11 of the Best Small-Town Festivals in America
Whether you seek culture, community, or comfort food, these amazing festivals prove that small towns from coast to coast know how to throw big celebrations.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
courtesy Kim Budd
Go: February through October in Ashland, Oregon
Ashland, a town of fewer than 22,000 residents in southern Oregon, proudly produces America’s largest Shakespeare festival, an eight-month event that features about a dozen productions and hundreds of professional actors. This year’s schedule offers a mix of Shakespearean classics (Othello, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet), other favorites (Sense and Sensibility, Oklahoma!), and modern plays, as well.
courtesy Wilfred Stijger Edith van de Wetering
Go: April in Port Aransas, Texas
Since 1997, this artistic sand festival attracts talented amateurs and master sculptors alike to beautiful beaches of Port Aransas on the Lonestar State’s Gulf Coast. A three-day event typically held over a weekend in late April, SandFest features live music, entertainment, food, and sand sculpting lessons.
You won’t want to miss the history behind these five favorite fair foods.
courtesy Sara Simmons/Tulip Time Festival
Go: May in Holland, Michigan
There’s no better place to celebrate Michigan’s Dutch Heritage than a town called Holland, where six million tulips are planted in private fields, city parks, and other gardens around town. First introduced in 1929, Tulip Time draws a half million visitors and features eight days of events, including three parades, an arts-and-crafts show, carnival rides, fireworks, and plenty of Dutch food tastings.
If you want to get primed, check out these incredible photos of tulip farms.
Burlington Steamboat Days
courtesy Burlington Steamboat Days
Go: June in Burlington, Iowa
Going strong for 55 years, the four-day Burlington Steamboat Days draws an impressive lineup of musical headliners and new artists to this small Iowa town on the banks of the Mississippi River. Over the years, attendees have been treated to performances by Louie Armstrong, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, and more. In addition to music, there are carnival games and dozens of rides, as well as a golf tournament.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival
courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism
Go: June in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Now in its 70th year, this celebration of blooming lilacs takes place on storybook Mackinac Island, where motorized vehicles are banned in favor of bikes and horse-drawn carriages. During the 10-day festival, there are food and wine tastings, a 10K run, concerts, and carriage tours to admire the island’s beautiful flowering trees—some more than 150 years old. On Saturday, the Lilac Queen is crowned and horse-drawn floats clip-clop in the Grand Parade, which the Library of Congress has named a “local legacy” event.
courtesy papillion days
Go: June in Papillion, Nebraska
This town of 19,000 swells to almost three times its normal size during Papillion Days, a 71-year-old festival that includes music, carnival, tractor-pull, BBQ competition, movie night, pancake breakfast, duathlon, and the largest parade in the state. The highlight of this five-day event features more than 120 floats, bands, and performers, representing dozens of organizations, parading through town on Father’s Day weekend.
National Cherry Festival
Courtesy John L. Russell Great Lakes Images
Go: June-July in Traverse City, Michigan
The lovely town of Traverse City, Michigan (pop. 15,000) is synonymous with cherries, and there’s no better time to visit than during the National Cherry Festival. Eight days is plenty of time to sample pies, pancakes, and a wide array of foods made with Traverse City’s iconic fruit. When you’re not eating, you can enjoy parades, concerts, an arts-and-crafts fair, an air show, and amusement rides.
Be sure to check out the healthiest food you can find at your local fair this summer.
National Balloon Classic
Courtesy Angelina Peace
Go: July-August in Indianola, Iowa
Every summer for over 40 years, the small farming town of Indianola, Iowa (pop. 15,800), has put on one of the largest festivals in the Midwest. The weeklong National Balloon Classic features twice-daily flights of more than 100 colorful hot-air balloons, skydiving demonstrations, balloon rides, plus dawn-patrol and night-glow extravaganzas. There’s also live music, food vendors, and a kids’ play area.
Maine Lobster Festival
courtesy Maine Lobster Festival
Go: August in Rockland, Maine
The small town of Rockland, Maine (pop. 7,000), pays homage to the state’s iconic mascot at this delicious food fest. Every summer, over 80,000 visitors consume more than 25,000 pounds of lobster caught fresh in nearby waters. There are also concerts, pageants, parades, and the world-famous lobster crate race, in which kids and adults compete to see who can run the fastest across the harbor atop floating lobster crates. Don’t miss these weird food festivals you won’t believe actually exist.
Courtesy Julia Cumes
Go: October on Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Seventeen years ago, the small town of Wellfleet launched its annual Oysterfest to bring some of the summer crowds back to Cape Cod by putting food, fun, and music on the half shell. Home to one of the world’s great oyster beds, Wellfleet puts on a two-day event that hauls in 25,000 visitors who come sample raw oysters, fried oysters, oyster chowder, oyster tacos, and even—we kid you not—a special Sam Adams oyster stout.
Courtesy Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch/Barbecue Festival
Go: October in Lexington, North Carolina
The 19,000 residents of Lexington, North Carolina, want the world to know that their hometown has been the capital of barbecue since 1919 when a local resident set up the first BBQ tent. Nowadays when the Barbecue Festival takes over the town’s Main Street, it draws nearly a quarter of a million people who come to sample the delectable hickory-smoked pork shoulders basted in a special vinegar-based dip. The festival showcases more than 400 craft and food vendors and there are concerts and other entertainment.
Next, check out the best state fair or festival in all 50 states.