Top Summer Festivals
From Gold Country to the Monterey Peninsula, outdoor festivals showcasing music, food, art, and more make for ideal weekend getaways.
“Celebrate good times” with Kool and the Gang at San Jose Jazz Summer Fest.
Photo courtesy of San Jose Jazz Summer Fest
When the days heat up and the sun beats down on the East Bay, no one wants to stay home. So each year, thousands of local residents venture out in search of weekend adventures. For some, that might mean grooving to the beats of international musicians in the Sierra Foothills, while others may prefer sampling California’s best seafood by the coast.
Regardless of what amusements stoke your interests, July and August offer more than enough opportunities to enjoy world-class concerts, gourmet cuisine, and rousing exhibitions via multiday outdoor festivals within striking distance of the East Bay. Whether they’re just across the Bay or a four-hour drive away, these fun-filled weekend experiences are sure to enrich your summer.
Fourth of July weekend brings the High Sierra Music Festival to Quincy. Located northeast of Chico, the Gold Rush community welcomes thousands of campers to the annual event, which features top-tier jam-band, newgrass, and funk performers across five stages. The String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Robinson Brotherhood headline this year’s four-day lineup, along with dozens of supporting bands. Parents, take note: A family campground and nannies available for evening child care can help you enjoy some of the festival’s more adult elements. highsierramusic.com.
South of Quincy, in the Sierra Foothills, Grass Valley hosts the California WorldFest from July 12 to 15. With the slogan “Music connects us all,” this festival highlights more than just the excellent global musicians who perform there. Conscious-living workshops on yoga, dance, and music; dedicated areas and activities for kids and teens; and a marketplace selling crafts and food create an immersive, accepting environment for all types of festivalgoers. worldfest.net.
Closer to home, the ever-popular Outside Lands brings superstar musicians to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park August 10 through 12. Headlining this year? Three high-powered artists: Janet Jackson, The Weeknd, and Florence + the Machine. The event’s emphasis on saving the environment is equally mighty, with its sophisticated recycling, waste diversion, and refillable-water programs. sfoutsidelands.com.
If pop isn’t your style, there’s another option in the Bay Area that same weekend: Head south to discover the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, where more than 100 jazz, R&B, and soul acts—including Kool and the Gang and Herb Alpert—play on 12 different stages around San Jose’s Plaza de César Chavez Park. For those interested in experiencing all three days of shows, many hotels in the area offer special deals for festival attendees. summerfest.sanjosejazz.org.
Bridging the divide between arts event and food and wine extravaganza, Festival Napa Valley defies categorization. Spread over 10 days—July 20 to 29—the showcase features performances by Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth and 10-time Grammy Award–winning jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, as well as dozens of other world-class artists. Of course, food and wine are part of the package too, with luncheons and dinners prepared by top Wine Country chefs at majestic venues including Raymond Vineyards, Meadowood Napa Valley, and Trefethen Family Vineyards. festivalnapavalley.org.
One of the United States’ biggest food events takes place less than 100 miles from the East Bay: the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year from July 27 to 29, the popular expo boasts a garlic cook-off, garlic-laced nibbles (ever tasted garlic ice cream?), a garlic-braiding workshop, and much more. Live music, interactive displays, and an arts and crafts area mean kids will have as much fun as the grown-ups at this famed festival in Christmas Hill Park. gilroygarlicfestival.com.
On August 11 and 12, during peak apple season, Sebastopol honors its rich farming history with the Gravenstein Apple Fair. This family-focused jubilee has a cozy, old-timey feel, and its various contests—which range from apple pie baking to caramel apple eating—offer something for everyone. Culinarians will appreciate the workshops from area chefs, vintners, and food producers, and those over age 21 can enjoy the craft cider tent, which spotlights one of Sonoma County’s growing industries. gravensteinapplefair.com.
Another Sonoma County food fair, the Bodega Seafood, Art, and Wine Festival highlights a bounty of locally caught fish and shellfish over the weekend of August 25. Attendees can nosh on dishes showcasing ocean-fresh ingredients and stroll through a maze of artisan booths featuring works by regional and national artists. Held at Watts Ranch in Bodega, the fest also offers wine and beer tastings, kids’ activities, and three entertainment stages. bodegaseafoodfestival.com.
Arts and Recreation
The Bay Area’s largest two-day midsummer event returns July 14 and 15 to transform downtown Los Altos into a dynamic showcase for 290 artists and craftspeople from more than a dozen states. Wander in and out of the Los Altos Arts and Wine Festival tents to discover hand-painted ceramics, delicate metal-work, and lush paintings while sipping wine and savoring delicious bites. downtownlosaltos.org/event/arts-wine-festival.
Farther south, country star Blake Shelton kicks off this year’s California Rodeo Salinas with a not-to-be-missed concert on July 13. The nationally recognized rodeo’s main events, however, take place from July 19 to 22, when professional cowboys and -girls compete in exhilarating feats of skill, speed, and stamina. An accompanying carnival delivers fun for all ages. carodeo.com.
“Find your true north” is the Wanderlust slogan, and the yoga, music, and wellness festival—held July 19 through 22 in Squaw Valley—makes that lofty goal a joyful pursuit. Practice meditation in stunning natural settings, or dance your heart out to the DJ’s beat during the main-stage performances. A self-described “celebration of mindful living,” Wanderlust gives festivalgoers four blissful days of self-exploration. wanderlust.com.
Right before the summer wraps up, Pebble Beach fetes the world’s finest automobiles at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. From August 23 to 25, visitors can enjoy exhibitions of classic car memorabilia and art, along with a high-end auto auction. Then, during the prestigious Concours on August 26, exquisite vintage vehicles take the spotlight in a seaside lineup and parade. Want more motors? Additional automotive events occur the week prior in the neighboring towns of Carmel and Monterey. pebblebeachconcours.net.