“Enjoy the height of spring by registering for an enjoyable race, or tasting your means through a few food events“.
For many of us, late May or really, any time in May is the unofficial beginning of summer. This year, that summer feeling is amplified in California, with lots of festivals and attractions returning after a two-year absence.
One iconic spot, Hearst Castle, is reopening on May 11 for the first time since 2020 (check out these tips on a new tour and things to do in the area). For national park fans, the Sequoia Shuttle resumes service on May 26, running between Visalia and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks through September 11.
All of May, though, is a great time to make the most of the spring weather and perhaps challenge yourself, too. The annual Siskiyou Scenic Bicycle Ride (May 7) offers five route options around Siskiyou County, a remote and rugged region in Northern California. Ranging from a 21-mile, beginner-friendly cruise to a 101-mile endurance ride, all the routes offer views of Shasta Valley, Lake Shastina, and Yreka. At Big Bear Mountain, the Spartan Trifecta Weekend (May 14–15) invites participants to “unleash your inner beast” on four obstacle courses that range from 5K to 21K.
To combine a workout with some artistry and engineering know-how, consider two beloved events making their in-person comebacks this month. San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers 12K race (May 15) follows a hilly path from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach, but motivation stays high thanks to living music along the route and costumed participants, often linked up with bungee cords as “centipedes.” In Humboldt County, competitors in the Eureka Kinetic Grand Championship (May 28–30) race using handmade, people-powered vehicles along a 50-mile route, crossing over land, water, sand, and mud on the scenic North Coast.
For lower-stakes physical activity, skate to the music at the SLO Pop-Up Roller Rink (May 6–22) in front of the historic Mission San Luis Obispo in San Luis Obispo, or sign up for the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp (May 14–15) at the famed brewery in Chico. This “day camp” features grown-up versions of ropes courses, human foosball, and keg bowling, complemented with tickets for beer and snacks.
Meanwhile, if you’re more inclined to celebrate the season with beer and snacks alone or by enjoying a classic fair and live music here are more ways to kick off your summer a little early.
May 1: Thousand Oaks Chili Cook-Off
Taste your way through this Conejo Valley festival, now in its 45th year, with 40 chili tasting booths plus lots of live music and craft beer to cleanse the palate. Tasting tickets start as low as $25, while chili-loving kids ages 10 and under get in free.
Begins May 6: Concerts in the Park, Sacramento
This Friday concert series returns to downtown Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Plaza, with acts such as Northern California folk singer Jessica Malone, alternative rap quartet Nappy Roots, and Santa Cruz rockers The Expendables. The series also features art, local food trucks, and a wine garden. RSVP online to enter to win a $50 gift card to a downtown Sacramento restaurant. Runs through July 29.
May 7: California Artisan Cheese Festival, Santa Rosa
This creamery-dotted Sonoma County town makes an excellent destination for tasting world-class cheeses, including the blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company or the Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery. The weekend event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds includes dozens of artisan cheesemakers, as well as winemakers, brewers, and distillers.
May 7: Mavericks Awards, Half Moon Bay
The iconic surf event returns this year in Half Moon Bay with a slightly different format a contest of digital video performances by big-wave surfers and videographers, with categories such as Biggest Wave and Ride of the Year. The San Mateo County (aka San Francisco Peninsula) event also includes a silent auction with one-of-a-kind Mavericks memorabilia, a surf photo contest, and a lot of local seafood.
May 7: Paso Robles Olive and Lavender Festival
Come to the Downtown Paso Robles City Park to learn about a few local crops—olives and lavender—while also sampling oils, tapenades, and even olive oil ice cream. Browse lavender products, watch cooking demos, and shop the arts and crafts vendors. For a little extra, you can also sample some other local crops, in the form of wine and beer tastings.
May 13–15: SoCal BeachLife Festival, Redondo Beach
This music-and-culinary weekend in the L.A. County beach town returns with headliners Weezer, 311, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Steve Miller Band. Check out the festival’s DAOU Side Stage, a 50-seat, sit-down restaurant with a prime view of the main stage and curated meals paired with wine from DAOU Family Estates.
May 13–15: National Garlic Festival, Fresno
While the Central Coast’s Gilroy is famous for its garlic, farm-centric Fresno produces three-fourths of the nation’s garlic supply. Taste over 300 garlicky foods from local restaurants, food trucks, and producers at the Fresno Fairgrounds, then take part in a fun run, carnival rides, and nightly fireworks. While you’re in the area, don’t miss the nearby Old Town Clovis Spring Wine Walk (May 14), with food and local wine tastings at a variety of Old Town restaurants.
May 14–15: Downtown Burbank Arts Festival, Burbank
Burbank may be best known as the place to attend tapings of TV shows, but this weekend offers a classic street fair with art, jewelry, fashions, and home decor. The free, dog-friendly event is also a nice excuse to explore this bustling downtown, lined with restaurants and cool murals.
May 19–22: Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jump Jubilee, Angels Camp
This old-school fair of rides, a rodeo, and livestock exhibits returns in full force this year, under the theme “Dancing with the Steers.” The Gold Country event, which dates back to 1893, was inspired by Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and still includes the namesake competition of jumping amphibians.
May 19–22: Paso Wine Fest, Paso Robles
Experience the acclaimed wine scene in Paso Robles at the Paso Robles Events Center with live music, winemaker’s dinners, seminars, and tastings from 100-plus wineries. Choose from extra events such as bubbly-and-bites pairings of Sparkling Paso or the Paso Starry Night Dinner.
May 20–22: Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience, Sonoma County
Combine great cuisine, wine, and stunning settings at this weekend of tastings, dinners, and concerts, located at wineries and resorts around Sonoma County, including the Montage Healdsburg. The weekend lineup features local growers, winemakers, and chefs such as SingleThread’s Kyle Connaughton, the Food Network’s Maneet Chauhan, and Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. Choose from bundled general admission and VIP packages, or attend some events on an à la carte basis.
May 21: Space Day, San Diego
Touch a real meteor, talk to space experts, and build paper rockets at this one-day family-friendly space fest at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park. While you’re there, check out the new interactive exhibit Galileo: Space Visionary, which explores the life and work of the Italian astronomer and father of modern science.
May 25–30: Strawberry Music Festival, Grass Valley
This annual festival at the Nevada County fairgrounds which is more about music than berries celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Many fans come and car-camp (a dry campsite is included with admission) and bring their own musical instruments for all-are-welcome camp jams.
May 27: Big Blue Music & Brews Festival, South Lake Tahoe
This inaugural festival offers free admission for three days of concerts across the South Lake Tahoe area, at venues including Heavenly Village, McP’s Taphouse, and South Lake Brewing Company. Featured artists include Pablo Cruise, Rick Estrin, the Nightcats, and slide guitarist Dennis Johnson.
May 27–29: Bottlerock Napa Valley, Napa
This festival that blends wine, local cuisine, and rock ‘n’ roll has returned to its Memorial Weekend Day slot this year, with headliners Metallica, Twenty One Pilots, and Pink. As of press time, general admission passes are still available for Friday and Saturday.
May 28: Long Beach Seafood Festival
Celebrate Long Beach’s rich seafood scene at this one-day event on the waterfront, located near the permanently docked Queen Mary. Choose from a range of vendors, watch cooking demos, and enjoy the beer garden. Kids will love performances by the Bubble Lady of Long Beach, plus giant-form games of Connect 4 and Jenga.
May 28–29: Newport Beach Wine and Spirits Festival, Orange County
This elegant event returns to the Balboa Bay Resort, with Newport Beach’s harbor, yachts, and sunsets providing a scenic backdrop. Enjoy a wine dinner on Friday or go to the weekend’s two Grand Tastings on the resort’s plush Bayfront Lawn, with more than 40 premium wineries and spirits.
May 28–29: McCloud Mushroom Festival, McCloud
Learn about mushroom foraging during peak season in Siskiyou County. This annual festival offers food vendors, foraging outings, and booths manned by mushroom experts. This year also includes a Wine & Cheese Walk.