Summertime is festival time in the U.S. Of all of the fairs, festivals and celebrations that take place around the country between May and December, the majority of them honor some type of food. From local produce to five-star chefs, wherever your summer travel plans take you you’re bound to find a festival near you. If you are looking for something to add to your itinerary, check out one of these unusual, culinary events.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
Pack the breath mints before you head to this popular festival in Gilroy, California, south of San Jose. Thousands of people descend upon the small farming community for a three-day celebration of everyone’s favorite flavoring, and devour more than two tons of garlic in the process. The highlight is the recipe contest and garlic cook-off, but families also enjoy live entertainment, arts and crafts vendors and demonstrations as well as the Miss Gilroy Garlic pageant.
Maine Lobster Festival
On the opposite coast, the world’s most popular crustacean is displayed at the Maine Lobster Festival. Lobster takes center stage at this popular festival, but other events, including the crowning of the Sea Goddess, the lobster boat and crate races (where crates are tied together across the harbor and participants run across them) and live music entertains attendees for five days.
Georgia Peach Festival
If there’s one thing Georgia’s known for, it’s peaches — and this week-long festival in late June is a celebration of the fruit. The Peach County, Georgia, festival is a giant party, complete with amusement rides, waterslides and fireworks. For many festival-goers, the highlight is the world’s largest peach cobbler for all to share on the festival’s last day. When you’re trying to find Atlanta activities, this is one daytrip that’s worth it.
National Buffalo Wing Festival
Buffalos might not have wings, but don’t tell attendees at this celebration of the spicy game-day staple. At the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York, in early September, attendees can try a variety of wings, from slightly kicky to mouth-on-fire spicy. In addition to tastings, expect to find a wing-eating contest, sauce contests and a beauty pageant.
Taste of Chicago
One of America’s largest food festivals, Taste of Chicago takes over the city’s Grant Park for the first week of July and offers attendees the chance to sample dishes from more than 70 of the area’s best restaurants and chefs. Thrill rides, arts and crafts booths, and major entertainment — acts such as John Mayer and Kenny Rogers have taken the stage here — are a major part of the festival as well.
Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival
Where else but Wisconsin would you expect to find a cheese celebration? Little Chute, Wisconsin, comes alive the first weekend of June with the Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival. A cheesecake contest, a cheese sculpture contest, a 5K race and other events honor Wisconsin’s dairy industry and cheese producers.
Santa Paula Citrus Festival
California is known for its citrus production. For a few days each July, the Southern California town of Santa Paula, northeast of Los Angeles, honors lemons, limes and avocados in a three-day festival. With live entertainment — including a lemon juice drinking contest —and contests related to all things citrus (largest lemon, best lemon bars) the festival is a sweet celebration of a sour fruit.
Houston Hot Sauce Festival
At the end of September, wind up the summer food festival season with a visit to the Houston Hot Sauce Festival, a three-day party for all things hot and spicy: sauces, salsa, marinades and more. Vendors from all over the country descend upon Houston to offer their wares for tasting and selling to attendees, who can also enjoy kids’ activities, a rib cook-off and more.
Fans of the delicious Polish dumplings should head to Whiting, Indiana, for a three-day festival in July where they can stuff themselves as full as, well, a pierogi. In addition to the eastern European treats, visitors enjoy Polish sausage, sauerkraut and other favorites while dancing to polka music.
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
For 28 years, the sweet onion growers in Walla Walla, Washington, have hosted a two-day festival each July honoring their crops. This family-friendly festival includes everything from onion-eating contests to the “Bald as an Onion” contest, making it one of the more unusual festivals you’ll ever attend.
Nearly every city, state and region in the U.S. has a food specialty that’s celebrated at some point. Wherever your travels take you, check out local event listings — you might discover a new favorite food you’ve never had before.
About the Author: Mainer Suz Pearson has been to the Maine Lobster Festival every year since she was a child — and looks forward to the lobster boat races.