by Emily Monaco
Ever since the Michelin brothers introduced their guide to culinary greatness in 1933, food and travel have been inseparable. The Michelin Guide doesn't cover food festivals, but if you want to discover the international chefs who are worthy of one or more stars, then traveling to a festival is an unbeatable experience. Get inspired this year by taking your taste buds on a food and wine tour of some of the best gustatory events in the United States. Celebrating everything from seasonal ingredients to creative new presentations, a trip to a food festival is the perfect excuse for a vacation. In time for the next few months of travel planning, we present our top 10 list of travel-worthy food festivals across the country.
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, New Orleans, LA May 22–25
Where better to start than the New Orleans food and wine festival! New Orleans is one of America’s most up-and-coming food cities. It boasts both a strong traditional food culture and a plethora of new chefs quickly gaining renown in the national and international foodie circles.
The four-day festival opens with wine dinners on Wednesday May 22nd, with perfect pairings of food and wine. On Thursday, two unique wine tastings are on offer, where the surroundings are just as scrumptious as the wine. According to some reviewers on Yelp, these tasting events can get crowded, but the Royal Street Stroll is always a crowd-pleaser.
On Friday and Saturday, treat yourself to a wine seminar—this year’s topic is “What’s Hot in Wine and Food.” You’ll also find Grand Tastings featuring 175 wineries and 75 chefs, and the Gateaux Show, a celebration with Champagne and cake.
The closing activity is a gala event, aptly named Funkin’ it Up, in true New Orleans style. The intimate 10-person party is designed to raise money for the John Besh Foundation. But starting at 10 PM, everyone can bring the funk for the after party.
Aspen Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, CO June 14–16
If you’re traveling to Aspen in June, it’s most likely for the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. In mid-June, the mountain paradise welcomes the world’s most accomplished wine and food professionals for an adults-only event, so leave the kids at home and head to Colorado!
Events welcome such famous speakers as Jacques and Claudine Pépin, Top Chef winner Kristen Kish, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai and more. These events are divided into 7 categories: cooking demo, wine seminar, reserve wine tasting, panel discussion, grand tasting, private grand tasting and trade only. The events span everything from talks on cooking techniques to how-tos for rolling sushi! Each talk lasts 45 minutes, and several talks happen at once, so be sure to check out the online schedule ahead of time to decide which events are important to you.
For even more information about this delicious festival, check out Food & Wine’s top 10 tips for visiting the food and wine classic.
Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, ME July 31–August 4
In August, head up north for the Maine Lobster Festival. Maine lobsters are recognized the world over as some of the best; see why at this family-friendly five-day seafood extravaganza.
On Wednesday, arrive at noon for the first day of the festival. Free shuttle buses from Oceanside High School and Rockland Middle School take you to the main events: exhibition tents, booths and vendors that allow you to learn about the Maine lobster, as well as taste and try.
At the food tent, you’ll find lobster rolls, lobster wraps and lobster Caesar salads. But the day isn’t just devoted to the lobster itself. Not only can you taste other fresh Maine seafood like haddock, clams, mussels and shrimp, but there are also other activities to keep you and the kids entertained.
Take advantage of the art show, which takes place all day, the coronation rehearsal on the main stage, and tours of the US coast guard station. Thursday-Saturday you’ll find more of the same, with the addition of the Big Parade!
Sunday, the festival is free for all ages for the family fun day. There’s also the road race and 5k walk, and a 1-mile kids’ fun run, to get athletes of all ages involved in the festival. Signups for The Great Crate Race begin at 7am on Sunday. With so much going on in five days, it’s no wonder that the festival was voted one of Outside Magazine’s best summer festivals!
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Honolulu, HI September 1–9
The unique cuisine of the 50th state is showcased in this early autumn festival. Dinner galas, demonstrations showing off local ingredients, and a cooking competition are just some of the events you’ll be privy to at this festival.
The signature event is the Master Chefs gala series: Around the World with Seven Chefs. This lavish, seven-course dinner pairs some of the most delicious dishes with amazing wines. But don’t take our word for it: past participants like blogger, peanutbutterfingers, have fallen in love with this festival’s paradise locale and delicious food and drink. The opportunity to meet celebrity chefs is also a major draw.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Disney/Orlando, FL September 27–November 11
Disney’s Epcot Center brings the delights of international cuisine to your back door (or at least your vacation rental’s back door), with its annual International Food and Wine Festival. The Festival offers nearly 30 international food and beverage marketplaces, including European, American, African, Oceanic and Asian stands. There’s so much to try at this festival, that it’s helpful to consult the experts in advance for tips on what to try.
Stands cover locales not usually included in Epcot’s traditional international pavilions; the variety is much wider and offers a great way to get to know some traditional foreign fare. Food is usually offered in small plates format, at $3 to $10 a plate. Much of the food is fusion influenced, though you will find a handful of authentic dishes, like the escargots at the French booth.
The festival also offers signature dining experiences with some of the most famous celebrity chefs. The wine portion of the festival makes it more of an adult-friendly event, with wine seminars and lots of international drinks to sample. Previous participants have found that bringing children can make it a stressful event, but as long as you follow these tips from Evan Levy, the festival can be enjoyable for everyone. He recommends doing advanced planning and figuring out ways to share the responsibility of looking after kids so that you can have some “adult time” to enjoy talks and 21+ events.
NYC Wine & Food Festival, New York, NY October 17–20
Of course, foodie favorite New York City enters the running, with its wine and food festival in October. This Food Network-sponsored festival takes advantage of the plethora of celebrity chefs working for the network to host this year’s 6th annual festival. Over 500 chefs and culinary personalities will make appearances at this event, where proceeds benefit the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry campaign.
For the wine portion of the festival, 100 wineries and spirits producers will be making appearances. The Grand Tasting, one of the most popular events of the festival, combines both food and drink for an eating extravaganza in the heart of Manhattan. Together, the unique dinner experiences, tastings and seminars make this festival a key event for foodies.
Key West Food & Wine Festival, Key West, FL January 22–26
In January, head down to the Florida Keys for January’s Key West Food and Wine Festival. This culinary spectacle offers a great variety of events, including guided wine tastings and tasting seminars of some of the best international wines, a screening of El Camino del Vino, tasting dinners, planned strolls (including food and wine tastes, of course). Food blogger, Claudia Miller, explains that local restaurants, “present their most creative tidbits paired with wine” at the “Wine Around” neighborhood strolls.
For the beer lovers, there are even beer seminars to try. This addition is no surprise, with the recent rebirth of home- and craft-brewing enthusiasts. Don’t miss the Key West Shrimp Boil, for a taste of classic Florida fare.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival, South Beach, FL February 20–23
In February, the South Beach Food and Wine Festival sponsored by FOOD & WINE magazine, offers more than 50 events over the course of the four-day festival, featuring 200 renowned chefs and culinary personalities, including Food Network stars. These chefs offer demos, book signings, and of course several different samples. Previous guest chefs have included such famed faces as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri. It’s a lineup that some foodies, including Lindsay, The Lunch Belle, consider worthy of an annual trip.
As for the wine portion, over 150 wineries will be in attendance. This relatively young festival has become one of the most renowned in the world, with events like the Grand Tasting, featuring tents filled with foods, wines and other spirits. The ticket price for this festival is increasing every year, but for practiced foodies who can fill their bellies; it’s worth opening your wallet. Tickets usually sell out fast, so don’t wait to get yours.
Charleston Wine & Food Festival, Charleston, SC March 6–9
The Charleston Wine and Food Festival celebrates the unique food culture of Charleston, with several events sponsored by the Culinary Institute of Charleston, including seminars, dinners and hotel packages.
The soul food shuffle is an all-day event, taking place on the Friday, which shuttles participants all through the heart of Charleston to take advantage of its soul food history. You’ll be guided to some of Charleston’s most beloved soul food venues, including an unmarked local favorite, famous for its fried chicken, made to order. But wine enthusiasts beware: this event is dry!
Luckily, the culinary village features both food and wine tasting tents, so those looking for the wine portion of this festival won’t be disappointed. Over 80 food and beverage vendors from all over the country offer tastings, demos, panels and talks. And retail events allow you to pick and choose items to bring home!
Taste of Vail, Vail, CO April 2–5
At the Taste of Vail, seminars on food and wine are as varied as they are delicious. Everything from cigar and bourbon tasting, Belgian beer seminars, olive oil exploration and wine varietal evaluation is on offer in this ski town chow-down.
Wine dinners include several different options. Local chefs show off their best, with signature events like the Colorado Lamb Cook Off and Après Ski Tasting in the heart of Vail Village. This party-turned-competition is the perfect opener to the festival. There’s also the famed Mountain Top Picnic, held at 10,350 feet above sea level. The gourmet picnic can be accessed on skis or by gondola. The final major event is the Grand Tasting at the Vail Marriott.
With new restaurants being added every year, the event is growing in popularity. The Taste of Vail is an event that allows everyone to come together at one of the most popular ski resorts and enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes!
Whatever foodie festivals you may choose to attend this year, be sure to plan ahead. Most of the festivals sell out early, and if you have certain events or seminars in mind, book early to avoid disappointment. By planning ahead, you can ensure a fantastic experience at any one of these culinary extravaganzas!
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia