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Dragon boat festivals in and around L.A.

Steeped in Chinese tradition, dragon boat festivals across L.A. combine fierce competition with rich cultural history

Traditional Chinese dragon boat festivals go way back—about 2,296 years, in fact. The tradition began as a celebration of Chinese poet Qu Yuan, after his death in 278 BCE. Legend says that he died by drowning; the local fishermen rushed to their boats to save him, then upon finding his body, drummed and splashed with their paddles to protect it from evil spirits. That evolved into launching rowers and drummers into boat races every summer to mark the anniversary of his death. Contemporary festivals honor the tradition with races, art, music and food, so even if you don’t paddle through the water yourself, it’s worth enjoying the spectacle from the comfort of dry land.

If you're looking for things to do outside in Los Angeles, these annual traditions offer a far more unique experience than an ordinary day at the beach or on a hiking trail. From Echo Park Lake to Mission Bay in San Diego, check out our guide to the dragon boat festivals in and around L.A.

Dragon boat festivals to check out this season

Lotus Festival

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Celebrate the bloom of Echo Park Lake's beloved floating flowers with the annual Lotus Festival. Expect plenty of food, music, dragon boat races and, of course, the lotus flower beds in full bloom. The historic event celebrates the contributions of Asian-Americans to L.A., and this year, the 37th, will honor the Bangladeshi community.

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Until Sun Jul 16

Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival

Dozens of teams in elaborately decorated boats hit the water every year at the biggest and most famous dragon boat festival in the region. Between races, see performances by Chinese acrobats and dancers, plus demonstrations of traditional crafts and martial arts. 

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Until Sun Jul 30
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San Diego International Dragon Boat Race

This race attracts teams from across the globe for two days of serious competition. It’s worth a road trip to watch top teams of paddlers make their way across San Diego’s scenic Mission Bay. Along the shore you’ll find vendors and festivities. 

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Various locations in L.A. Saturday September 30 2017 - Sunday October 1 2017

Los Angeles Dragon Boat Festival

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at paddling (or drumming), this low-key, beginner-friendly event is the place to do it. Expect lion dancers on the sidelines and over-the-top outfits on many of the teams, some of which take the annual costume competition as seriously as the race itself. 

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Whittier Narrows Recreation Area , Southeast Cities Saturday October 7 2017
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Looking for more free happenings around town?

Free things to do in L.A.

Explore the city beyond the usual weekend hikes, gratis yoga, bargain jazz and cheap eats with our guide to the best free things to do and places to visit across the city, for tourists and locals alike.

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By: Michael Juliano

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