A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

9 Weird Food Festivals You Won’t Believe Actually Exist

Whether your favorite food is pumpkin or lobster (or prairie oysters), there's an American food festival that celebrates it in a big, wacky, wonderful, delicious way.

1 / 9

Hatch Chile Festival

Every Labor Day weekend, this festival celebrates New Mexico’s native chile peppers. Served all over the state in red, green, or “Christmas style” incarnations, they’re placed atop burgers and fried stuffed with cheese as rellenos. The Hatch Chile Festival involves a chile-eating contest, ristra-stringing workshops, the crowning of the Hatch Chile Queen, and plenty of mariachi bands (naturally). Tip: We thought the chile-peanut brittle was the take-home hit.

2 / 9

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Northern California’s garlic fiesta takes place each July, and festival goers who don’t want to drive can hop on the “garlic train” from San Jose. At the fair, in addition to art and music, professional chefs compete in “Battle Garlic” and a garlic barbecue cook-off and attendees can taste garlic shrimp, garlic bread, and garlic fries. Tip: Don’t leave without trying the famed garlic ice cream for dessert!

3 / 9

Waikiki Spam Jam

This celebration of Hawaii’s love for Hormel’s potted meat product takes place in April in Oahu. Not only can you taste spam creations by a variety of Hawaii’s top chefs you can also buy spam-themed clothing, from hats to shorts and t-shirts to slippers. Tip: Don all your spam-related wear, and then take a selfie with the event’s mascot at the Waikiki Spam Jam. Make sure you plan your trip before it’s too late.

4 / 9

Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival

This annual celebration takes place in Doyle Park in Little Chute, Wisconsin. Saturday morning starts with a race called the Cheddar Chase; Sunday morning starts with the Big Cheese Breakfast. During the day is Cheese Fest—with a cheese curd eating contest, cheese carving demos, and a melty grilling competition. Tip: Plan to stay late: at night the affair turns into a concert called Cheese Jam.

5 / 9

Maine Lobster Festival

This annual August event in Rockland, Maine is a great event to road trip to: it celebrates the beloved crustacean with a parade and more steamed lobster and lob-stah rolls than you can imagine, plus lobster bisque, lobster mac and cheese, lobster Caesar salad, and lobster-stuffed risotto balls. Tip: Check out the lobster crate race, which pits brave locals against one another in a race across crates floating in the ocean. Before you head out, just make sure to learn how to eat lobster without wasting any meat to make the most of the festival.

6 / 9
hot dog

Chicago Hot Dog Fest

This celebration in Lincoln Park toasts the city’s 100 years of making hot dogs. This town does not take its history lightly: There’ll be lectures, such as ones on pairing beers with hot dogs and one on myths of hot dogs, and a variety of dogs from 14 of the city’s top producers. Tip: As always, we suggest following local food customs. Here, it’s important to remember that locals never put ketchup on their hot dogs, so don’t ask for it!

7 / 9

Pumpkin Fest

You don’t have to love pumpkin pie to enjoy this affair: The highlight of this annual October event, which takes place in Laconia, New Hampshire—is the jack o’lanterns, which number around 20,000. Tip: Don’t just full up on pumpkin-filled treats. The pumpkin-carving demonstrations will be the gift that keeps on giving for Halloweens to come. Every foodie will love these epic road trips.

8 / 9

Vidalia Onion Festival

Georgia celebrates its official state vegetable in an onion-eating contest and onion cook offs, as well as both high-end onion-related dishes and more street food-style fare at the Vidalia Onion Festival. Tip: Be sure to pack some gum or mints if you’re planning to spend the day there!

9 / 9

Pittston Tomato Festival

Inspired by a similar event in Spain, this Pennsylvania fair may have a Little Mr. and Ms. Tomato Contest, a parade, a 5K run, and a tomato-growing contest, but it is best known for its messy and playful tomato fights. Tip: Safety is taken into account here: Sign up to be a thrower of actual rotten tomatoes and admission comes with goggles.

Sherri Eisenberg
Sherri Eisenberg is an award-winning glossy print veteran for top travel, bridal. food, and lifestyle magazines who is equally deft with digital, social, mobile, and branded content. She has written for Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, and Bon Appétit, and has served as cruise editor for Travel and Leisure and Travel Holiday as well as Cruiseline.com and ShermansCruise.com. She has also been a columnist for The Los Angeles Times and, as senior travel editor of Condé Nast's Brides, she won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for best travel coverage in a non-travel magazine. Sherri is the author of "The Food Lovers Guide to Brooklyn," which was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2010 and covered by everyone from The New York Times to Time magazine. She keeps a bag packed at all times and has no plants or pets so she can hop on a plane — or a ship — at a moment's notice.