Pride Month, June
Coachella Music & Arts Festival, April
California State Fair, July
Comic-Con International, July
Rose Bowl & Parade, January
January is the wettest month in California, and a slow time for coastal travel – but this is when mountain ski resorts and Southern California deserts hit their stride.
Rose Bowl & Parade
The famous New Year’s parade held before the Tournament of Roses college football game draws over 700,000 spectators to the LA suburb of Pasadena with flower-festooned floats, marching bands and prancing equestrians.
Lunar New Year
Firecrackers, parades, lion dances and Chinatown night markets usher in the lunar new year, falling in late January or early February. California's biggest and most historic parade happens in San Francisco, where tiny-tot martial artists chase a 200ft dragon.
As California sunshine breaks through the drizzle, skiers hit the slopes in T-shirts, wildflowers burst into bloom, and romantics scramble for Valentine’s Day reservations at restaurants and hotels.
February is prime time to spot whales offshore, see thousands of monarch butterflies wintering in California groves, and find colonies of elephant seals nursing pups in Central Coast dunes.
Dig those groovy Palm Springs vibes mid-February, when residents slide open the doors to their sunken lounges and invite mid-Century Modern fans over for tours, art shows, movies and swingin’ cocktail parties.
Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for movie-star entrances on Oscar night at the Dolby Theatre in late February or early March. Fans wait patiently in bleachers and jostle paparazzi for a glimpse of the action when stretch limos arrive.
As ski season winds down the beaches warm up, just in time for spring break (exact dates vary with school schedules and the Easter holiday).
Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals
Mendocino, Fort Bragg and nearby towns toast the whale migration with wining and dining, art shows and naturalist-guided walks and talks over three weekends in March.
Festival of the Swallows
After wintering in South America, the swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County around March 19 – and the historic mission town celebrates its Spanish and Mexican heritage all month long.
As wildflower season peaks in the high desert, the southern desert bursts into song and San Francisco twinkles with international film stars. Shoulder season in the mountains and along the coast brings lower hotel prices.
Coachella Music & Arts Festival
Headliners, indie rockers, rappers and cult DJs converge outside Palm Springs for a three-day musical extravaganza held over two weekends in mid-April. Book well ahead – this festival is huge.
San Francisco International Film Festival
The nation's oldest film festival lights up San Francisco nights with star-studded US premieres of 325 films from around the globe, held over two weeks from late April to early May.
Weather starts to heat up statewide, although some coastal areas are blanketed by ‘May gray’ fog. Memorial Day holiday weekend marks the official start of summer, and one of the year’s busiest travel times.
Cinco de Mayo
¡Viva México! California celebrates its Mexican heritage and the victory of Mexican forces over the French army on May 5, 1862. LA and San Diego have the biggest celebrations, but you'll find margaritas, music and dancing across the state.
Jumping Frog Jubilee & Calaveras County Fair
Taking inspiration from Mark Twain’s famous short story, the Gold Rush pioneer town of Angels Camp fills a long weekend in mid-May with rodeo cowboys, live country-and-western music and old-fashioned family fun.
Bay to Breakers
On the third Sunday in May, costumed joggers, inebriated idlers and renegade streakers make the annual dash from San Francisco’s Embarcadero to Ocean Beach. Watch out for participants dressed as salmon, who run upstream from the finish line.
Kinetic Grand Championship
Artists spend months preparing for this 'triathlon of the art world,' inventing outlandish human-powered and self-propelled sculptural contraptions to cover 42 miles from Arcata to Ferndale over three days.
Once school lets out for the summer, everyone heads to California beaches – only to shiver through San Francisco as ‘June gloom’ coastal fog descends. Mountain resorts offer cool escapes, but the deserts are just too darn hot.
California celebrates LGBT pride not just for a day but for the entire month of June, with costumed parades, film fests, marches and streets parties. SF Pride sets the global parade standard, with 1.2 million people, tons of glitter and ounces of bikinis. San Diego also celebrates in mid-July.
California's campgrounds, beaches and theme parks hit peak popularity, especially on the July 4 holiday – summer’s biggest travel weekend.
Opening Day at Del Mar Racetrack
Horse racing returns mid-July to Del Mar’s elegant racetrack, built by Hollywood stars in the 1930s. Tickets are tough to get, but it's worth going just to see the ladies’ hats.
California State Fair
A million people come to this fair to ride the giant Ferris wheel, cheer on pie-eating contests and horseback jockeys, browse the blue-ribbon agricultural and arts-and-crafts exhibits, taste California wines and craft beers, and listen to live bands. It's held in Sacramento over two weeks in late July.
Affectionately known as ‘Nerd Prom,’ the nation’s biggest annual convention of comic-book fans, hardcore pop-culture collectors, and sci-fi and anime devotees brings out-of-this-world costumed madness to San Diego in late July.
Reggae on the River
Come party with Humboldt's finest haul of hippies, Rastafarians, tree huggers, jugglers, unicyclists and iconoclasts. Festivities last for (at least) two days in late July/early August, featuring live bands, arts and crafts, food vendors, camping and swimming.
Festival of Arts & Pageant of the Masters
Laguna Beach is so prolifically creative, the local Festival of Arts stretches over July and August, featuring art shows and demos by 140 artists in media ranging from scrimshaw to furniture. The festival culminates with a reenactment of famous paintings by costumed actors, accompanied by an orchestra.
School summer vacations may technically be over, but you'd never guess in California – beaches and parks are still packed. Travel slows only slightly before the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Three days of debauchery in Golden Gate Park: Outside Lands is out to reinvent the Summer of Love every August with headliner music and comedy acts plus gourmet food, beer and wine.
Old Spanish Days Fiesta
Santa Barbara shows off its early Spanish, Mexican and American rancho roots with parades, rodeo events, arts-and-crafts exhibits, and live music and dance shows in early August.
Mid-August is the best time to catch these meteor showers in action, with a digital camera or just your own two eyes. Head away from city streetlights to remote desert locales like Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks for the best visibility.
Summer’s last hurrah is Labor Day holiday weekend, which is busy almost everywhere in California (except hot SoCal deserts). After Labor Day, prices drop and availability goes up statewide.
Tall Ships Festival
In early September, the West Coast’s biggest gathering of historical tall ships happens at Dana Point in Orange County, with knot-tying and scrimshaw-carving demonstrations and other kid-friendly maritime activities.
Monterey Jazz Festival
Old-school jazz cats, cross-cultural sensations and fusion rebels all line up to play the West Coast's legendary jazz festival, held on the Central Coast over a long weekend in mid-September.
Folsom Street Fair
California's kinkiest street fair takes place in San Francisco the last Sunday in September, when piercings and tats are on full display and leather daddies wait their turn to get publicly spanked for charity.
Summer arrives at last in Northern California, and Southern Californians take a breather after a long summer of nonstop beach-going. The mellow fall shoulder season is a prime time for sweet travel deals along the coast and in cities.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Over half a million people converge for free outdoor concerts in Golden Gate Park during the first weekend in October. Headliners like Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch share seven stages with 100-plus folk, blues and jazz musicians.
All month long under sunny skies, California’s wine countries celebrate bringing in the vineyard harvest with food-and-wine events, harvest fairs, barrel tastings and grape-stomping 'crush' parties.
Hundreds of thousands of revelers come out to play in LA’s West Hollywood LGBTQ neighborhood for all-day partying and live entertainment. Over-the-top scary and NSFW costumes must be seen to be believed.
Temperatures drop statewide, the first raindrops fall along the coast, and with any luck, ski season begins in the mountains. Consider this your opportunity to explore without crowds or traffic, except around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Día de los Muertos
Mexican communities honor deceased relatives on November 2 with costumed parades, sugar skulls, graveyard picnics, candlelight processions and fabulous altars, including in San Francisco, LA and San Diego.
Death Valley ‘49ers
Take a trip back to California’s 19th-century gold rush during this annual encampment at Furnace Creek, with campfire sing-alongs, cowboy poetry readings, horseshoe tournaments and a Western art show in early to mid-November.
As winter rains reach coastal areas, SoCal's sunny, dry deserts become magnets for travelers. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are extremely crowded travel times, but worth it for California's palm-tree light displays and holiday cheer.
Parade of Lights
Deck the decks with boughs of holly: boats bedecked with holiday cheer and twinkling lights float through coastal California harbors, including Orange County’s Newport Beach and San Diego.