When it comes to quirky food festivals, America stands united. Our cross-country map of state-by-state cuisine celebrations, adapted from National Geographic's new book, Great American Eating Experiences, takes you from Massachusett's fluffernutter fest to a garlic gathering in California (breath mints recommended). Plan a food-filled road trip to follow the locals to these top festivals highlighting regional specialities.
The Peanut Boil Festival in Luverne includes much more than fresh goobers every September. Go nuts for the arts and crafts, beauty pageant, car show, and live music.
Every May, the Kodiak Crab Festival celebrates one of Alaska’s most sought-after food items over five days of bacchanal, with cooking demonstrations by Alaska chefs using locally harvested seafood and wild greens.
Everything you always wanted to know about lettuce is the focus of Yuma Lettuce Days, which unfolds each February at the University of Arizona Agriculture Center. A fresh-from-the-field salad bar featuring locally grown head, leaf, and romaine lettuce is one of the main attractions, but the leafy shindig also boasts cooking demonstrations, live music, and lectures.
Munch on a big and crunchy fried dill and watch, or better yet, enter the contests at Atkins Picklefest held each May. Locals find the power to inhale sour during the pickle-eating or pickle-juice drinking challenges.
Once misunderstood (too ethnic!) or even reviled (stinky!), the boldly flavored Allium sativum has come a long way to become an essential part of the American pantry. And no place in America wears its garlic pride like the agricultural city of Gilroy, the self-proclaimed “garlic capital of the world,” during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival when dozens of vendors spare no flavor.
The Great American Beer Festival in Denver allows visitors the chance to sample thousands of American craft beers. Judges separate the best suds from the duds during this three-day annual event held every fall.
Connecticut’s annual Milford Oyster Festival celebrates the wealth of East Coast oysters, harvested from Maine to Virginia. But the choicest of the 30,000 oysters (and clams) served on the half shell at this August event are those marked with a “CT.”
Bridgeville, Delaware, home to the nation’s largest producer, RAPA Scrapple, goes all out with its annual Apple Scrapple Festival each October. Find all-you-can-eat scrapple breakfasts, scrapple carving, and scrapple chunkin’—a shot put–style contest where participants fling packages of scrapple as far as they can.
District of Columbia
Truckeroo is a monthly festival held April through October at the corner of Half Street and M Street SE, across from the Navy Yard metro station. It brings together more than 20 food trucks for a full day of live music, games, and tasty eats.
The annual Key Lime Festival in Key West around July 4 includes pie cooking demonstrations and competitions and the requisite key lime pie–eating contest. Plus, there’s ample opportunity to sample the goods along with key lime cocktails and locally distilled key lime rum.
Held every June in Peach County, the weeklong Georgia Peach Festival includes the baking—and eating—of the world’s largest peach cobbler. The 11-by-5-foot dessert uses 75 gallons of fresh peaches. Festival events are held in Peach County’s two cities, Fort Valley and Byron.
The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival takes place over 10 days in early November of each year, highlighting the region’s long coffee and cultural heritage. Daily coffee tastings, art strolls, and tours of working coffee farms are worth the buzz.
Potato sack races, tuber tosses, tugs-of-war over a potato “mash pit,” and the Miss Russet beauty contest highlight September’s Idaho Spud Day in Shelley, on the banks of the Snake River.
The Southern Illinois river town of Golconda throws a jumbo-size Shrimp Festival each September for sustainably farmed shrimp. Find cornhole tournaments, a Little Miss Shrimp pageant, and enough shrimp dishes to satisfy anyone's appetite.
Persimmon passion peaks every year in September during the fruit’s namesake festival in Mitchell, Indiana. Expect a seriously small-town scene, complete with a parade, a candlelight tour of the town’s historic area, and the persimmon pudding competition.
Bacon lovers rejoice at the Des Moines Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival every February. Go whole hog with lectures, eating competitions, and sizzling live entertainment.
Proclaimed the “Spinach Capital of the World” during the 1930s, the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa celebrates the leafy green with a family-oriented Spinach Festival in September. Participants try to outdo their record for the largest spinach salad or pose for photo ops with Popeye and Olive Oyl.
The World Chicken Festival held each September in London honors Laurel County’s fried fowl heritage, since Kentucky Fried Chicken was invented nearby. Some 7,000 festival chicken dinners are fried annually in what’s billed as the world’s largest stainless steel skillet: a 700-pound pan that can cook 600 chicken quarters at a time.
November’s Oak Street Po-Boy Festival in Uptown New Orleans attracts nearly 60,000 sandwich lovers and more than 40 vendors selling a dizzying array of delicious po’boys stuffed with everything from German goulash to fried Maine lobster.
August’s blueberry harvest is a statewide celebration, but the Wilton Blueberry Festival is really top of the pick. The two-day event serves up pancake breakfasts, blueberry cook-offs, and plenty of pies to take home.
Spice things up at the Old Bay Festival in Cockeysvile held in June. The state's signature flavor is showcased through competitions for the best seasoned dish and crab races.
Don’t miss the annual September What the Fluff? festival in Somerville’s Union Square, where the gooey treat was invented. A marshmallow toss, musical performances, and the ultimate fluffernutter sandwiches are sure to stick.
In early July, the eight-day National Cherry Festival attracts half a million people to Traverse City for events like the Cherry Pie Bike Ride (all participants get a free slice of cherry pie), orchard tours, cherry pie–eating contests, and the Make & Bake cherry pie workshop for children.
Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville, Minnesota, hosts a Native American–focused Wild Rice Festival each September where visitors can feast on wild rice pancakes, sausages, and “four sisters” soup made with corn, squash, beans, and wild rice.
The World Catfish Festival in Belzoni each April celebrates the city’s 1976 title as “farm-raised catfish capital of the world.” Events include a catfish fry, live blues and gospel music, and a catfish-eating contest.
More than 600 teams vie every October to be top pitmaster at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. Juried categories cover everything from best sauce to best brisket, plus live entertainment and fireworks.
Pancake breakfasts and dessert contests are just part of the huckleberry-centric fun at the Trout Creek Huckleberry Festival each August. The community gathers for a parade, horseshoe contests, and dancing under the stars.
Hastings, Nebraska, puts on a sweet face to celebrate their invention of the flavored drink mix during Kool-Aid Days in August. Discover collectible exhibits, photo ops with the Man, drinking contests, and the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand.
The culture and heritage of Greece shines at the annual Las Vegas Greek Food Festival in September. Attendees can join traditional dances to work off the gyros, souvlaki, and baklava served in abundance.
The mid-October Milford Pumpkin Festival is the destination for all things pumpkin: the pumpkin weigh-in (winners top 1,300 pounds), the pumpkin catapult, the pumpkin lighting, and, of course, the pumpkin pie competition.
Trenton recently inaugurated the annual Pork Roll Festival to celebrate its unique culinary contribution. Vendors sell their favorite pork roll creations against a background of live music.
One of the best places to buy (and try) a wide variety of locally grown hot things is the Viva New Mexico Chile Festival in Los Lunas. In addition to a salsa contest and chili cook-off, the three-day event invites chili farmers to vend their green and red treasures at numerous stalls around the festival grounds.
Lyons, in upstate New York, honors its sweet history as a main producer of peppermint oil during Peppermint Days every July. Families find tractor shows, historic tours, and amusement rides during the festival weekend.
Agriculture takes center stage at the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in May, with pig races and barbecue cook-offs. Hundreds of vendors gather around carnival rides and live entertainment.
Dust off your horned helmet and bring a Viking-size appetite if you’re heading to the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, which runs late September through early October. The five-day celebration includes concerts, dancing, and even a folk school teaching traditional crafts, but the biggest draw is the food since one third of North Dakotans have roots in Norway.
The annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival is held each September in Albany, Ohio, just 20 miles from the border with West Virginia. The three-day fete features creative culinary inventions like pawpaw mustard, pawpaw tamales, and even pawpaw wheat beer.
Tiny Bristow is a long way from Beirut, but it has been home to a large population of Lebanese immigrants for more than a century. Every May they celebrate Lebanon’s signature salad at the Tabouleh Fest, complete with a Miss Tabouleh pageant, belly dancers, and an all-you-can-eat Lebanese lunch prepared by local churches.
Berry lovers rejoice in downtown Portland during July with the Oregon Berry Festival in full swing to highlight one of oldest berry industries in the country. Blackberry pies compete for top prize, a city celebrity chef hosts a gala dinner, and musicians jam out for the occasion.
A party for bean soup is not as odd as it sounds, since the McClure Bean Soup Festival held in September traces its roots to practical dinners organized by Civil War soldiers. Now baking contests, horse shows, and garden tractor pulls bring the community together.
Clam chowder takes many forms from creamy New England style to the tomato-based soup in New York. Vistitors can taste them all during the Block Island Chowda' Fest in May, when island restaurants compete for the best bowl and a year of bragging rights.
The World Grits Festival held each April in St. George celebrates the small town’s collective appetite for grits. According to the locals, more grits are consumed per capita here than anywhere else in the world. The event includes the opportunity to roll in grits because . . . why not?
First buffalo are coralled in Custer State Park. Then local cooks compete during the Buffalo Wallow Chili Cook-Off taking place every October, with plenty of sampling opportunities for visitors.
The International Biscuit Festival and the aroma of fresh-baked biscuits draws more than 20,000 people into downtown Knoxville each May. Biscuit-based events include a contest with several categories, including sweet and savory, and samples for nibbling.
A 10-day salute to sausage takes place in November during the Wurstfest in New Braunfels. The fun links to the area's German heritage with plenty of beer and cheer.
Contests to choose the best funeral potatoes are a staple of the Utah State Fair, held every September in Salt Lake City. The annual 11-day festival starting after Labor Day on historic fairgrounds also promises best in show livestock, clowns, and deep-fried delicacies.
The annual Vermont Maple Festival, held in St. Albans in late April, is a celebration of all things maple— including the end of the hectic sugaring season—with syrup tastings and, of course, a pancake breakfast.
The small town of Alberta in Brunswick County, Virginia, hosts the annual Taste of Brunswick Festival in October. You can taste the entries from its Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, held every fall at the 17th Street Farmers Market, where you can buy sample- or quart-size portions of stew from different makers.
Held each fall on the grounds of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, the three-day Wenatchee River Salmon Festival celebrates the return of the salmon to the sea from their freshwater spawning grounds. A collaborative project of Native American tribes throughout the Northwest showcases traditional fishing and cooking of salmon as well as storytelling and handicrafts.
Each year, around 100,000 people descend upon the small town of Kingwood during the final weekend of September for the Preston County Buckwheat Festival, including three parades, the coronation of King Buckwheat and Queen Ceres (goddess of agriculture), and endless stacks of buckwheat pancakes. These aren’t your ordinary flapjacks.
The kolache, a pastry pillow or pocket stuffed with a sweet, gooey poppy seed or fruit filling, originated in Bohemia and is now popular in places where Czech migrants settled in America. The Agricultural Heritage Farm in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, hosts a summer Czech & Kolache Festival that includes polka, beer—and, of course, lots of kolache.
Elk antlers are collected from the National Elk Refuge near Jackson Hole to get the festivities started during the May Elkfest. Then a chili cook-off ensues, surrounded by auctions and conservation tours.