It might seem like there’s a new food festival popping up in L.A. every weekend, but after a while, you’ve probably eaten all the dishes that the same local chefs are dishing up in bite-size portions at each one. Instead, why not go a little farther out of town to take in some summer fun in a new location, often complete with a chance to get in touch with California’s rich agricultural history and present, not to mention a side-order of retro kitsch.
BBQ & Beer Festival (May 5-7, Santa Clarita): If ever there was a match made in heaven, BBQ and beer is it. The inaugural BBQ & Beer Festival in Santa Clarita is a two-day fête highlighting some of the best craft beer in the region, including Iron Triangle Brewing, Elysian Brewing, Common Cider and Firestone Walker. Pair your suds with ribs, pulled pork, brisket and more from Deaf Man’s BBQ, Sunrise BBQ and others. Tickets are available for $10 to $40.
Gator by the Bay (May 11-14, San Diego): If a day spent eating crawfish, po’boys and beignets is your thing, make room for Gator by the Bay in your summer schedule. The four-day festival held at Spanish Landing Park in San Diego is chock-full of live music with more than 90 acts performing on seven stages. Add that to the 10,000 pounds of crawfish trucked in from Louisiana, and you have yourself a beautiful day on the Bayou—er, bay. Tickets are on sale now and range from $20 to $130; children 17 and under are admitted for free.
California Strawberry Festival (May 20-21, Oxnard): One of the sweetest festivals in California is back for another two days of celebrating the almighty strawberry. Held at the aptly named Strawberry Meadows, the event boasts more than 50 food booths that incorporate the fruit, from strawberry pies to strawberry pizza, strawberry popcorn to strawberry beer. Two stages of music, a pie-eating contest, and arts and crafts round out the festival. General admission is $12, with discounts available for seniors and kids.
Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival (June 3-4, Castroville): Perhaps the most historic of California’s agriculture festivals, the central coast town of Castroville, where two-thirds of America’s entire artichoke crop grows, has been celebrating their beloved produce for decades. One Norma Jean Mortenson, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was named the first Artichoke Queen back in 1948. Sample all sorts of artichoke preparations, from simply grilled to baked into cupcakes. If the demos by notable chefs or tours of working agricultural fields inspire you to get cooking, shop the on-site farmers’ market stocked by local growers. Wash it all down with a visit to the beer and wine garden, featuring beverages from small batch California producers. Tickets are available now, starting at $10.
Central Coast Oyster Festival (July 8, Avila Beach): You’ll want to plan ahead for this one because tickets sell out quickly for this popular late-summer event. Oysters are furiously shucked, live music plays throughout the day and the wine flows freely. Oyster fans, prepare to slurp. General admission tickets start at $25, but you’ll need a $38 ticket to get those oyster tastings you came here for.
Gilroy Garlic Festival (July 28-30, Gilroy): Vampires need not attend this long-running celebration of the so-called “stinking rose.” Try tastes of garlic-infused everything from French fries to ice cream, and be sure to stop by the stations manned by “pyro chefs” who cook up scampi and other flame-grilled dishes over fiery cauldrons. In between garlicy snacks, check out live music performances and the annual Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival pageant. For a novel experience, leave your car in San Jose (about 30 miles north of Gilroy) or San Francisco, and arrive at the festival via the Garlic Train. Tickets run $8 to $56.
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