Gilroy Garlic Festival: July 29 — 31, 2011

Fair warning: this festival is, perhaps, not a great date idea. Gilroy, about an hour and a half from San Francisco, has long been known for a love of garlic that transcends the town's cult love of the "stinking rose." Gilroy Garlic Fries are enjoyed by baseball lovers at San Francisco's AT&T Park while the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival is among the largest food festivals in the U.S.

For three days at the end of July, Gilroy's favorite herb gets its moment in the spotlight in an array of

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/marymactavish)

The Gourmet Alley (with its famed "pyro-chefs") and the recipe cook-off are the festival's main draws. The Alley features garlic-focused and enhanced recipes including this year's new "Surf and Turf Alley Wrap" — steak, shrimp, rice, cilantro, and garlic aïoli in a garlic-infused lavash wrap. A few vendors offer brief relief from an otherwise all-garlic-all-the-time weekend with items like handmade candies, wine margaritas, strawberry shortcake, and funnel cakes. This year, Top Chef's Angelo Sosa plays host to a garlic "showdown," with chefs from across the country competing for $5,000 (plus Gilroy garlic glory).  

Don't miss: the "pyro chefs." Enormous flames leap from over-sized pans set up in a row on outdoor stoves, creating an unforgettable spectacle and delicious garlicky dishes.