Courtesy of Filda Konec/The Key Lime Festival
A shared love of food is one of the few things that unites all Americans. Food is the easiest way of bringing people together, and during any time of year, you’ll find folks gathering by the thousands to celebrate their passion for a specific dish, ingredient or the culinary arts in general.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have a multitude of food festivals, some celebrating regional excellence while others honor a historically and culturally important food or local specialty. In order to determine which food festival is the best one in its home state, we combed through tourism sites and travel guides to get an idea of which festivals are the most loved by locals and renowned by tourists, looking for festivals that have an impressive show of culinary skill and creativity, are unique to the area, demonstrate local color and have attained iconic status. Here’s the most beloved festival in each state.
Alabama is home to approximately 900 peanut farmers, and half of all American peanuts are grown within a 100-mile radius of the town of Dothan, which holds a peanut festival every fall. Rides, games, animals, live music, beauty pageants and tons of great food are on offer, and there’s a parade and even a largest-peanut contest.
Courtesy of Bradley Pigage/Kodiak Crab Festival
Courtesy of Arizona Taco Festival
Held every October, the Arizona Taco Festival is the first of its kind in the entire world. More than 50 restaurants and food trucks serve delicious tacos for $3 each, to be washed down at multiple bars and soft drink stations. A tequila expo featuring more than 100 tequilas is also a part of the festivities. If that’s not awesome enough, this festival also features a Chihuahua beauty pageant, taco-themed games and taco eating contests.
After a pickle plant was established in Atkins, Arkansas in 1945, the town quickly became a pickle capital. Fried pickles were popularized here in 1963 at the Dutchess Drive-In by Bernell “Fatman” Austin, whose secret recipe is still served here annually. Held each May, Picklefest has pickle eating and pickle juice drinking contests, as well as live music, a 5K race, a talent show, a parade and even a rodeo in addition to plenty of pickle-related food and craft vendors.
Courtesy of ¡Latin Food Fest!
California has some of the best Latin food in the country, so it’s no surprise that it’s also home to America’s largest Latin culinary festival. Hosted every August along the San Diego Bay, ¡Latin Food Fest! is a two-day extravaganza featuring delicious Latin food and drink and impressive cooking demos and workshops, as well as a celebrity chef dinner.
Every year in late September, the city of Pueblo, Colorado, celebrates its beloved crop, the Pueblo chile, alongside frijoles (beans) with chile cooking competitions, music, arts and crafts and more. Colorado is known for its green chiles, and the festival draws in attendees from across the nation as well as the state.
The annual Milford Oyster Festival is billed as the largest one-day festival in New England. It celebrates East Coast oysters from Maine to Virginia by serving up 30,000 of them in the coastal Connecticut town of Milford. Also on the menu are clams, lobster rolls, fried dough, fried seafood, burgers, hot dogs, premium wine, craft beer and more alongside live music, canoe and kayak races, a classic car show and more than 200 arts and crafts vendors.
Celebrate Oktoberfest in Delaware with beer and cheese at Cheesetoberfest, hosted by Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company. Local restaurants and companies compete in grilled cheese and mac and cheese competitions, and attendees benefit by trying out all the cheesy goods, alongside some craft beer. Live music from local artists, local vendors and games are also featured at the festival.
Filda Konec for Key Lime Festival
Key West is a bucket list destination where Key lime pie is a beloved local specialty, so consider a trip to the Florida island city around Independence Day, when the Key Lime Festival is typically held. Cooking demonstrations and competitions celebrate this all-American dessert, as does a Key lime pie eating contest, and you can also sample all sorts of Key lime-flavored drinks such as cocktails and locally distilled key lime rum.
Held on two consecutive weekends in June in the Peach County cities of Fort Valley and Byron, the Georgia Peach Festival celebrates the state’s official fruit with more than 50 vendors and more than 9,000 festival-goers. The highlight of the festival is the 11-foot-by-5-foot peach cobbler, an iconic state dessert, which is made using 75 gallons of fresh peaches, making it the largest of its kind on Earth.
Courtesy of Waikiki SPAM JAM
Spam is extremely popular in Hawaii, which has the highest consumption per capita of the canned pork product in the country. The Hawaiian passion for Spam is so intense that every April, a street festival is held in its honor on Waikiki Beach featuring live music and all sorts of takes on the meaty snack by various top Hawaiian restaurants, with proceeds benefiting the Hawaii Foodbank.
Nearly one-third of American potatoes are grown in Idaho, and it’s in Shelley, home of the russet potato, that Idaho Spud Day is hosted every September. For more than 90 years, festival-goers have tried all sorts of potato dishes at various food booths while enjoying live music, games, crafts and commercial booths. The festival hosts all sorts of activities, such as the Miss Russet beauty contest, tuber tosses, tug-of-war over a potato “mash pit” and, of course, potato sack races.
Courtesy of Taste of Chicago
The annual Valparaiso Popcorn Festival is held every September in honor of Orville Redenbacher (former resident and founder of the famous popcorn brand) who built a popcorn factory in the Indiana city. Activities include the 5-mile run called Popcorn Panic, a 5-mile walk, a popcorn parade, live entertainment and hundreds of food and craft vendors, as well as a balloon launch.
Located in east-central Iowa, the Amana Colonies are seven villages that were settled by German Pietists in the mid-19th century and continue to have a strong German heritage. Every June, they honor that heritage by hosting the Wurst Festival, which features sausage vendors from all over Iowa and its surrounding states. Try various types of bratwursts, sausage dishes and other meaty treats as sausage makers compete for various awards.
Sponsored by the Kansas Wheat Commission, the National Festival of Breads celebrates bread in all its glory with baking demonstrations and competitions between bakers from across the country. Held every June, you can enter competitions yourself or just attend to taste and learn techniques for making different types of bread from around the world.
On the last full weekend of every September, the World Chicken Festival in Kentucky is held in honor of Colonel Sanders and the fried chicken empire he started with the establishment of his first restaurant in Laurel County. A 700-pound stainless-steel skillet — said to be the largest in the world — fries about 7,000 chicken dinners for festival-goers, who can also enjoy live music, a hot wing eating contest, a Colonel Sanders look-alike contest, rides, games and a variety of arts, crafts and food booths.
The prettiest town in the state, Breaux Bridge has been called the “crawfish capital of the world,” which it celebrates every year on the first weekend of May with a festival filled with cooking demonstrations, food vendors, arts and crafts booths, dance contests and a parade. One of the largest gatherings of Cajun musicians in the world, the Louisiana festival is also a great spot to enjoy Cajun, Creole, zydeco and “swamp pop” music.
Courtesy of Maine Lobster Festival
Enjoy the best of Maine lobster during the first weekend of August at the Maine Lobster Festival held on Maine’s midcoast. Five days of fresh seafood, including more than 20,000 pounds of lobster eaten with 1,700 pounds of butter, live music, races, cooking contests and craft vendors make up a festival that any seafood lover will revel in.
Celebrating shellfish and sustainability, the Wellfleet OysterFest is a two-day festival held every October in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where you can try some of the best oysters and clams in New England. In addition to the typical festival revelry, the festival boasts an oyster shucking competition, cooking demonstrations, a 5K race and walking tours.
Courtesy of Gary Ennis/National Cherry Festival
More sour cherries are produced in the Traverse City area of Michigan than anywhere else in the United States, and every year, the city celebrates the upcoming harvest of its iconic fruit with an eight-day festival that draws in about half a million people. Join a cherry pie eating contest, an orchard tour, three parades, an art competition or the Cherry Pie Bike Ride, which will earn you a free slice of cherry pie.
The official state grain, Minnesota wild rice gets its own festival every September in the Deer River area. The Wild Rice Festival celebrates the abundant food staple, Native American culture and the coming of the fall season with delicious food (including wild rice pancakes and four sisters soup, made with beans, corn, squash and wild rice), a parade, rides, games and a flea market that’s nearly two blocks long.
Known as the “farm-raised catfish capital of the world,” the town of Belzoni in the Mississippi Delta region produces more farm-raised catfish than any other county in the nation. Every April, the city honors this with their World Catfish Festival which hosts a catfish eating contest, live blues and gospel music, a crowning of the Catfish Queen and what’s billed as the “world’s largest fish fry.”
Try the best of Kansas City barbecue at the Rock’n Ribs BBQ Festival in Missouri, held every April with 11 hours of live music for you to enjoy as you eat smoked chicken, brisket and pork ribs made in the famous regional barbecue style. Sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society, the festival supports multiple local children’s charities and features a kids’ play zone as well.
Courtesy of Huckleberry Festival
For 40 years now, Trout Creek, Montana, has been celebrating the huckleberries that grow in the mountainous region every August. In addition to dancing, music, plays and a parade, cash prizes are awarded in the festival’s bake-off, in which all entries simply must contain huckleberries whether they’re fresh, frozen or in the form of jam, syrup or other concentrations. Try some delicious huckleberry pancakes or Montana’s iconic pie.
Courtesy of Applejack Festival
Keep the doctor away with all the apples you can eat at the Applejack Festival, where up to 80,000 people gather to celebrate the apple harvest. More than six craft fairs, a classic car show, three-day carnival, parade and live music are featured at the Nebraska festival, held every September, where you can enjoy delicious apple pie, apple fritters, candy apples, apple salad and more.
Courtesy of Springs Preserve Ice Cream Festival
Enjoy America’s favorite treat in the form of sundaes, cones and root beer floats at the Springs Preserve Ice Cream Festival, held every May in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to all-you-can-eat ice cream, the entire family can enjoy some hands-on arts and crafts as well as carnival games, pony rides and a photo booth.
Nearly 20 restaurants share their best chowder recipes at the Annual WOKQ Chowder Festival, the largest and oldest chowderfest in New England. Hosted at Prescott Park on the Portsmouth waterfront, the festival hosts chefs from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, serving up 500 gallons of all kinds of chowder — seafood, corn, clam and more.
New Jersey’s annual Belmar Seafood Festival has gotten so big that they’ve had to move from their beachside location to downtown Belmar, where you can enjoy some of the best seafood made by master chefs: shrimp, calamari, lobster, sushi, conch fritters, seafood paella and even alligator. The Jersey Shore festival draws in tens of thousands of attendees, as well as live music and crafts vendors.
Courtesy of Hatch Chile Festival
Chiles are a staple of New Mexican cuisine, and the area surrounding the village of Hatch in particular is known for its Hatch chiles; the local variety is celebrated every Labor Day weekend with a two-day festival. More than 30,000 people come every year to the Hatch Chili Festival to enjoy various chili recipes, demonstrations on how to make ristras (traditional New Mexican decorations consisting of an arrangement of dried chile pepper pods, garlic bulbs and other vegetables), a chile eating contest, parade, carnival, crafts and more.
Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg is the kind of tourist trap that even the locals love, with 100 local vendors serving cuisine from around the world. Located on the Williamsburg waterfront on Saturdays and in Prospect Park on Sunday, the largest open-air food market in America is only around when the weather is warmer. However, if you’re visiting New York in the winter, you can still catch a 25-vendor version of the market when it goes indoors.
Courtesy of The Dispatch/Donnie Roberts/The Barbecue Festival
The self-declared “barbecue capital of the world,” Lexington hosts a festival honoring North Carolina barbecue (which is big on chopped pork and whole hog) every October. Up to 160,000 people come to try out 12,000 pounds of barbecue with 20 area restaurants, dozens of food vendors from elsewhere in the country and hundreds of other commercial vendors.
The largest Scandinavian festival in North America, Norsk Høstfest is held at the end of September through the first few days of October in North Dakota, where one in three people have Norwegian heritage. The five-day festival features food from all five Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden — as well as Nordic music, dancing, traditional crafts and more.
Courtesy of Circleville Pumpkin Show
Held on the third Wednesday through Saturday of every October, the Circleville Pumpkin Show takes place in the Ohio town of Circleville, about 30 miles south of Columbus. Billing itself as “The Greatest Free Show on Earth,” it’s the largest pumpkin festival in America, drawing in more than 300,000 attendees every year. The festivities are kicked off with a competitive weigh-in of pumpkins, and the highlight is Lindsey’s Bakery’s pumpkin pie, the largest in the world. Seven parades are held (led by the crowned Little Miss and Miss Pumpkin Show Queens) and local vendors sell about 23,000 pumpkin pies and more than 100,000 pumpkin doughnuts in addition to pumpkin-flavored pancakes, ice cream, cookies, brownies, waffles, burgers and more.
The Lebanese community in Bristow, Oklahoma, has been there for more than a century, and every May, they honor their heritage with an entire festival dedicated to tabouleh, a traditional salad from the Levant. Hit up the popular local tabouleh bar, tour the two tabouleh factories in Oklahoma, and enjoy traditional belly dancers, Lebanese cuisine and more.
Courtesy of Aubrie LeGault/Feast Portland
Enjoy the best of Pacific Northwest cuisine at Feast Portland, held every September in Oregon’s largest city. Over four days, more than 100 chefs show off their culinary creativity at dinners, tastings and classes, as well as amazing events like the festival’s Night Market and their latest event called "The Big Feast."
The Philadelphia suburb of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is known as the “mushroom capital of the world,” with the area producing more than a million pounds of mushrooms every year — making up half of the country’s crop. At the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, mushroom lovers will enjoy various culinary events featuring their favorite fungi, as well as mushroom farm tours, an antique car show and other classic festival activities.
Newport’s Great Chowder Cook-Off is the longest-running chowder competition in America, taking place in June with chefs from around the world making their best chowder and clam cakes. Not only will you find the best New England clam chowder here, but you’ll also be able to try some great Rhode Island and Manhattan-style chowder, as well as join in oyster slurping, oyster shucking and beer shucking contests.
South Carolina takes its grits so seriously that it has an entire chapter of legislation that exclusively deals with the regulation of cornmeal and grits. It makes sense, then, that this Southern breakfast staple gets its own festival in the northern area of Dorchester County, where more grits are consumed per capita than anywhere else in the world. Taking place every April, the World Grits Festival brings in 10,000 people and even features a competition in which contestants roll in a pool of grits to see who can be the most covered within 10 seconds.
Courtesy of Schmeckfest
German for “festival of tasting,” Schmeckfest has been running for 60 years, celebrating the culinary heritage of three ethnic Mennonite groups (Low German, Swiss and Hutterish) that settled in the Freeman, South Dakota, area back in the 1870s. Every spring, thousands gather for a family-style German meal, historical presentations, live music, a quilt raffle, all sorts of food and craft demonstrations and more.
On the last full weekend of every April, Tennessee hosts the National Cornbread Festival, where you can sample cornbread recipes with a walk through Cornbread Alley, take part in a cornbread eating competition, and run in a 5K race. Also featured at the festival are a cornbread cook-off, local arts and crafts vendors and a classic car show.
Courtesy of CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship
Enjoy some of the best chili in the country in Texas at the Terlingua International Chili Championship. The Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) holds the four-day festival on the first Saturday of every November, allowing CASI to award about $30,000 to local charities and scholarships. Culminating in an epic cook-off on Saturday, the festival includes three nights of music and dancing, as well as other great foods such as salsa, beans and hot wings.
Billed as Park City’s largest outdoor dinner party, Savor the Summit is held every June in the magical mountaintop town, with more than 2,500 gathering to enjoy great food, drink and live music on Main Street. Twenty of the city’s best restaurants come together to create the Grand Table, which has a gorgeous view of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
Courtesy of Vermont Maple Festival
The leading producer of maple syrup in the United States, Vermont has been holding a three-day festival celebrating the end of the sugaring season in late April for more than 50 years now. Have a delicious pancake breakfast and watch syrupmakers get judged in the biggest maple contest in the state, as well as other cooking competitions, musical performances, a parade and a talent show. You can also join sugarhouse tours, an 8.5-mile “Sap Run” and various syrup tastings.
Courtesy of Fire, Flour & Fork Festival
Fire, Flour & Fork is a fall festival with 30 food and drink events held over four days. Tastings, cooking demonstrations, talks with industry experts and behind-the-scenes tours give you a different look at the Virginia culinary scene, and some of Richmond’s top chefs, as well as guest chefs from around the country, serve up some impressive dinners.
Courtesy of Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival
Enjoy Dungeness crab and more of the delicious seafood of the Pacific Northwest on Washington’s Port Angeles waterfront, which holds a festival every October featuring celebrity chef demonstrations, a chowder cook-off, a raw shellfish bar and 14 regional restaurants. Catch your own crab at the Grab-a-Crab Derby, and you can have it cleaned and cooked for you right there or take it home.
Courtesy of Around the World Cultural Food Festival
Foreign officials and diplomats come together regularly in the nation’s capital, and at the Around the World Cultural Food Festival, you can experience your own, tastier diplomacy. With only one restaurant selected to represent each country (of which there are more than 30), you can enjoy the best of each cuisine, as well as other cultural traditions in the form of a fashion show and music and dance performances.
Producing about a quarter of the nation’s cheese, Wisconsin is renowned for its dairy farming and cheesemaking, which is celebrated every September at the Green County Cheese Days in Monroe, which is known as “the Swiss cheese capital of the USA.” Enjoy all kinds of cheese and beer, guided tours on the history of cheesemaking, and events such as a parade and milking contest.
Courtesy of Lindley Rust Photography/Jackson Hole Food & Wine
Jackson Hole Food & Wine is held twice a year, with a three-day winter festival in early March and another one for summer in late June. Held in the charming town of Jackson, Wyoming, local chefs as well as those from around the country join to take part in cooking classes, a dinner series, cocktail master class and more, so you can enjoy some beautiful scenery along with more specialties from one of the best towns for foodies in America.
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