Looking for a charming summer road trip destination? Then forget the massive urban block parties in Los Angeles and San Francisco — California's small towns have some of the quirkiest, most bizarre, and most fun festivals around. From the all-things-foraging mushroom festival in remote McCloud to the Willow Creek Bigfoot Daze festival (complete with Squatch calling contests, of course) California has plenty of quirky celebrations that deserve a stop on your west coast road trip.
Wanderlust Festival: Squaw Valley (near Lake Tahoe)
If summer travel for you is more about the mountains than the beach, snag your ticket to the Wanderlust Festival near Lake Tahoe in late July, which is about yoga, music and so much more. There are guided sunset hikes, huge concerts, farm-to-table dinners, wellness lectures, and camping options at an elevation of 8,200 with incredible views of Lake Tahoe. If yoga’s your thing, you can choose from daily classes like paddleboard yoga, slackline yoga, acro-yoga, hip-hop yoga, and just about every other style you can imagine.
McCloud Mushroom Festival: McCloud, California
Forget everything you thought you knew about mushrooms, because the Mushroom festival in McCloud, near Lake Shasta, is going to teach you on just what these little fungi can do. Mushroom jerky? Check. Mushroom foraging classes taught by the Mushroom King? Check. Painted mushroom art? Check. With live music, multi-course mushroom meals complete with truffle donuts, and mushroom cooking workshops, this festival is a charming stop for anyone in the area, even if you don’t know a crimini from a chanterelle. The festival is Saturday and Sunday of every Memorial Day weekend.
Ever wondered how to call an oyster? Well, you can learn how, or at least give it your best shot, at this Humboldt County annual festival. This one-day festival in mid to late June has music and wine and beer tastings, but what’s truly delightful are the oyster-themed events, like oyster “shuck and swallow” contests, oyster calling, and cooking competitions focused on all things bivalve. And if you get hungry, don’t worry: Humboldt Bay is home to a nearly $20 million-dollar oyster industry, so you should be able to find a seafood restaurant or two in the area.
Sure, most mountain resorts have some type of beer festival. But Mammoth Lakes, near Yosemite National Park, takes it to a whole new level. Their four-day beer and blues festival in early August has more than 80 breweries offering tastings and two stages of music with major blues and bluegrass acts like Trombone Shorty and Buddy Guy. With daily festival shuttles, no-cash RFID payment systems, and local food vendors, this beer festival is one you won’t want to miss. And since it’s in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s cooler and breezier than your average, punishingly hot California daytime festival.
If you love music festivals but don’t feel like making the effort it takes to go to Coachella, check out the Northern Nights Music Festival in late July. In addition to electronic and techno music, the festival has yoga classes, live art demonstration, galleries, a hammock lounge, a campground in the redwoods and a silent disco. But the best part has to be the lively stage set up next to the two massive swimming holes where attendees float, dance, and play in the river all day. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
If your musical tastes are a little more old-school, make plans to be in Carmel during the last two weeks of July for the Carmel Bach Festival. Around since 1935, the festival hosts live symphonic performances, open rehearsals, concerts, and lectures. There are even performances for families, with interactive shows set to classical music. As you might expect, music from the Johann Sebastian Bach canon is most prevalent, but music from modern composers and Bach’s contemporaries are also included in some concerts.
It may not come as a surprise to see a surf festival on a list focused on California, but this one is a bit different: it’s a surf rodeo. It’s totally focused on fun, and competitors will be randomly assigned a vintage surfboard before they paddle out to see how long they can ride the biggest, bucking-est waves. The rodeo theme makes its way into other festival elements, too, like the “greased pig” paddling contest and, of course, a mechanical bull. If you prefer to stay on land, you’ll be treated to live music, beer tastings, and the world’s largest cornhole tournament. Head out to Venture during the second weekend of July to catch some waves and enjoy the festival.
Depending on where you grew up, summer might bring back memories of the county fair. The California Mid-State Fair takes that to a whole new level, with 12 days of entertainment during July including a full carnival, barn dances, livestock shows, and exhibits on everything from tractors to modern art. There’s also a surprisingly good lineup of music, with shows from Miranda Lambert, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar, Smokey Robinson, and Cardi B. Don't miss out on some of the quirkier events, like a Strongman beer-wagon-pulling competition and classes on the secrets of cake decorating.
Willow Creek is a small town, but it’s home to a big celebrity: Bigfoot himself. Details like whether he does or doesn’t actually exist don’t stop the town from going all-out at their annual celebration of the ‘squatch at the end of August. The day starts with a themed parade — 2019’s theme is “Bigfoot Goes to Hollywood” — before moving next to an ice cream social at the bigfoot museum and finishing with an all-day festival. Popular activities include a watermelon eating contest, logging competition, and everyone's favorite must-see event: the Bigfoot calling contest. Bigfoot hasn’t been drawn to the festival quite yet, but maybe your call will be good enough to make it happen.