Autumn is a golden time in California, and not just for the fall foliage in the mountains. It’s prime time for festivals that celebrate local crops—like olives, avocados, and pumpkins—while it’s also an excellent time of year to listen to music in the balmy climate, and it’s the kickoff for high season in the desert. Make your fall richer with one of these charmingly only-in-California events.
1. All Month: Kids Free San Diego
October is typically sunny and warm in San Diego, making this annual, month-long promotion a nice treat: 100-plus ways that kids can get free admission, meals, and more (with a paying adult) around the county, from free dolphin encounter at SeaWorld San Diego to park hopper tickets at LEGOLAND California (and October includes the park’s Brick or Treat Party Nights).
2. Big Fresno Fair, Oct 3–14:
The annual Central Valley fair has livestock, agricultural exhibits, and plenty of classic fair cuisine, from local tri-tip to fried frog legs and cinnamon roll sundaes. This year’s musical headliners include Boy George & Culture Club, Salt-N-Pepa, and Chicago.
3. Newport Wine & Food Festival, Oct 4–7
This posh Orange County town puts on a fabulously elegant food fest, with special chefs’ dinners at area restaurants, along with tastings and cooking demos at the town’s civic center and some hotels, such as Balboa Bay Resort and The Resort at Pelican Hill.
4. Joshua Tree Music Festival, Oct 4–7:
The global and eclectic music theme seems right at home at this camping-friendly festival just outside the desert national park. Acts this year include Mali singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, UK dance band The Egg, and Bay Area band House of Hamsa, described as an “improvisational aural feast for the intergalactic soul.”
5. Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct 4–14:
The high-powered but low-key film festival in Marin County, just outside San Francisco, is known for showcasing future Oscar winners. This year’s centerpiece film is Roma, a black-and-white tale of a Mexican family, directed by past Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity).
6. California Avocado Festival, Carpinteria, Oct 5:
The Golden State grows 90 percent of the nation’s avocados, so it makes sense that this festival, south of Santa Barbara, also boasts the world’s largest vat of guacamole, as well as a guacamole-making contest and a strong arm competition (how long could you hold a 10-pound bag of avocados?). Admission is free, and festivities include 75 musical acts on four stages.
7. Temecula Oktoberfest, Oct 6:
The San Bernardino Mountains, surrounding the Inland Empire town of Temecula, make an idyllic setting for lots of beer, sausages, pretzels, and traditional German music, along with yodeling and beer-stein-holding contests.
8. Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, Oct. 13–14:
South of San Francisco, the town of Half Moon Bay is surrounded by pumpkin patches—so in the self-proclaimed “World Pumpkin Capital,” October is a special time of year. This beloved festival includes enormous pumpkins, sculpted pumpkins, pie-eating, seasonal craft beer, pumpkin-infused ales and cocktails, and the world’s largest mosaic pumpkin sculpture (to the tune of 12-feet long, 11-feet high, and 10,000 pounds).
9. Intercontinental GT Challenge, Laguna Seca, Oct 26–28:
Watch an eight-hour endurance sportscar race held at the WeatherTech Raceway, the central Coast’s 11-turn, 2.23-mile-long track that was once part of the Fort Ord military base. The race is the season finale of a multi-part GT race held around the world, and it’s the second year that Laguna Seca has been part of the contest.