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29 Sensational September Events in California

29 Sensational September Events in California

Surf, sip wine, or enjoy music at some of the biggest festivals of the year

Posted 4 years agoby Katrina Hunt

The month of September is a sweet spot in California: Beach weather is in full swing along the coast (September 20 is even California Surfing Day), but a whiff of autumn is also in the air at festivals all over the state, with an emphasis on harvests, music weekends, Oktoberfest beer, early Halloween celebrations, and the full-bodied fun of California Wine Month. Take this as an excuse to extend your definition of summer, and come for one of these 29 events around the Golden State:

All month: California Wine Month, Multiple locations

This month-long celebration offers up dozens of events across California’s many wine regions—from barrel tastings and grape-stomps (like this fun stomp in the Temecula Valley) to vineyard hikes and dinner-and-dancing nights. Check the schedule of events and choose your favorite ways to celebrate California’s most famous crop.

Through Sept. 2: U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge, San Diego

Come watch these summery works of art take shape over Labor Day Weekend along the city’s Broadway Pier, not far from the USS Midway Museum. Judging of the final pieces happens on Sunday.

Through Sept. 2: Sausalito Art Festival

This prestigious artfest in Marin County spans all of Labor Day weekend. It kicks off on Aug. 30 and includes four days of local art as well as locally produced music, food, and wine.

Through Sept. 2: Paul Bunyan Days, Fort Bragg

The mythic story of the lumberjack and his blue ox Babe has had many settings over the years—including the redwoods around Fort Bragg, making this a great place for the festival that has been happening since 1939. Come participate in the pole climb, pillow fight, or an ax throw, watch the ugly dog contest, and enjoy plenty of local beer and barbecue.

Sept. 4–8: Burbank International Film Festival

The hub for TV and film production has been putting on its own film festival for over a decade now, offering up more than 200 feature and short films, screened at the AMC Burbank 16, along with tributes, Q&A panels, and red carpet events. This year includes a screening to honor the 30th anniversary of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and special awards for two iconic TV actors: Ed Asner and Marion Ross.

Sept. 5–15: PaleyFest, Beverly Hills

Even if you’re not planning to walk the red carpet at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 22, this weeklong event at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills is the perfect gathering for TV nerds. Check out screenings of new shows—like Matt Groening’s Disenchantment for Netflix, NBC’s reboot of Mad About You, or the CW’s Batwoman and Nancy Drew.

Sept. 6–8: Tall Ships Festival, Dana Point

The Orange County harbor town embraces its maritime history on this 35th year of its annual parade of historic tall ships—complete with cannon battles, ship tours, mermaid breakfasts, and a beer garden.

Sept. 7: Red Bull Bay Climb, San Francisco

It’s one thing to pedal your heart out on a fairly flat road or trail. But this calf-burning race—which is less than a half-mile total—takes place on San Francisco’s basically vertical Potero Hill. Bring a single-speed to join the fixed category, or sign up for the open category and ride whichever bike you please.

Sept. 7–Nov. 2: Oktberfest Big Bear

First launched by a pair of German immigrants in Big Bear Lake in 1969, this series of weekend parties in the San Bernardino Mountains is one of the biggest German festivals on the West Coast. Festivities include live music and dancing, as well as log-sawing and beer-stein-holding contests.

Sept. 14–21: Sonoma Harvest Music Festival

Set at B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen—and sponsored by the same folks who create May’s BottleRock, this music festival spans a whole week, combining wine tasting and local cuisine with acts that include Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ben Harper, Ceelo Green, Mandolin Orange, and Death Cab for Cutie. Come to town a few day early and you can also check out  the 9th Annual Heirloom Exposition in Sonoma, a produce-rich extravaganza touted as the “World’s Fair of Pure Foods.”

Sept. 12–15: FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, Big Bear

For the first time ever, the Fox US Open of Mountain Biking—an open class downhill race—comes to Southern California, held at Snow Summit Bike Park. Pro-class racers will descend towards a $10K first place prize, but there are also amateur contests as well as a US Open NextGen Youth Downhill, which gives kids the chance to race a legit downhill course.

Sept. 12–15: Mountain Bluegrass Festival, McCloud

Listen to classic bluegrass music in the Shasta Cascade town of McCloud—and, if the spirit moves you, join in yourself. The four-day event offers chances to take banjo and guitar workshops and to play in jam sessions.

Sept. 13–15: KAABOO Del Mar 

Now in its fifth year, this three-day festival at the oceanfront Del Mar Fairgrounds, in north San Diego County, blends big-name acts, chef demos, art installations, and comedy—all with plenty of couches (and even a spa tent) scattered around the festival grounds. This year’s headliners include Knights of Leon, Dave Mathews Band, and Mumford & Sons.

Sept. 13–Nov. 3: Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Hollywood

The L.A. County theme park keeps finding new ways to freak out its fans during its annual scarefest of walk-through experiences inspired by Hollywood horror greats. This year’s terrain (with a preview night on Sept. 12) includes experiences inspired by Stranger Things, Ghostbusters, Creepshow, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Even if you don’t make it here during the Halloween season, the permanent Walking Dead attraction can scare the bejeezus out of you year round.

Sept. 14: Sample the Sierra, South Lake Tahoe

This one-day farm-to-fork festival in South Lake Tahoe celebrates the local flavors of the High Sierra, from jam and honey to olive oil. The day includes chef challenge competitions, featuring “mystery boxes” of local ingredients, along with farm tours, live music, and art exhibits.

Sept. 14–15: Old Grove Festival, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve

The setting for this music festival is magical in itself: the historic Redwood Forest Theater located in Sonoma County’s Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The lineup features The Same Chase & the Untraditional along with The Rainbow Girls. Bring a picnic, or buy food on site, and take a docent-led hike through the forest before the show. Proceeds benefit the state park system.

Sept. 17–Oct. 31: Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party, Disneyland Resort

This Halloween season event happens on select nights, with a new World of Color show (called “Villainous!”), trick-or treat stations, a dance party based on Disney’s Descendants movies, and meet-and-greets with villains like Captain Hook and Maleficent.

Sept. 20–22:  Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival

This is the 34th year for this foodie-fest that highlights experiential dining through chef showdowns, wine tastings, and meals with amazing views. The festival kicks off Friday with a dinner at Northstar's Zephyr Lodge, at 8,000 feet, with spirits by Bently Heritage Distillery.

Sept. 21: 25th San Diego Festival of Beer

The Broadway Pier, along San Diego’s bay front, becomes a beer-tasting promenade at this annual fundraiser that will showcase more than 50 breweries pouring 120 varieties of craft beer, including samplings from Gravity Heights, Green Flash, and Societe. The afternoon also features live music, games and food trucks. 

Sept. 25–29: Eureka Fringe Festival

Humboldt County boasts of being home to more performing artists per capita than other place in the U.S. Test the theory yourself by checking out this festival of experimental theater, with comedy, improv, poetry, farces, and more.

Sept. 27–28: Sacramento Farm-to-Fork Street Festival

With 1.4 million acres of surrounding farmland, Sacramento easily lives up to its nickname of the Farm-to-Fork Capitol, and this mile-long (and free!) taste-fest along the Capitol Mall makes a lovely showcase for Northern California produce and cuisine. Watch chef demos, taste local wine and craft beer, and listen to live music, featuring Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.

Sept. 27–29: Monterey Jazz Festival

It boasts to being the world’s longest-running jazz fest, with roughly 500 artists spread over eight stages at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. This year’s acts include Diana Krall, Kenny Barron and Dave Holland, Snarky Puppy, and Jazzmeia Horn. 

Sept. 27–29: Feather Fest

Early fall is a great time to go rafting in California, and this Butte County festival is the biggest whitewater party in California, which always coincides with the scheduled release of the Rock Creek Dam. The weekend includes races, camping, dinners, and even film screenings.

Starts Sept. 27: Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest

Cut out the middleman with this delightful take on autumn beer festivals. The Butte County–based brewery hosts its own party of beer, food, and music spanning two weekends, featuring a brew made in collaboration with Germany’s two-century-old Bitburger Brewery. As of presstime, the second weekend (Oct. 3-4) was already sold out, but Sept. 27–28 still has availability.

Sept. 28: Bites & Brews at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Which craft beer pairs best with a lobster taco or garlic fries—or deep-fried Twinkies? Find out at this one-day event along the classic boardwalk. Choose your level of pass: you can opt for food-and-drink tastings, just-beer tastings, or just-food samples.

Sept. 28: Surf City Surf Dog, Huntington Beach

Clearly, this Orange County town’s nickname of Surf City, USA does not apply only to bipedals, as this is considered a premier event for dog surfing. Come watch the pooches catch waves; you can register your own dog to compete, or just bring her along to pick up pointers. While you and Sparky are in town, check out a few of the 11 great dog beaches in California.

Sept. 28: Hueneme Banana Festival, Ventura County

A lot of bananas have come through the Port of Hueneme in 82 years—it’s Ventura County’s only deep-water working port—so a party does seem in order, with treats ranging from banana funnel cakes and banana cream pie melts to banana milkshakes and strawberry-banana margaritas. In between snacks, check out the live bands, banana-pie-eating contests, and kids’ activities, as well as free tours of the port.

Sept. 28: Oroville Salmon Festival

Check out the salmon run at this Butte County town’s fish hatchery, then make your own run in the 3K Salmon Dash at this festival celebrating the fishes’ annual journey. Then explore the street fair, featuring lots of tasty salmon dishes.

Sept. 28: Petaluma River Craft Beer Fest

For the 7th year, local beermakers will set up operations along the historic waterfront in this Sonoma County town, with an afternoon of food, music and local brews, including Lagunitas, Crooked Goat, Old Possum, HenHouse, and more.

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