1. US Open of Surfing — Until July 28
The Vans US Open of Surfing is going on now on Huntington Beach. In addition to surfing’s best men and women, there’s also BMX and skating competitions, art and live music, including a Modest Mouse performance — all for free.
2. Catalina Island
The most populated of the Channel Islands, Catalina Island includes the little town of Avalon, a lot of golf carts, great scuba diving, a herd of wild buffalo (for real) and a monument to the Wrigleys, of gum fame. It’s just an hour’s ferry from various Los Angeles ports, or you can splurge and take a helicopter.
3. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Film Screenings — Saturday nights through August 24
Each Saturday night through the summer’s end, Cinespia hosts great, picnic-friendly screenings of classic and cult movies at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever Cemetery. (Coming up: Caddyshack and Back to the Future.) In a similar vein, check out this summer’s diverse concert lineup at the Hollywood Bowl.
There’s no better time than summer to get to know some of the state’s many craft breweries: from Santa Rosa’s Russian River to Buellton’s Firestone Walker; from Petaluma’s Lagunitas to San Diego’s Green Flash. Escondido’s Stone Brewing will host their 17th Annual Anniversary and Invitational Beer Festival August 15 – 17.
Yes, the renowned Yosemite National Park can get crowded, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. Try going midweek, rising early, or favoring less-trafficked valleys. (Don’t forget your camera, Ansel.)
6. Monterey Bay Aquarium
The ever-popular Monterey Bay Aquarium offers nature lovers up-close-and-personal views of jellyfish, sea lions, otters and more. Saturdays and Sundays through September 1, the aquarium is open late, inviting visitors to see marine life by night, along with live jazz, snacks and complimentary wine.
7. Gilroy Garlic Festival — Until July 28
This weekend Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World, hosts its (in)famous garlic festival. Sample just-about-anything garlic, including garlic ice cream. It’s about 30 minutes south of San Jose on 101. First dates not recommended.
8. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
This hippie / surfer / university town’s summer identity is all Beach Boys thanks to the the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Catch a wave, take a stroll, and ride some rides. Don’t miss the Giant Dipper, est. 1924. Enjoy free concerts each Friday night through August 30th.
9. Outside Lands Festival — August 9 – 11
The Outside Lands Festival will take over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for a seventh time this year. In addition to tons of music — with headliners Sir Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nine Inch Nails — there will be art, the who’s-who of Bay Area food, and local wine and beer tents. Didn’t get tickets or like things a little more low key? Check out the (free) Stern Grove Festival concerts, which end August 18.
10. Point Reyes
About an hour and a half north of San Francisco, this triangle-shaped preserve has lots of wildlife, vistas and beaches, including spectacular Limantour Beach. The nearby town of Point Reyes Station offers incredible eats, like Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and oysters from Tomales Bay.
11. Wine Countries
Think outside the Napa box! Santa Barbara’s fantastic wine country is an easy drive from L.A. — and you can even visit the wineries featured in Sideways. In Northern California, check out Mendocino and Sonoma counties for (hopefully) fewer crowds and cheaper tasting fees. The latter hosts its Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Labor Day weekend.
12. California State Fair — Until July 28
The California State Fair wraps up this weekend in Sacramento. In addition to fried everything, amusement park rides, and competitions of all stripes, check out final concerts from the likes of Kool and the Gang and Notorious.
13. The American River
The Central Valley can get hot during the summer; let a whitewater rafting trip on the American River cool you down. Many companies offer tours geared towards a range of experience levels.
14. Lake Tahoe
It’s great during the winter, sure, but Lake Tahoe in summertime is almost better — hot days, cool nights and of course the bluest of blue water. You can water ski, jet ski, kayak, fish, swim, raft on the Truckee River, hike and mountain bike up to seemingly endless, gorgeous views, and, of course, sunbathe.
15. Reggae on the River — August 1 – 5
After a five-year hiatus, Reggae on the River is returning to its original French Camp location this year. Attendees will enjoy the many bands — including headliner Julian Marley & The Uprising Band — and much of the … product … that makes Humboldt County famous.
16. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to much geologic activity, like smoking fumaroles, geysers and several volcanos. Enjoy its many hiking trails and campsites. Astronomers novice and expert alike will gather and glimpse the Milky Way during Dark Sky Festival this August 9 – 11.