Gather the clan for the Highland Games

Most Highland Games festivals include a “Gathering of the Clans.” PHOTO COURTESY QUEEN MARY

With the increasing popularity of DNA testing, more and more Santa Clarita Valley residents are finding links to their Scottish heritage. The number of Americans of Scottish descent today is estimated to be 20 to 25 million, more than 8% of the total U.S. population.

A fun way to reconnect to your “clan” is to attend a Highland Games event. Many of these festivals also include a “gathering of the clans.”

If you aren’t sure of your clan name, you can find a variety of resources on the internet (, to help you search for your clan. Or, you can visit with other guests at a clan gathering to learn tips and tricks to track down your clan. Some clan gatherings have a dedicated booth to help newbies search for their particular clan. 

California is home to several large Highland Games festivals, including the largest games in North America. 

What are Highland Games?

A Highland Games is a festival that can include Scottish food, drink and competitions in bagpipes, drumming, Scottish dancing and “heavy” sports. Men and women compete in shot put, tug-o-war, caber toss, weight-for-height and hammer throw. 

The caber toss involves lifting a full-length log, then running forward and tossing the caber into the air so it turns end over end. Cabers can be 20-feet long and weigh as much as 175 pounds. Different competitions will have varying heights and weights for men and women. 

Weight-for-height involves throwing a 56-pound weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Successful clearance raises the bar to a greater height for the next try.

California Highland Games

Feb. 15-16

Queen Mary Scots Festival &
International Highland Games XXVII

1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach


Celebrate the Scottish heritage of the Queen Mary at their Scots Festival. This unique ship is proud to be the most famous ship built on the River Clyde, Scotland. The festival features professional and amateur competitions in piping, drumming, massed bands, darts, Highland dancing and Highland athletics. There will also be exhibitions of falconry, sheep herding, ax throwing and archery. The games welcome elite, professional Scottish athletes to compete in the all-new North American LightWeight Women’s Championship and, returning for the second year, the North American Professional Male Championship.

April 4-5

Tartan Day 

Ardenwood Historical Farm

34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont


Tartan Day celebrates all things Scotland. It includes Scottish heavy athletics, Nor-Cal Shinty Scrimmage, historical re-enactments, clan tents, European martial arts, Scottish and Irish-themed shopping and Scottish animals.

May 23-24


Orange County Fair & Event Center, Costa Mesa


The massed bands will perform at the opening ceremony at noon on Saturday and at the closing ceremonies on Sunday at 5 p.m. Find your heritage at one of the many clan booths and enjoy the clan parade that will be held on the Clan Mile at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and 11:15 a.m. on Sunday. Heavy athletics will include the caber toss, weight-for-height, shot put, hammer throw and the “Farmer’s Walk” (seeing how far a competitor can walk carrying a 150-pound weight). 

June 27-28

San Diego Scottish Highland Games
& Gathering of the Clans 

Brengle Terrace Park

1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista

Info ttps://

More than 50 vendors of Celtic, Scottish and British goods will be on site. There will be Irish bands, a marketplace, food vendors and heavy athletics, including caber toss, hammer throw, weight-for-height, several “stone” throws and sheaf tosses, which resembles a bale of hay being tossed into a barn loft. In addition, you can see solo pipe and drum competitors and sheepdogs herding in live sheep dog trials.  Youth and adult Highland dancers will compete in five dances. 

Sept. 5-6

The 155th Scottish Highland Gathering & Games

Alameda County Fairgrounds

4501 Pleasanton Ave., Alameda

Info ttps://

This is the largest Highland Games and Clan Gathering held in North America. Events include archery, British cars, birds of prey, Celtic heritage, a children’s glen, Clydesdales, concerts, the gathering of the clans, heavy athletics, Highland dancing, Irish dancing, a kilted mile race, living history and so much more. 

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