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
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.
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.
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.