Welcome to the heart of the summer. Fireworks—or creative spins on them—are plentiful in California, along with beloved annual festivals, such as the cosplay-clad superfans in San Diego, the living works of art in Laguna Beach, and the garlic love in Gilroy. But this July also brings some new temptations, like a pop-up exhibit about avocados, an invitation to explore the trails of Mount Shasta, and a fresh look at dinosaurs in Fresno. Check out these 23 ways to make your July California getaway a banner event:
Open now: The CADO, San Marcos
Guac is just the beginning at this pop-up museum sponsored by the California Avocado Commission, located in the San Diego County town of San Marcos. Take an Instagram-ready selfie in the Ripe Room (with walls like an avocado’s outer skin) then learn about the enigmatic fruit through large-scale installations and a recording from singer-and- avocado-farmer Jason Mraz. Next, indulge your unavoidable cravings at one of the nearby restaurants. Runs through Sept. 22.
Open now: Zoorassic Park, Fresno Chafee Zoo
See and hear how 17 different dinosaur species used to eat, move, roar, and fight back in the day, at this cool new exhibit at the famed Central Valley zoo. While you’re here, don’t miss the non-extinct creatures, such as cheetahs and white rhinos in the 13-acre African Adventure. Zoorassic Park runs through Oct. 31.
July 4: Statewide
Choose any region of California and you’ll find plenty of fireworks, but some have a twist: In San Diego County, LEGOLAND California salutes the nation’s birthday with its annual Red, White & Boom, featuring bedtime-friendly fireworks (at 8:30 p.m.), while up in Pasadena, Americafest at the Rose Bowl offers classic American food, a motorcycle stunt show, and a huge fireworks display. In San Francisco, listen to The Golden Gate Park Band play patriotic “musical fireworks” at 1 p.m. at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park; by evening, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are good spots to watch the displays over San Francisco Bay.
In Big Bear, get a little altitude before your fireworks by riding the Scenic Sky Chair through the San Bernardino National Forest to the top of the mountain (at 8,200 feet). In Temecula Valley, South Coast Winery hosts both live music and a lighted drone show. Up north, Butte County combines fireworks with fast cars at the Silver Dollar Speedway.
Begins July 4: Mount Shasta Trail Challenge
Here’s a fun way to explore Northern California’s Siskiyou County: Pick up a passport at the Mount Shasta Visitor’s Center then fill it in by hiking the various trails surrounding Mt. Shasta by the end of 2019; you get a trophy of sorts (a hat) once you’re done). Or, if you’re in the area on July 27–28, check out the Gambler 500 State of Jefferson, the off-road navigational challenge that invites you to drive a bought-for-about-$500 vehicle 500 miles in two days, and where “wacky cars, nutty costumes” are welcome.
July 5–7: Beerfest & Bluegrass Festival, Northstar
Craft beer combines with mandolin-and-fiddle-fueled mountain music at this Lake Tahoe resort near Truckee. This year’s festivities also include a brewmaster dinner and a fun run punctuated with beer tastings.
July 7–August 31: Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach
This beloved Orange County event presents tableaux vivants ("living pictures"), which are ultra-detailed recreations of classical and contemporary works of art. Tickets often sell out ahead of time, but as of press time plenty of spots are still available.
July 12-21: Festival Napa Valley
This 10-day festival combines both classical and timeless music (including performances by Seal and recent royal wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason), paired with vintners luncheons and dinners at such wine country gems as V. Sattui Winery, Far Niente, and Solage Napa Valley.
July 12–26: Dine L.A. Restaurant Week
California Restaurant Month may be in January, but Los Angeles does a mid-year celebration too. This two-week event offers prix fixe specials at a long list of restaurants, such as 189 by Dominique Ansel, Mr. Chow in Malibu, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air.
July 12–28: California State Fair, Sacramento
While this classic fair has plenty of blue-ribbon sheep, rabbits, and crafts on display, it also showcases a wide range of Golden State delights, including cooking demos, wine tastings, and craft beer competitions. This year’s live music headliners include Joe Nichols, Tony! Toni! Toné!, 38 Special, and Martina McBride.
July 13–14: San Jose Obon Festival, San Jose
The Silicon Valley hub has one of the few Japantowns left in the nation, and this weekend it celebrates a Buddhist Japanese holiday similar to the Day of the Dead—a joyful remembrance of departed ancestors, complete with dancers, game booths, food booths, and taiko performances.
July 13: Gloria Ferrer Festival of Paella, Sonoma
The Gloria Ferrer winery in Sonoma has long been known for both bubblies and a love of Spanish Catalan culture. This festive evening features Flamenco dancing, saber demonstrations, and Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, along with two styles of paella, all paired with the winery’s award-winning wines.
July 17: Del Mar Racetrack Opening Day, Del Mar
Come watch the ponies race at this track, just steps from the beach in the north San Diego County town of Del Mar. Opening Day has serious people-watching, too, thanks to the crowds of women donning fabulous hats. Racing season lasts through Labor Day, punctuated by race days that feature concerts and local beer tastings.
July 18–21: Celebrate Caviar Sacramento
Fun fact: Foodie magnet Sacramento produces 80 percent of the U.S. supply of caviar. It’s no surprise, then, that the capital city will extend its celebration of National Caviar Day (July 18) with a few days’ worth of farm tours, brunches, and dinners, along with caviar-accented menus at about 20 restaurants.
July 18–21, Wanderlust Festival, Squaw Valley
Bask in summer in North Lake Tahoe at this four-day festival of bliss: yoga, meditation, workshops, and nature hikes by day, then organic cuisine and live music in the evening. This year's activities include HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), immersion-learning experiences and a silent disco.
July 18–21: Comic-Con International, San Diego
The annual confab has grown from a lovefest for comic book nerds to a launching pad for sci-fi films and the ultimate venue for cosplay. Even if you didn’t score a pass for this year, there are fun ways to enjoy the festival from all around downtown San Diego. Come to town a day early for a July 17 fundraising evening honoring Batman and the upcoming Comic-Con Museum, set to open in 2021.
July 19–20: 16th Annual California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara
Taste the best of the Central Coast’s wines at this two-day event. Friday highlights rare and reserve wines, while Saturday is a big beachside tasting with hundreds of California wines, regional craft beers, and local chefs.
July 19–Aug. 4: Bear Valley Music Festival, Bear Valley
This 50-plus-year-old music festival, located halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, is the ultimate crowd pleaser, learning toward classical pieces and show tunes (as performed by the Bear Valley Orchestra), but also including pop and country acts. This year features a medieval-style dinner show and a Beethovenfest.
July 20: Farm + Fish + Flowers, Half Moon Bay
Formerly known as the Tour des Fleurs, this day-long event in this idyllic town south of San Francisco offers behind-the-scenes tours of local farms, greenhouses, historic sites, and a working dairy farm—most of which aren’t usually open to the public. Buy a package of three tours for $30, then choose from options like Root Down Farm—with pasture-raised chicken, ducks, and pih—or Shelldance Orchid Gardens.
July 26–28: Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy
This beloved Central Coast festival has been running since 1979, with cooking competitions, garlic-braiding crafts, and its own queen. Come for the garlic-infused barbecue, kettle corn, and the famous ice cream, along with cooking demos and the Garlic Showdown of competing chefs. This year’s signature drink will be the Whiskey Daisy—come see if it has garlic in it, too.
July 27–28: 26th Annual Oxnard Salsa Festival
The two-day party in Ventura County was first celebrated in 1993 to honor Oxnard’s cultural and agricultural roots. Today the festival celebrates the many forms of salsa in historic downtown Oxnard, with live bands, dance lessons, and plenty of chances to taste salsas and hot sauces.
July 29–Aug. 5: Lazy Bear Week, Guerneville
June’s Pride weeks may be over, but the LGBT summer party continues at this annual event and fundraiser in Sonoma County. Camp or stay in cabins, and take part in pool parties, dance parties, bonfires, and live entertainment while also checking out local wine tastings, cookouts, and fun restaurant pop-ups.