7 Tasty, Quirky Food Festivals for the Hungry Traveler

by  Jill K. Robinson | Jul 3, 2014
'Po Boy sandwich
'Po Boy sandwich / bhofack2/iStock

Not just for summer, food festivals provide a year-round way for hungry travelers to sample a mouthwatering variety of dishes -- without shelling out for a ton of meals out on the town. We've rounded up a few tasty celebrations and events across the U.S., from classic to quirky. The next time you want a taste of the local dining scene on a trip, here's where to tempt your taste buds:

Taste of ChicagoChicago, IL (July 9-13)
Park yourself in Grant Park during the Taste of Chicago to get the best of Chicago food all in one place. This foodie celebration isn’t too snobby to include hot dogs and pizza, but it does also take it up a notch with menu items from the city’s favorite restaurants. The colorful food booths offer Mexican, Chinese, Indian, and everything in between. Local chefs, guest stars, and celebrity chefs are on hand for demonstrations and cooking tips, and a Celebrity Chef du Jour prepares a special three-course meal in an air-conditioned, sit-down venue. Admission is free, and tasting tickets can be purchased in strips of 12 for $8.50.

Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA (July 25-27)
Lovers of all things garlic, here’s your dream event. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a three-day celebration of food and drink, music, arts, and entertainment -- where festival-goers consume up to two tons of garlic each year. Right in the center of the action is the festival’s Gourmet Alley, where “pyro chefs” create tasty dishes like sizzling scampi and calamari over open flames. But that’s not where the culinary creations end. Annual favorites like pepper steak sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, and garlic bread lure crowds to wait in line until they have enough servings to make a first date end early. General admission is $20, and tastes cost anywhere from $2 to $15 extra.

Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, ME (July 30 to August 3)
Love lobster? (Who doesn't?) The Maine Lobster Festival is where you should go celebrate the tasty crustacean. Active folks can find plenty of things to do, like the road race, fun run, and walk -- but we know you’re really here for the food. While you may have to pay extra for the lobster on top of the $5 admission, Maine Shore's dinner is a pretty good deal: You get all of 1.25-pounds of lobster, steamed clams, corn on the cob, cole slaw, and a dinner roll for $25. If you’re an awesome cook, enter the cooking contest for the prize money and buy dinner if you win.

Pennsylvania Bacon FestivalPhiladelphia, PA (October 4) 
The Pennsylvania Bacon Festival is devoted to the best of the pig. The event features bacon sampling, full-sized bacon cuisine, bacon eating contests, bacon confectionary, bacon-themed cocktails, bacon cooking demonstrations and competitions, and live music from some of the area's top bands (who also love bacon). A $25 ticket gets you entry and three bacon sample tickets; additional tickets are $2 each.

Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, New Orleans, LA (TBD) 
The Oak Street Po-Boy Festival celebrates the beloved New Orleans sandwich staple in the fall. And all types of po-boys are here to be enjoyed -- from barbecued shrimp to cochon de lait to duck BLT. There are even options for vegetarians. Good to know: When someone asks if you want your po-boy "dressed," they're referring to the addition of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo. If you don’t want all that, ask for “nuttin’ on it.” Admission is free and you pay at each vendor individually. Lines can be long, so get there early or opt for the $150 VIP pass that lets you skip to the front. Dates are yet to be announced, but we're going to keep an eye out for the end of November (last year's festival was held on November 24).

Upper CrustGreenough, MT (October 10-13)
Here’s why you’ve been saving your money. The Upper Crust at The Resort at Paws Up is the ne-plus-ultra of pie camps. By day, you learn valuable skills in pie making and baking (and nobody’s going to slap your hand away when you taste just a little), wilderness adventures, and even food photography lessons. By night, you get to relax with some amazing cuisine, wine, and a fantastically cushy bed. Rates start at $760 per person per night and include lodging, meals, workshops and tastings, outdoor activities, taxes, gratuities, and transportation to/from the local airport.

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