These spirited, unique celebrations reflect local culture and capture the true flavor of a family destination. 

By Blane Bachelor
Photo by Laurie Gossens

July

WaterFire

Providence, RI 

Main Attraction

The fiery event—held on alternate Saturdays through the fall—brings thousands to downtown’s riverfronts, which glow with light from more than 80 bonfires on floating braziers. Also live fire shows, music and performers. 

Don’t Miss

Up-close viewing of the blazes from a gondola.

Minneapolis Aquatennial 

Minneapolis, MN

Main Attraction

Created to pay tribute to the region’s lakes, streams and waterways, this four-day fest is a showcase of Minnesota traditions and culture, including canoe rides and water-skiing shows.

Don’t Miss

The flagship parade in the heart of downtown. It’s the largest nighttime parade in the state. 

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Oshkosh, WI

Main Attraction

Aviation nerds go sky-high with excitement for the world’s biggest fly-in. Some 10,000 aircraft—ultralights, mammoth military transports, drones—come to town for air shows, demos and workshops. 

Don’t Miss

Waterpark haven Wisconsin Dells is just over an hour away—stop at one of

the cheese factories on the way. 

Nordic Fest

Decorah, IA

Main Attraction

For three days, Scandinavian culture and traditions take over, with knife-forging demonstrations, dance performances and a wide array of culinary treats like rommegrot, a warm Norwegian pudding, and lefse, a type of round flatbread with toppings.

Don’t Miss

A detour to Vesterheim, The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center, for classes and authentic souvenirs.

Photo by Slocum Scott

August

Glier’s Goettafest

Newport, KY

Main Attraction

The German pork-and-oats breakfast sausage “get-uh” is a regional favorite and the main entrée. Vendors must incorporate it into their offerings.

Don’t Miss

The world’s only goetta vending machine. 

Snowbird Oktoberfest

Snowbird, UT

Main Attraction

There’s plenty on tap beyond beer at this family-friendly (yes!) shindig. Activities like a climbing wall, mountain coaster and ropes course work up an appetite for the Bavarian offerings: bratwurst, spaetzle, apple strudel and, of course, more than 50 different brews from the biergarten—prost!

Don’t Miss

A ride up the Aerial Tram for hiking or mountain biking, and to watch traditional horn blowers blasting from the top of Hidden Peak.

Tomato Art Fest

Nashville, TN

Main Attraction

The fruit-or-veggie debate is just one of the events at this wacky fest. Tomato-inspired art, parade and music. 

Don’t Miss

Avoid lines for the popular artwork by attending the Tomato Art Preview Party on the Friday before the official start. 

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival

Auburn, IN

Main Attraction

Gearheads will rev up their engines for the hundreds of classic cars that roll into town during this nine-day salute to the car industry and its connection to the area. Hosted by the impressive Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum—a destination for any car lover. 

Don’t Miss

Ogling Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens during Fast & Fabulous on the courthouse square.

September

Photo courtesy of Acadia Night Sky Festival

Acadia Night Sky Festival 

Bar Harbor, ME

Main Attraction

Learn about stars, galaxies and celestial happenings from astronomers in the largest expanse of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi. 

Don’t Miss

Coastal hikes in nearby Acadia National Park.

Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival

Jekyll Island, GA

Main Attraction

Foodies flock to this idyllic island for the beloved southern dish, while chefs vie for bragging rights to the best version. 

Don’t Miss

Exploring the serene landscapes, from Driftwood Beach to salt marshes, by bike.

Photo by Kate Simon

Queen City Mischief & Magic

Staunton, VA

Main Attraction

Wizards and witches flock to Hogsmeade (aka downtown) for Harry Potter–themed activities. Adult Potter-heads will love the butterbeer; teens will love everything else.

Don’t Miss

The Blackfriars Playhouse, the only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre. 

The Big E

West Springfield, MA

Main Attraction

The largest fair on the Eastern Seaboard is a 17-day display of regional traditions, trades and culture. A highlight is the Avenue of States: replicas of New England’s six state capitol buildings with signature foodie fare, like Rhode Island clam cakes and Vermont maple syrup. 

Don’t Miss

The Eastern States Exposition Horse Show, one of the oldest in the country, dating back more than 100 years.

Norsk Hostfest

Minot, ND

Main Attraction

The largest Scandinavian festival in North America honors the culture with traditional and offbeat events, like Maypole  dancing and a Troll Beauty Contest.

Don’t Miss

Live cooking demos at the Nordic Kitchen. 

Mercer County Italian American Festival

Columbus, NJ

Main Attraction

A feast of old-country favorites, from baked rigatoni to sweet zeppole, awaits hungry festival-goers in this popular event brimming with Italian American pride.

Don’t Miss

Homegrown New Jersey talent, which has included a Bee Gees tribute band playing the disco classic “Stayin’ Alive.”

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup & Arts Festival

Custer, SD

Main Attraction

Cowboys and cowgirls round up nearly 1,300 buffalo—one of the largest herds in the country. This annual event also includes an expansive arts festival, with about 150 vendors and Western-inspired goods.

Don’t Miss

Mount Rushmore, a 30-minute drive away.

Kansas City Renaissance Festival

Bonner Springs, KS

Main Attraction

Relive ye goode olde days at this rowdy festival where the medieval merrymaking includes jousting knights, magic shows and live music.

Don’t Miss

A costume contest on the final weekend.

Midwest Wizard of Oz Festival

Tinley Park, IL

Main Attraction

There’s no place like this film-inspired homage to Dorothy and her faithful friends. Don’t forget your ruby slippers for following the Yellow Brick Road re-creation. 

Don’t Miss

Chicago—it’s an easy drive to all the city’s attractions.

October

Photo courtesy of Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce

Applefest

Weston, MO

Main Attraction

This apple bash has been going strong for more than 30 years, with apple dumplings, butter and cookies among the sweet offerings. 

Don’t Miss

A hike through the fall foliage at Weston Bend State Park, with its sweeping views of the Missouri River.

Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival

Port Angeles, WA

Main Attraction

Named after the nearby town of Dungeness, the three-day event celebrates the aquaculture and heritage of the Olympic Peninsula and its most prized crustaceans. 

Don’t Miss

A hike in nearby Olympic National Park to burn off the crab dinners and sandwiches. 

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque, NM

Main Attraction

Hundreds of brightly colored hot-air balloons float above the desert at the largest ballooning event in the world. Daily launches at sunrise and lit-up ones at sunset, along with a car show and fireworks. 

Don’t Miss

If a balloon ride isn’t in the budget (you’re unlikely to find one for less than $150 per person), join a “chase crew” (age 18+) that follows the balloons from vehicles and helps with landings.

Bridge Day

Fayetteville, WV

Main Attraction

Watch in awe with thousands of spectators as experienced BASE jumpers leap from the New River Gorge Bridge and  parachute into the gorge below. 

Don’t Miss

A tamer adrenaline rush with adventures like ziplines and white-water rafting.

Woolly Worm Festival

Banner Elk, NC

Main Attraction

Similar to Punxsutawney Phil’s uncanny knack, some 2,000 woolly worm caterpillars race for $1,000 and the right to predict the winter forecast in the North Carolina High Country. 

Don’t Miss

Gazing at the jaw-dropping fall foliage along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Trailing of the Sheep Festival

Ketchum, ID

Main Attraction

Some 1,500 sheep parade down Main Street on their way to winter pastures accompanied by historic sheep wagons and performers during this quirky five-day festival that includes wool and fiber arts classes as well as sheepdog trials.

Don’t Miss

Outdoor adventures and art galleries galore in nearby Sun Valley, which is spectacular in the fall before the ski set arrives.

Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddlers’ Festival

Rehoboth Beach, DE

Main Attractions

Get into the Halloween spirit with three days of merrymaking that feature a sea witch costume parade, trick-or-treating and live music. 

Don’t Miss

The costumed dog parade, which lets furbabies join in the fun.

Photo by Slaven Gujic

Día de los Muertos Festival

Mesa, AZ

Main Attraction

This spirited affair celebrates the joyful Mexican tradition that honors the deceased, with artist-designed altars (ofrendas), musical and dance performances, and traditional sugar skull crafts.

Don’t Miss

Selfies with faces painted in spectacular calavera (skull) designs with intricate patterns, vivid colors and marigold accents.

November

National Peanut Festival 

Dothan, AL

Main Attraction

Get cracking at the nation’s largest peanut festival, which celebrates the harvest and the hardworking peanut farmers. 

Don’t Miss

The 2.5-mile grand finale parade, where the streets are covered with roasted peanuts for the taking.

Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles

Skaneateles, NY

Main Attraction

In splendid Victorian style, local actors bring A Christmas Carol to vibrant life on the streets of this picturesque Finger Lakes town.

Don’t Miss

The World’s Smallest Christmas Parade on opening day, with wagon as well as horse-drawn carriage rides and free roasted chestnuts.

December

Photo by Tianyu Arts & Culture Inc.

China Lights Las Vegas

North Las Vegas, NV

Main Attraction

Celebrate the Chinese New Year alongside some enormous animated illuminated lantern displays—think dragons and giant koi fish—carefully crafted by Chinese artisans and positioned along trails in a regional park. 

Don’t Miss

On every night of the weeks-long festival, a parade kicks off with traditional Chinese dancing and other entertainment.

February

Whitefish Winter Carnival

Whitefish, MT

Main Attraction

Snow-centric characters like yetis delight crowds during the Grand Parade at this funky festival that was started to ward off winter blues.

Don’t Miss

Penguin Plunge—brave souls splash into the frigid Whitefish Lake.

Queen Mary Scots Festival and International Highland Games 

Long Beach, CA

Main Attraction

Celtic culture take center stage aboard the Queen Mary, which was built in Scotland but is permanently moored in Long Beach. On tap are Scottish music, dancing and, for adventurous eaters, haggis.

Don’t Miss

A day trip by ferry to stunning Catalina Island.

Fur Rendezvous

Anchorage, AK

Main Attraction

Since 1935, Fur Rondy, as locals call it, has proudly represented the pioneering spirit of Alaskans with winter antics. Highlights include Snowshoe Softball and the Running of the Reindeer. 

Don’t Miss

Hilariously bizarre Outhouse Races—competitors atop portable potties strapped to skis barrel down snowy streets.

March

Photo by Getty Images

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Washington, DC

Main Attraction

The blooming cherry blossoms may be the headliners, but the waterfront fireworks display—a choreographed pyrotechnic bonanza that lights up the Washington Channel—is a perennial show-stealer. 

Don’t Miss

Visiting DC’s world-class museums, including the Newseum, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

World’s Only St. Paddy’s Pickle Parade & Palooza

Mansfield, TX

Main Attraction

Get your St. Paddy’s Day green in a unique way during this tarty party in the pickle capital of Texas, which features pickle- and pie-eating contests, a huge parade and beer keg races involving motorized kegs and their brave riders rolling down Main Street.

Don’t Miss

The pickle-juice-drinking contest, in which gutsy contestants gulp the sour stuff.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest

Woodburn, OR

Main Attraction

This month-long festival gives visitors access to 40 gorgeous acres of tulips, arranged in a different pattern each year—a perfect backdrop for a family photo and infinite Insta snaps.

Don’t Miss

Exploring the hipster mecca of Portland, a 45-minute drive away.

Photo by Barb Iverson

April

Merrie Monarch Festival

Hilo, HI

Main Attraction

This weeklong cultural celebration takes place in the charming town of Hilo and pays tribute to the revered Hawaiian king David La’amea Kalākaua, a patron of the arts, and culminates in the world’s most prestigious hula competition. 

Don’t Miss

A visit to spectacular Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, home of two active volcanoes. 

Kite Fest Louisiané

Port Allen, LA

Main Attraction

All eyes are on the skies when professional kite fliers and hobbyists take to the air during competitions, performances and sweet-soaring moments like a kite candy drop.

Don’t Miss

Evening events (weather permitting) brightening up the night with LED-fitted kites.

Light City

Baltimore, MD

Main Attractions

Teens and parents alike will be dazzled by the 1.5 miles of the Inner Harbor transformed by large-scale light art installations, performances and music over three weeks. Experience Neighborhood Lights in 14 communities. 

Don’t Miss

Exploring the quirky American Visionary Art Museum, with its eclectic collection of intuitive artists, in the stately Federal Hill district. 

Love, Peace & Hip-Hop

Columbia, SC 

Main Attraction

Earn major cool-parent points at this kickin’ (and alcohol-free) party celebrating the positive impact of hip-hop and rap culture through DJs, dance, visual art and interactive exhibits.

Don’t Miss

Hip-Hop Family Day, whose previous headliners have included rap luminaries like Kool Moe Dee, Kid ’n Play and MC Lyte.

Arbor Day Celebration

Nebraska City, NE 

Main Attraction

Nebraska may be associated with flatlands, but this festival is how Arbor Day got its roots nearly 150 years ago. Three days of leafy delights include plantings and a top-notch home-and-garden market. 

Don’t Miss

The adults-only (obviously) Nebraska Bloody Mary State Championship.

May

Toad Suck Daze 

Conway, AR

Main Attraction

The World Championship Toad Races is a truly hopping event as the toads take center stage and proceeds benefit local educational initiatives.

Don’t Miss

A gut-busting array of food-on-a-stick, from cheeseburgers to spaghetti and meatballs. 

ElkFest

Jackson Hole, WY

Main Attraction

Every spring majestic animals shed antlers that are gathered by local Boy Scouts to be auctioned off, then turned into furniture, jewelry and other crafts. 

Don’t Miss

A family photo under the famous elk arches in the town square.

Digital Graffiti

Alys Beach, FL

Main Attraction

The whitewashed building facades of the Panhandle’s Alys Beach are the backdrop for light projections by artists from around the world, bathing the streets in an eye-popping kaleidoscope of color—and Instagram photo ops. 

Don’t Miss

The Red Bar and Piccolo Restaurant in nearby Grayton Beach, a longtime destination for tourists and locals, with live music and pop culture memorabilia decor. 

Chuck Wagon Festival

Oklahoma City, OK

Main Attraction

Saddle up for an authentic cowboy experience at this family-friendly hootenanny, with hands-on fun like rope-making and bandanna decorating.

Don’t Miss

The excellent exhibits at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

Strolling of the Heifers

Brattleboro, VT

Main Attraction

Inspired by Spain’s running of the bulls, the Strolling of the Heifers Parade is the signature bovine event. More than 100 hat-and-flower-bedecked heifers lead the way, followed by other farm animals, including llamas and alpacas, plus tractors, floats and bands.

Don’t Miss

Biking through the bucolic—yet lively and artistic—farming town.

June

Photo by Greg Grady Hampton

National Cereal Festival

Battle Creek, MI 

Main Attraction

Help yourself to breakfast and a seat at the World’s Longest Breakfast Table, a highlight of this cereal bash in the town that Kellogg and Post call home.

Don’t Miss

Snapping a grrreat photo with Tony the Tiger. 

Avon Heritage Duck Tape Festival

Avon, OH

Main Attraction

You’ll be stuck on this offbeat festival (sponsored by the Avon-based Duck Tape brand) after viewing the clever duct tape masterpieces, especially in the fashion show and parade.

Don’t Miss

Cleveland’s iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

Tupelo Elvis Festival

Tupelo, MS

Main Attraction

Die-hard Elvis fans will savor this pelvis-shaking celebration of the city’s native son, a Tribute Artist contest and, of course, performances honoring the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Don’t Miss

A drive down scenic Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic corridor that runs through Tupelo and traverses three states. 

Colorado BBQ Challenge

Frisco, CO

Main Attraction

Colorado’s longest-running barbecue competition is a carnivore’s delight, with more than 70 barbecue pit masters, kids’ activities and even pig races. 

Don’t Miss

Frisco’s picturesque pedestrian-friendly Main Street and the White River National Forest and Dillon Reservoir, with hiking, biking and fishing. 

International Festival of Art & Ideas

New Haven, CT

Main Attraction

Theater performances, thought-provoking discussions and dance come together in an illuminating affair spanning two weeks.

Don’t Miss

A self-guided tour of Yale University’s Old Campus. Legend has it that touching the left foot of past president Theodore Dwight Woolsey’s statue brings good luck.

Hampton Beach Annual Sand Sculpting Classic

Hampton Beach, NH

Main Attraction

Sand-shaping artists show off their skills for $15,000 in prize money in the invitation-only competition. It’s illuminated for night viewing.

Don’t Miss

Strolling along the beautiful boardwalk, which is consistently voted among the best in the country.

Kutztown Folk Festival

Kutztown, PA

Main Attraction

Blacksmithing, basket weaving, wood carving and barn-star-painting demos—plus the nation’s largest quilt sale—give a glimpse into the Pennsylvania Dutch community.

Don’t Miss

Fresh-baked bread rounds and giant iced cinnamon buns from the on-site bake oven.

Advertisement