Bucket List Festivals for Foodies

For a heaping helping of great eats, add a specialty food festival to your bucket list—just make sure you go on an empty stomach!

Try Garlic-Flavored Ice Cream at the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Adored for adding an infusion of flavor to any dish, garlic gets its due at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California—a Santa Clara County city known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.”

Over the three-day festival in July, the 100,000-plus visitors have the opportunity to sample many old standbys, such as garlic bread and garlic fries, along with a few foods you’ve probably never tried before (garlic chocolate, anyone?). But the most-talked-about dish is always the soft-serve garlic ice cream, passed out for free to festival-goers. Does the savory standby combined with the sweet vanilla to create a treat worthy of dessert status? You’ll have to taste it to find out—but the fact that they continue to serve it is a pretty good sign people like the flavor profile.

Along Gourmet Alley, “pyro chefs” use copious amounts of flames to fire up garlic calamari and scampi, while professional chefs and amateurs alike duke it out at the Garlic Cook-Off Theater in a variety of competitions. While you’re wandering, look for Mr. Garlic, a longtime volunteer who dresses like a garlic bulb and happily poses for photos.

Gorge on Cornbread at the National Cornbread Festival

Eating a small square of cornbread seems like an easy—and tasty—feat, until you’re standing on a stage, trying to jam it into your mouth as quickly as possible in order to beat your competitors and claim the prize for your superior eating skills. Fortunately, there are less pressure filled ways to enjoy the small-town National Cornbread Festival than its eating contests.

Cornbread Alley is particularly pleasant, with nine different types of cornbread served by nonprofit groups. There are also cook-offs to watch, a 5K road race to run (it’s never a bad idea to burn a few calories given that you’ll surely be ingesting some extra ones!), a pancake breakfast, a carnival, live entertainment and a classic car show. If scarfing down food really fast still appeals to you, in addition to cornbread, you can try competitions of buttermilk chugging and ice cream eating.

One of the highlights of the festival, held the last weekend in April, is the opportunity to tour Lodge Manufacturing Company—in fact, the foundry here in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is the only one in America still producing cast-iron cookware. Get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how the products come to life, then pick out the perfect pan for cooking up your own cornbread.

Get Your Just Desserts at the Whoopie Pie Festival

Known as the “Most Delicious Day in Lancaster County,” the Whoopie Pie Festival is a mouthwatering way to spend some time less than 90 minutes from Philadelphia. Just what is a whoopie pie? Take two soft round cakes, spread creamy icing in between, and voilà—you’ve got a cake/pie/cookie/sandwich hybrid that’s been delighting people since Amish women began tucking them into the lunchboxes of their farmer husbands many moons ago. The classic flavor is chocolate cake with vanilla icing, but at the festival, you can try more than 100 varieties, including lemon poppyseed, coconut coconut and crème de menthe.

The event is hosted every September by the Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, and there’s much more to do than sit around and eat frosting all day (although that’s not a bad plan!). The whoopie pie is a versatile treat, good for all these activities and more: racing, treasure hunting, playing checkers and launching into the air.

Of course, there’s also an eating contest, plus live music, face painting and local crafts for sale. To balance out the sugar, grab some savory food, then get back at it—you’ve got dozens of whoopie pies to try.

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