SPIDER CELEBRATION: You have to hand it to the towns of Gold Country for celebrating some of the smaller, more misunderstood beasties. Calaveras County throws an annual frog jumping party each springtime -- that's in tribute to the Mark Twain story, of course -- and Coarsegold pays tribute to tarantulas. Nope, frogs and tarantulas don't have much in common, beyond being low to the ground and causing normally level-headed people to emit small shrieks. And they rarely get their own parties; sure, a zoo docent might trot one out for a few minutes, for schoolchildren to ooh and ahh over, but they don't garner the instant affection among the masses that, say, a dog or cat might. So they need a good fest, now and then, and the tarantulas' bash is just around the corner. It is, in fact, the Saturday before Halloween, in fact, which means spider aficionados will be descending on the Western Sierra at the height of fall.
SATURDAY, OCT. 27: Like the Calaveras County frog action, tarantulas will go head to head -- or, um, hairy leg to hairy leg -- in races during the event. Kid activities and other tarantulan to-dos are part of the Tarantula Awareness Festival, which marks its 15th year. If you happen to love your bigger arachnids, and you do make the drive, note that you'll be close -- well, close-ish -- to Yosemite, and to Groveland, which happens to have one of the most famous haunted hotels in one of the most famously haunted regions of the state. Could you go full-on weekend-before-Halloween with your plans, from the tarantula fest to an autumn drive to a ghostly stay?