Foodies Unite!

07.05.14

America’s Best Summer Food Festivals

Cherries and cheese and lobster galore! Summer is a time for indulging and the great outdoors, so there’s no better way to spend a long weekend than at one of the top food festivals.

Forget the beach, have an epicurean adventure this summer at one of America's excellent food festivals. From stacks of rosy lobsters in Maine, to a celebration of the humble rib in Nevada (and many an artisan cheese and craft beer fest between), there really is a feast fit for every palate. Here's our pick of the most lip-smacking U.S. food festivals for summer 2014.

National Cherry Festival, Traverse City, Michigan

Extend your Fourth of July vacation with a trip to Traverse City, also known as the “cherry capital of the world.” Charming travelers since 1926, the eight-day National Cherry Festival has something for all ages: parents and children can team up for a cherry pie eating contest or indulge in a tart cherry pancake breakfast. You can also work up an appetite with a beach volleyball tournament or rock out to your favorite local band. The event is mostly free.

When: July 5-12

Getting there: The appropriately named Cherry Capital Airport is located five miles from the city center from where a free shuttle bus runs to the festival site.

Learn more: cherryfestival.org

Taste of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Doubling as a food and music festival, Taste of Chicago brings together the city’s top restaurants, pop-ups, and food trucks for a five-day feast. Since 1980, Grant Park along the city’s picturesque lakefront has played host to the world’s largest outdoor food festival. Serious foodies can indulge in a high-end, three-course Chef Du Jour meal served inside an air-conditioned tent ($45 per person). AWOLNATION and Janelle Monáe are among this year’s musical headliners, with a slew of other acts also set to perform. General admission is free, and food and beverage tickets cost a small fee.

When: July 9-13

Getting there: For the Grant Park site, take the CTA train to the Adams and Wabash stop or ride the Metra to Millennium Station (Van Buren and Randolph Street).

Learn more: cityofchicago.org

Copper River Wild! Salmon Festival, Cordova, Alaska

There’s no better way to beat the summer heat than a trip to Alaska for the annual Copper River Wild! Salmon Festival. And there’s never a dull moment during the Taste of Cordova Salmon Cook-Off when amateur cooks pit their recipes against each other to be named King of Salmon. Save room also for barbecue in the evenings. Non-fish eaters should attend the arts and crafts fair or catch a live show at the Salmon Jam. For anyone feeling guilty from eating all that salmon, you can sign up for the AK Salmon Runs road race on the second day. The route gives spectacular views of Copper River, as well as the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and wild flowers. Events are mostly free.

When: July 18-19

Getting there: There are daily flights to Cordova from both Anchorage and Seattle (via Juneau). For a more scenic journey, travel by ferry from Whittier or Valdez.

Learn more: copperriverwild.org

Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, Shelburne, Vermont

Vermont has the highest number of cheesemakers per capita within the United States, so if there’s ever a time or place to indulge in a cheese fest, this is it. Sample cheeses from 40 award-winning makers as well as a diverse selection of local wines, craft beers, and spirits. The $50 admission fee includes access to interactive workshops, cheese-making, and cooking demos. Space is limited for these demonstrations so arrive early for the best seats.

When: July 20

Getting there: The festival is held at the historic Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, which is around a 30-minute drive from Burlington International Airport.

Learn more: vtcheesefest.com

Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, California

Garlic might have a reputation for, shall we say, inclement exhalations, but this festival is definitely worth the risk. The three-day event is a mix of food, beverages, arts, crafts, and live entertainment. With two tons of local Christopher Ranch garlic and 10 tons of beef up for grabs, come with a hearty appetite and an open mind (think garlic fish sticks and flavorful garlic ice cream). Adult general admission costs $20 and includes parking, live musical entertainment, cooking demonstrations and a designated children's area. Make sure to watch the Great Garlic Cook-Off finals.

When: July 25-27

Getting there: The festival takes place in Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, California, which is around a 30-minute drive south of San Jose, off Highway 101.

Learn more: gilroygarlicfestival.com

Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, Maine

The Maine Lobster Festival is a must for any seafood fan. Spread out among nine tents, more than 20,000 pounds of lobster are served throughout the five-day festivities. There’s also a parade, live music, a “sea goddess” coronation, and vendors to keep you entertained for hours. Several events specifically cater to kids, making this a fun excursion for the whole family. Not to be missed is the crate race in which participants sprint across lobster crates that are tied together and floating in the water. Ticket prices vary.

When: July 30-August 3

Getting there: The Maine Lobster Festival is held in Rockland's Harbor Park, roughly four hours from Boston and two hours from Portland by car. Since parking spaces are limited, opt for the free shuttle bus that takes guests directly to the festival grounds.

Learn more: mainelobsterfestival.com

Bite of Oregon, Portland, Oregon

Oregon’s largest culinary event is easily one of the city’s most highly anticipated summer festivals, featuring craft brews and farm-to-table bites. The cash-only, three-day weekend festival is set up along Portland’s waterfront, making it convenient to reach via public transportation. In addition to food carts,, restaurants and dessert purveyors, more than 20 flavors of Oregon brewed beer and wines from 20 local vineyards are served.

When: August 8-10

Getting there: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX) and avoid festival traffic by taking the TriMet bus, the MAX light rail or hopping on a Portland streetcar. There is also secure bike parking on the north end of the park.

Learn more: biteoforegon.com

Best in the West: Nugget Rib Cook-Off, Sparks, Nevada

Celebrate Memorial Day weekend a little differently this year, with a trip to downtown Sparks, Nevada for their annual Best in the West: Nugget Rib Cook-Off. Join 500,000 others for an extravaganza of barbecue cuisine, music and crafts, all while chowing down on nuggets of every shape, color, and flavor. Over the course of the six-day festival, 230,000 pounds of ribs are cooked by 24 of the world’s best rib chefs, with the winning cook taking home $12,500 in prize money. Admission is free.

When: August 27-September 1

Getting there: There is a free shuttle bus from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport to the Victorian Square festival site. Parking is free.

Learn more: nuggetribcookoff.com

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Hawaii

Those looking for some fun in the sun paired with exotic, tropical treats need look no further than the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. The seven-day festival features food from more than 80 internationally renowned master chefs, with wine and spirit producers and even a few culinary personalities also in attendance. Choose from a variety of events including wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, exclusive dinners, and unique excursions, all of which highlight Hawaii's local produce and cultural influences. Ticket prices vary and only over 21’s admitted.

When: August 29-September 7

Getting there: This festival is set on Hawaii (Big Island), Maui, and O'ahu. Once on the ground, rent a car or book an Uber and make sure to use the festival's promo code available on their website.

Learn more: hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com

Hudson Valley Food & Wine Fest, Rhinebeck, New York 

The Hudson Valley is home to some of the country's top wineries, and for New York City residents this is the perfect weekend getaway to bid farewell to summer. Celebrating all things wine, guests are encouraged to taste different varieties and purchase their favorites. The festival has representatives from around 22 wineries from across the state and more than 100 vendors selling specialty food, art and craft. Many of the grape growers and wine makers are on site to answer questions.

When:  6-7 September 2014

Getting there: The festival is held at Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, New York, just a short drive from the Rhinebeck train station. Parking is free.

Learn more: hudsonvalleywinefest.com

Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet, (c) 2014 Lonely Planet