Nor Cal Pirate Festival

“A family-friendly day of pirate-and-maritime-themed swashbuckling fun.  So throw on an eye patch, strap on a wooden leg, then ransack a passing ship, take their crew prisoners, succumb to scurvy, and get hanged for your crimes–plus, face painting.”
–Aubrey Plaza describes a pirate festival

I love any event that gives me an excuse to dress up, from the Renaissance Faire to a Halloween party. But it probably doesn’t surprise you that one of my all-time favorites is the Northern California Pirate Festival, an annual event held on Father’s Day weekend in Vallejo, CA. I don’t always make it (sometimes the temperatures can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher!), but this weekend was a pleasant 72 with cool breezes off the water. My whole family dresses up and participates, so it’s a lot of fun!

Here’s a bit of the scenery. As you can see, a lot of people dress up as pirates (and mermaids, more on that) and there’s lots of tents full of shops, food, games, drinks, and more. If you can think of anything related to pirates, it’s probably here. Basically, I’m right at home.

Ready for pirate fun!

Here I am, all dressed up and ready to buckle some swashes! This isn’t my usual pirate outfit. It’s actually from The Dress Shop at Disneyland, inspired by the new design for Redd, the redheaded girl in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. In our family’s crew, I’m the navigator, so you can see that I have the map of the festival in my belt.

A pirate ship firing their cannons

One part of the festival is a ship-to-shore cannon battle. There are several guns aboard a boat which sails on the water, manned by pirates. Meanwhile, near the Governor’s Tent, the British Army fires off cannons of their own. They exchange several volleys (with live powder but no projectiles) between the water and the land. The boom from the guns can be heard in the whole neighborhood!

The British cannons on shore

They’re not the biggest cannons, but they can still pack a punch. The British have their own boat, too, but it stays on shore.

One of the British tents

After the ship-to-shore battle, it was time for lunch. There’s a variety of food similar to what you find at the Renaissance Faire. I was curious about one tent that advertised many different kinds of mac ‘n cheese, but I ended up going back to my old favorite at festivals: falafels from the Greek tent.

I like Greek, while my family liked the meat pies

One nice thing about going to festivals in California is most tents offer at least one vegetarian option, so I can always find something to eat. After lunch, we took in the sights.

One of several bouncy houses, shaped like a ship being attacked by a kraken

The pirate festival also features mermaids. There’s a small mermaid lagoon and even smaller tank for them to swim in, so they can’t do many tricks, but you can see that they still put effort into looking pretty with their costumes and tails. (Those hand-painted and sculpted silicone tails aren’t cheap. I’ve looked at them longingly for years, but I don’t have enough chance to use a tail to justify something so nice, so mine is just a monofin in a simple lycra tail.)

One mermaid in the tank, another on the land (the lagoon is behind her)

My favorite part was when she pulled out her dinglehopper and started brushing her hair.

Some other highlights include multiple stages with other performers. There’s a children’s stage, a small stage for bands, and a larger concert stage where the biggest performances take place, including an after-hours party with a rock concert. We didn’t stick around the full time, but we did see a few bands perform as well as belly dancers with snakes.

O’Craven, a band on the smaller stage
Kids always have fun climbing on this ship

And you never know what kinds of decorations lie around every corner. This little ship looked ready to set sail. I’m just happy that this year, I didn’t end up in the stocks. I always have to watch my step because I’ve gotten in trouble before!

A hapless victim of the stocks

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of the Nor Cal Pirate Festival. I’m looking forward to next year!


I'm an author, a blogger, and a nerd. I read and write fantasy.