Looking to break away from popular beach getaways and mountain escapes for your next vacation? Then plan a trip to one of America’s quirkiest small towns and experience their unique traditions like a local.
From cow chip chucking to underwater boogieing, read on to find out more about 20 of the most offbeat festivals in the country… and where to stay in (and around) the small towns that host them. Whether you’re searching for the messiest, wackiest or most interesting event around, our list features something for everyone!
Today, the Annual National Shrimp Festival is one of the nation’s premier outdoor festivals. It takes place on the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, with succulent shrimp the featured food. Along the food boardwalk you’ll find the tiny crustaceans prepared in a variety of mouthwatering ways: boiled, fried, grilled… you name it! Decide for yourself what local restaurant has the best shrimp dish or head to the beach to participate in the sand sculpture contest.
When: October 12-15, 2017
Where to stay: Book a modern condo overlooking the water in Gulf Shores and fall asleep listening to the tide ebb and flow. The Annual National Shrimp Festival occurs during Gulf Shores’ shoulder season—an ideal time to snag a deal on local beach rentals.
Gilroy Garlic Festival | Gilroy, CA
The Gilroy Garlic Festival raises money for a variety of local charities, while celebrating its namesake pungent herb every July. At the heart of the action is Gourmet Alley where visitors can see celebrity cooking demonstrations and watch as entertaining “pyro chefs” bring the heat with every garlicky creation. Festival favorites include garlic bread, zesty fried garlic calamari and garlic fries.
When: July 28-30, 2017
Where to stay: San Jose is a short 30-minute drive from Gilroy, and an excellent home base for those attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, spend your free time discovering the city’s historic landmarks and diverse food scene.
Described as “frigidly fun”, Frozen Dead Guy Days boasts all-out merriment for three days every March. The unique, home-grown festival is tucked away in the mountains of Colorado and celebrates the life of Bredo Morstol, a Norwegian man who’s been cryogenically preserved for years in a shed high above Nederland. Throughout the weekend, attendees enjoy live music, cozy tents for food and drink, and front row seats to outrageous events like frozen t-shirt contests and coffin racing.
When: March 10-12, 2017
Where to stay: Choose between cozy cabins and secluded mountain chalets in Nederland for the quintessential Colorado escape. With rentals available right in Nederland, you won’t have to travel far to participate in all of the festival’s events.
Described as “Colorado to the Core,” the annual Mike the Headless Chicken Festival is known for its quirky celebration of one chicken’s will to live. The two-day event offers something for everyone: a 5K run, car show, wing eating contests, live music, and more. The whole town comes together for this fun-filled weekend every June.
When: June 2-3, 2017
Where to stay: Fruita offers the ultimate small town experience in Colorado. With its breathtaking rural landscape and exciting outdoor activities, book a stay in Fruita and you’ll want to be outdoors as much as possible!
World Championship Punkin Chunkin | Bridgeville, DE
Every year, people from around the country converge on a wide-open field in Delaware for The World Championship Punkin Chunkin. During the event, pumpkins take flight via every means available—catapults, air cannons, human power, and more!—as competitors attempt to launch theirs the farthest. The festival also includes a cooking competition, chili cook-off, and Punkin Chunkin pageant.
When: November 3-5, 2017
Where to stay: Make yourself at home in Dewey Beach, located just over 30 miles away from Bridgeville. Crisp afternoon walks on the beach will leave you feeling refreshed, and off-season rental prices will help you stay on budget.
This unconventional music festival takes place at Looe Key, part of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. It kicks off on Friday evening with an educational reception emphasizing reef preservation. On Saturday, divers don wacky costumes and scuba or snorkel gear for a day in the sea, while US 1 Radio broadcasts underwater. This event is truly one-of-a-kind!
When: July 7-8, 2017
Where to stay: As long as you have access to a boat, you can choose to stay on just about any of the Florida Keys during your vacation. Cheery beach homes and island-style villas will have you wanting to extend your stay as long as possible.
Mattoon Bagelfest | Mattoon, IL
The Mattoon Bagelfest got its start as a free bagel breakfast for the entire city. Today, it’s evolved into a city-wide celebration taking place over several days in July. The weekend consists of a festive street carnival, live music, beer tents, and, (of course!) bagels galore. Whether you participate in the 5K run or compete to be Miss Bagelfest, there’s something for everyone throughout the weekend.
When: July 2017
Where to stay: Just 30 minutes south of Mattoon is Effingham, a delightful town in central Illinois. During your stay, indulge at Tuscan Hills Winery or take the family for a stroll along the TREC Calico Trail. At the end of the day, settle in for a blissful evening in the comfort of your private rental home.
Scarecrow Fest | St. Charles, IL
Looking to start a new family tradition? Check out Scarecrow Fest in St. Charles. You’ll find more than 100 hand-crafted scarecrows on display, spanning all different sizes and themes. Admire them all and don’t forget to vote for your favorite. Other highlights of Scarecrow Fest include the petting zoo, arts and crafts show, and carnival. The best part? It’s all free!
When: October 6-8, 2017
Where to stay: Des Plaines is a suburb of Chicago that boasts affordable rentals and a wonderful small town feel. When you’re not in St. Charles, visit the first McDonald’s in Des Plaines (now a museum!) or relax along Lake Opeka.
Pierogi Fest | Whiting, IN
Mr. Pierogi and friends invite you to Whiting’s pride and joy: its annual Whiting Pierogi Fest. This unique festival celebrates the local residents’ common Polish heritage—while poking fun at each other too. During the weekend, watch as grown women tie on babushkas and twirl through the streets, snap a photo with a life-size Polish pastry, or see how far you can fling a pierogi during the Pierogi Toss.
When: July 2017
Where to stay: Search for a vacation rental in the neighboring town of Gary. This location will put you just minutes from Lake Michigan, a perfect place to be on a steamy July day, and within striking distance of Chicago for those who prefer a day in the city.
Grumpy Old Men Festival | Wabasha, MN
The setting of the classic film “Grumpy Old Men,” Wabasha celebrates its Hollywood fame by holding the Grumpy Old Men Festival each year. The main event is the Grumpy Plunge, a chilly dive into the Mississippi River that raises money for local businesses. If you’re not prepared for a frigid dip, play a few hours of bingo or hit the ice bar. Grumpy old man or not, all are invited!
When: February 25, 2017
Where to stay: Thirty minutes from Wabasha situated along the Mississippi River, Winona is close to hiking trails and beautiful parks like Sugar Loaf and Great River Bluffs State Park. Whether you’re searching for a rental with small town charm or a home off the beaten path, you’ll find it here.
The Barbecue Festival | Lexington, NC
Calling all barbecue fanatics! This one-day food festival takes place every October during what has been dubbed “Barbecue Month” by the county. Several blocks in uptown Lexington shut down for the event so that visitors can roam from food stand to food stand sampling cuisine prepared in the town’s signature barbecue style. Besides barbecue, there’s a captivating bike show, live entertainment, and countless arts and crafts vendors.
When: October 28, 2017
Where to stay: Stay in High Point, just 20 minutes from BBQ HQ. It’s situated right between Lexington and Greensboro, making it easy to explore Central North Carolina.
Don’t be alarmed by the name of this event hosted by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. BugFest offers an opportunity for visitors to explore the world of bugs and learn from top entomologists. From eating dishes that feature bugs as the main ingredient to exploring over 100 exhibits, there will never be a dull moment during this festival. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even get over that fear of creepy crawlies you’ve always had.
When: September 2017
Where to stay: Book your getaway to Raleigh and plan a trip the whole family will love. When you’re not at BugFest, stroll Raleigh’s tree-lined streets or hop between its three (free!) museums.
Twins Days Festival | Twinsburg, OH
In its bicentennial year, the Twins Day Festival is a can’t-miss event for twins (and multiples) from all over. It’s the world’s largest annual gathering of twins and is a fascinating celebration of both the founding of Twinsburg and twins. Whether you’re identical or fraternal, young or old, male or female, twins ought to register in advance to march in the Double Take Parade. It’s sure to be a memorable experience for all.
When: August 4-6, 2017
Where to stay: Cleveland is just 25 miles from Twinsburg, and offers a convenient home base for those attending Twins Day Festival. If you have some down time during your stay, explore the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or soak up some sun on the shores of Lake Erie.
The Duck Tape Festival pays homage to the perpetually handy tape, highlighting its many uses in everyday life. From a colorful duct tape-themed fashion show to an impressive parade of duct tape-covered floats, this unique festival in Ohio might just inspire how you use the sticky stuff going forward. Be one of the first to arrive, and you’ll receive a free roll!
When: June 2017
Where to stay: The summer months are when Avon is at its finest. Book a vacation rental just minutes from Lake Erie and bask in the warmer temperatures that June brings.
At Bat Fest visitors stand shoulder-to-shoulder on Congress Ave. Bridge, eagerly awaiting the emergence of over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. They typically begin to fly out from under the bridge at dusk and it can take up to 30 minutes for all of the bats to head out for their nightly flight. With three stages of live music, a variety of food vendors, and plenty of fun activities for children, this wacky festival is a favorite among many Austin residents.
When: August 19, 2017
Where to stay: With its motto “Keep Austin Weird”, it’s no surprise that this eccentric Texas city is home to such a unique summer event. Stay with your group in a hip downtown rental for convenient access to the city’s coolest restaurants and attractions.
Purchase a wristband and head to the beach for three days of non-stop fun at Texas SandFest. It boasts numerous music tents, a beer and wine garden, and miles of sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Enter the sand sculpting contest as an amateur or simply stroll along the beach in awe of the masterpieces shaped by advanced sculptors from around the country.
When: April 21-23, 2017
Where to stay: Book a private home steps from the beach on Port Aransas. Known for its pristine coastal landscape, first-class fishing, and laidback vibe, you can enjoy this small town before tourists converge on it during the summer months.
The Great Texas Mosquito Festival | Clute, TX
The 25-foot inflatable mosquito, Willie-Man-Chew, has been hovering over The Great Texas Mosquito Festival every year since 1981. During the day, bring the kids along to check out Noah’s Ark Petting Zoo. Once the sun goes down, let loose with an evening of dancing. The “Executive Swat Team” is there all weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly. Head to Clute to see what all the buzz is about.
When: July 27-29, 2017
Where to stay: Find a quaint beach cottage in Freeport, just over six miles from Clute. This location offers convenient access to The Great Texas Mosquito Festival, while putting you closer to some of Texas’s beautiful Gulf beaches.
National Lentil Festival | Pullman, WA
Every August, the National Lentil Festival consumes the small town of Pullman, and if you’re a lover of lentils, this is the place to be. The one-of-a-kind festival celebrates the region’s production of high-quality lentils with a legendary cook-off, numerous cooking demonstrations, and the kid-friendly Lentil Land. Taste a variety of lentil-inspired dishes, but don’t forget to try a sample from the world’s largest bowl of lentil chili.
When: August 18-19, 2017
Where to stay: Pullman is situated along the Washington-Idaho border, and Moscow (a 15-minute drive across the state line into Idaho) offers spacious vacation homes in the heart of a picturesque college town.
RoadKill Cook-Off |Marlinton, WV
Over the years, Marlinton’s residents have really taken to celebrating their region’s roots. How? With an annual roadkill cook-off! This uniquely West Virginian festival features the likes of squirrel gravy, bear chili, deer sausage, and more on the menu. Not feeling adventurous? Stick to exploring the craft show where crafters from all over the state showcase their wares.
When: September 29-30, 2017
Where to stay: Choose a cozy home nestled amid the Allegheny Mountains in Snowshoe. It’s less than 30 miles from where the Roadkill Cook-off takes place in Marlinton so you can enjoy a scenic ride through the West Virginian landscape on your way there.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival | Prairie du Sac, WI
Ready to get your hands dirty? Grab a handful of cow chips and see just how far you can toss them at the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival. Don’t forget to lick your hands for a better grip! There are prizes for each of the winners and major bragging rights. Rather be a spectator? Watch the competition and then enjoy some tasty Wisconsin fare at the outdoor food court.
When: September 2017
Where to stay: From Baraboo to the city of Wisconsin Dells, this rural region has so much to see and do. Go for a stroll at Devil’s Lake State Park or spend some quality family time at your quaint farmhouse rental and enjoy the ultimate small town getaway.