Hollywood (through Feb. 9).
Feb. 1: Sacramento Free Museum Day
Choose from more than 25 museums in the capital city—including the California State Railroad Museum, California Museum, and the California Automobile Museum—for free admission at this annual event. Wear your little museum pin to one of the nearby participating restaurants for discounts and specials that day, too. The rest of the week brings special tours and events at the same museums all over the city.
Feb. 3–9: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am
Watch as an all-star lineup of top golfers and A-list celebrities take to the manicured, ocean-hugging greens at this premier golf event, held at Spyglass Hill and other legendary links along the Central Coast’s Monterey Peninsula. This year’s roster of pros includes Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and Brandt Snedeker, as well as celebs Ray Romano, Huey Lewis, and The Bachelor’s Chris Harrison. This year’s event also brings the debut of new seating (theater-style tip-up seats with backrests) at all eight public grandstand locations.
Starting Feb. 7: Fresno Blossom Trail
In mid-to-late February, Fresno County’s incredible expanses of fruit and nut orchards pop with a blaze of pink and white blossoms. Festivities kick off on the 8th with the 32nd Blossom Trail Opening Ceremonies in Orange Cove, while other events include Blossom Trail Bus Tours (Feb. 29–March 1) and the Blossom Trail Train (the first three weekends in March). The blossoms are often on the ground by late March, but the Orange Cove Blossom Festival closes out the season on April 4.
Or, head a few hours north to Yolo County’s Capay Valley Almond Festival on Feb. 23, when you can take part in an annual festival that’s been happening since 1915, complemented by the pink blossoms of almond groves.
Feb. 7–9: Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend
Take your Valentine, or just treat yourself: This annual weekend includes both local handcrafted Lodi wines (including lots of big Zinfandels) and plenty of chocolates. Your ticket covers your wine glass, chocolate treat, and admission to more than 50 participating wineries.
Feb. 7–16: SF Beer Week
Beer nerds will delight in this long list of events at breweries around San Francisco, including release parties, yoga-plus-beer-tasting events, a movie night (Strange Brew), and the dog-friendly gathering Pups & Pints.
Feb. 7–20: Pliny the Younger Release, Santa Rosa and Windsor
For just two weeks every February, Russian River Brewing Co. offers its acclaimed and intensely flavorful triple IPA. Don’t sweat any waiting: The lines outside the brewery’s two locations tend to be festive themselves (and you can perhaps mitigate your wait time by going on Valentine’s Day, which is always a bit slower). The IPA will be available on draft and in limited bottles each day, at both brewpubs, until they run out of that day’s batch.
Feb. 8–10: 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair, Pasadena
The L.A. County town hosts one of the world’s largest antiquarian book fairs, with nearly 200 booksellers offering up manuscripts, children's books, ephemera, and antiquarian books on dozens of topics, and even “incunabula” literature (meaning books printed before 1501). This year’s themes honor two centennials: author Ray Bradbury and the Women’s Suffrage movement.
Feb. 8–16: Cephalopod Celebration, La Jolla
Celebrate cephalopods that have shaped our oceans—squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and more—at the scenic Birch Aquarium in San Diego County. Kids will love the hands-on activities, crafts, and meet-and-greets with scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There will also be a limited number of behind-the-scenes visits with the aquarium’s resident Giant Pacific Octopus.
Starting mid-February: Yosemite Firefall
For about two weeks every February, the setting sun reflects off the waters of Yosemite National Park’s Horsetail Falls, creating the twilight illusion of fire cascading down El Capitan. The incandescent Firefall is awesome to see—it draws thousands of visitors to the park each year; the closest parking is in the Yosemite Falls Parking Area near the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Feb. 13–23: Palm Springs Modernism Week
Come to the desert city to celebrate its classic mid-century modern architecture during this annual festival of tours, films, lectures, art exhibitions, and plenty of cool parties. This year’s lineup of events includes home tours (such as the “Guggenheim House”), bus tours, and a behind-the-gates look at Indian Wells.
Feb. 14: Little Red-Haired Girl Day at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa
If you’re a red-haired girl (or boy) of any age, you get free admission on Valentine’s Day at this Sonoma County museum devoted to the life and work Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. His alter ego was famously enamored of a little red-haired girl, but the museum will soon honor another gal in his life, when the exhibit Lucy! Fussbudget to Feminist debuts in March.
Feb 14–17: Cloverdale Citrus Fair
In the 19th century, the little Sonoma County town of Cloverdale used to be lined with sawmills and citrus groves. Today, the fair offers plenty of classic rides and fair foods along with lemon delights and orange-juicing contests. This being Sonoma County, you can also taste award-winning wines: The fair is a partner of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest competition of North American wines, with over 7,000 entries.
Feb. 14–23: Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, Indio
Fair food is accented with lots of local dates at this county fair that kicks off with a blessing of the beloved local crop. Entertainment also includes midway rides, competitions (from monster trucks to camel races), and a nightly Arabian Nights–themed pageant. This year’s musical headliners include George Clinton, Banda Machos, Chris Janson, and Vanilla Ice.
Feb. 15–16: Queen Mary ScotsFestival & International Highland Games, Long Beach
This annual celebration, on the historic (and Scottish-made) ship docked off of L.A. County’s Long Beach, tips its tam o’shanter to the dozens of Scottish clans. Watch a bevy of performances and contests in piping, axe throwing, whiskey tasting, sheep herding, and the feats-of-strength-and-skill Highland Games.
Feb. 15–23: Kid-O-Rama, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows
Bring the kids to the Lake Tahoe area ski resort for President’s Week, when daily activities include street parties, kids’ concerts, and a Big Truck Day featuring fire trucks, snowplows, and grooming machines. It’s a great time to enjoy the resort’s other kid-magnet attractions, such as snow tubing, ice-skating, and the mini-snowmobiles at the resort’s SnoVentures Activity Zone.
The charming Gold Rush town that excels at Christmas festivities also knows how to throw a good party for Fat Tuesday: There’s a parade and street fair with floats, bright costumes, and lots of beads.
Feb. 22: California Duck Days Festival, Davis
This annual event is a great excuse to check out the impressive, 25-square-mile Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, home to almost 200 species of birds. Look at the exhibits, go on birding tours, meet adorable ducklings, and even fish for trout in the ponds.
Feb. 22–23: Riverside Dickens Festival
The Inland Empire town channels Jolly London with this annual lovefest for the British author: Pick up some Victorian cosplay and then feast on meat pies, scones, and plenty of tea. There are readings, discussions, and even a ball (with dance lessons), as well as live performances from acts like Tea & Strumpets. Read up ahead of time: This year’s featured book is A Tale of Two Cities.
Feb. 22–23: Winter White Wine Festival, Anderson Valley
Taste the white wines that put this Mendocino County wine region on the map: Alsace-style varietals such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling, along with award-winning Chardonnay. The weekend at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville includes plenty of winemaker dinners, pairing events, and winery open houses.