Americans are diverse folks. It’s one of the qualities that makes us great. And though that diversity can drive us apart, it can also bring us together. So what am I getting at with all this starry-eyed idealism? Food, natch. Food is our great equalizer. Simple pleasures like fresh, hot popcorn or a sun-ripened apple are pleasures that transcend race, religion, and socioeconomic status. The act of eating satisfies one of our most basic instincts, and our passionate enjoyment of food isn’t just evolutionary happenstance. With so many agricultural regions and cultural enclaves across America, there’s never a food festival that’s far away. I’ve broken down a few of my favorites by region to give you a head start. I hope it inspires you to make a plan, pack up, and head out to celebrate the season’s best.
Applefest (Warwick, NY): Started in 1989 as a small, traditional harvest festival, Warwick’s Applefest has since grown into a massive annual celebration that draws over 30,000 visitors to the picturesque Hudson Valley village one Sunday each October. The festival is held in the streets of Warwick’s downtown, where hundreds of craft, food, and nonprofit vendors set up shop. Standout events include an apple pie baking contest and a carnival. Proceeds benefit the Warwick Valley Community Center, Chamber of Commerce, and assorted local nonprofit groups. For more information, visit warwickapplefest.com.
Norwalk Oyster Festival (Norwalk, CT): Each September, the seaside town of Norwalk bids farewell to summer with its massive, three-day Oyster Festival. Held at Veterans Park, which is surrounded by water on three sides, the event is a delightful taste of maritime New England. Though oyster events and food are still at the heart of the Oyster Festival, regional favorites like lobster rolls, crab cakes, and chowder can be found in spades. An interactive pirate encampment, artisans from up and down the east coast, and big-name bands like the Village People set this fest apart from seafood events everywhere. For more information, visit the Norwalk Seaport Association.
Residents of the northeast are lucky to live in a small region easily accessible by car and train. For a trip to one of these festivals, you can get away with just a bit of luggage–like the Eagle Creek Heritage Weekender. As its name implies, this bag holds just enough for a weekend away. It’s got plenty of external pockets to bring home a souvenir lobster bib, too. Made to adhere to Eagle Creek’s legendary standards of durability, items in the Heritage collection also feature grown-up style, making it quite possibly the last tote you’ll ever need.
Lexington Barbecue Festival (Lexington, NC): Barbecue? Now you’re speaking my language. Lexington bills itself as the “Barbecue Capital of the World,” so it’s only right that they’d have a massive festival celebrating all that’s meaty, smoky, juicy, and good. Through the years, the October event has been peppered with controversy, mostly relating to which type of barbecue is technically “correct” for the region. Eastern-style barbecue, referring to eastern North Carolina, is a simple seasoning of vinegar and pepper. This version lets the flavor of the meat shine through. Lexington style differs from Eastern style with the addition of ketchup, making it closer to the red sauce that most Americans associate with barbecue. Whichever you prefer, the Lexington Barbecue Festival, with its live music, demonstrations, contests, and vendors, is sure to be the favorite fall festival of any pork lover. For more information, visit barbecuefestival.com.
Florida Strawberry Festival (Plant City, FL): Heralding Plant City’s most beloved crop, the Florida Strawberry Festival is one of the most popular food festivals in the state. Situated the I-4 corridor, Plant City is easily accessible from the Tampa and Orlando metro areas. More than just a strawberry celebration, the festival has grown into a massive cultural event, featuring rides, midway, livestock and horticulture shows, pig races and stemming contests. Live music headliners like Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, and Alan Jackson make it one of the most anticipated events of the year, drawing visitors from across the southeast. For more information, visit flstrawberryfestival.com.
The south knows how to throw a party, that’s for sure. Be ready for a quick weekend getaway with the Atlantic Compass Unite 21″ Expandable Spinner Suiter. Whether you’re driving or flying, the Compass Unite will conserve space and get you there in style. Its bright blue material (also available in black) makes a cheerful statement, and it’s small enough to fit in a backseat or overhead compartment. A zippered wet/dry pocket will keep those BBQ sauce-stained shirts away from other clothes. An all-purpose bag at a fair price. What’s not to love?
Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival (Des Moines, IA): A relative newbie to the festival world, the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival started in 2001 as an annual guys’ weekend in Spirit Lake, Iowa. In just 12 years, it’s outgrown its humble beginnings and adopted the Iowa State Fairgrounds as its home every February. Its popular bacon showcase affords attendees the opportunity to sample bacon from local and national farms, and a lecture series allows guests to expand their knowledge of all things pork. What started as a tongue-in-cheek weekend for some bacon loving bros has turned into one of Iowa’s most sizzling events. For more information, check out blueribbonbaconfestival.com.
Marion Popcorn Festival (Marion, OH): Corn-fed midwesterners know that the region’s cash crop is worthy of celebration. That’s why Marion, Ohio’s Marion Popcorn Festival draws throngs of snack-food fans to the small town each September. Kicking off the parade is the Thursday Night Parade, one of Ohio’s largest with over 300 vehicles. Throughout the weekend, visitors can enjoy a large midway with over 250 games of chance and skill, live music, pageants, food, and the Wyandot Popcorn Museum. Fans of good, clean, corny fun are sure to have the time of their lives at the Marion Popcorn Festival. For more information, visit popcornfestival.com.
No-nonsense midwesterners will find plenty to smile about with the Samsonite Silhouette Sphere Weekender Boarding Bag. One of Samsonite’s newest lines, Silhouette Sphere combines sleek design with world-class durability to create the next generation of luggage. With its generously-sized interior and functional front organizer panel, the Weekender Boarding Bag is the perfect accompaniment for an overnight jaunt.
Gilroy Garlic Festival (Gilroy, CA): Local breath mint sales hit new heights each year at the end of July. At the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the humble root that forms base flavors in countless cuisines finally gets the recognition it deserves. Established in 1979, it’s one of the country’s largest food festivals, attracting thousands of garlic fans each year. Notable attractions include free garlic ice cream, which is surely worth a try despite the fact that they literally give it away. Gourmet cooking demonstrations, a wine pavilion, and high-end artisans from around the state put a unique NorCal spin on this festival. Don’t forget the gum! For more information, visit gilroygarlicfestival.com.
National Lentil Festival (Pullman, WA): Health-conscious foodies and those who just want to have fun will find their niche at the National Lentil Festival in Washington state. A 5K fun run and “Tour De Lentil” bike ride make this one of the country’s healthiest food festivals, but the grand parade, beer garden, and world’s largest bowl of lentil chili keep the fun factor high. True to form, all food vendors (and there are plenty) are required to serve lentils in some form or another. Start the day off right at the Lentil Pancake Breakfast, stroll around the Lentil Marketplace, or enter your best lentil recipe in the cook-off. Get the family together and show the lentil a little love this August. For more information, visit lentilfest.com.
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