50 States of Fun Festivals
From the iconic to the unique, check out some of the best festivals each state (plus D.C.) has to offer.
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Alabama: Mardi Gras
It’s natural to immediately associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but Mobile, Alabama, actually claims the country’s oldest Carnival celebration. The revelry dates back to 1703, and today’s visitors can look forward to two weeks of parades and parties. Oh, and Moon Pies, which are essentially packaged s’mores that are tossed into the crowd alongside beads. Other differentiators from New Orleans? For one, Alabama’s version is considered more family friendly, and two, there’s a day commemorating the founder, Joe Cain. Although resurrector is more accurate, since the Mobile native revived the tradition by dressing up as a Native American chief and parading through the streets with a small group. The tradition continues to this day, with a Cain impersonator joined by his merry widows and assorted locals — note this is the only parade that non-krewe members can join for a small fee.
Alaska: Anchorage Fur Rendezvous
The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, locally known as the Fur Rondy, is a 10-day festival held at the end of February. It started in 1935 as a three-day winter sports fest that Anchorage’s 3,000 residents celebrated with visiting trappers. (There wasn’t a whole lot else to do at the time.) The event now attracts anyone who wants to enjoy some of the Fur Rondy's oldest traditions and plenty of newer ones. There’s the World Championship Sled Dog Race; the Blanket Toss, involving Native American dancing; and the Rondy Fur Auction, a nod to the importance of the fur trade. Other events have been added over the decades, like a beer fest, carnival, costume crawl, snow sculpting competitions, outhouse races (like it sounds) and fireworks. Sure, the weather will be freezing, but this is considered one of the world’s top winter festivals. Did we mention the reindeer dash? Think of it as a much safer and cuter version of running with the bulls.
Arizona: World Championship Hoop Dance Contest
Native American hoop dancing is an old tradition that the Pueblo tribe is credited with reviving in the '30s. It involves multiple hoops incorporated into traditional dancing, not hula hooping. Today, the best hoopers from the U.S. and Canada meet in Phoenix for the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held at the Heard Museum. The two-day event is open to the public, with the chance to watch about 70 Native American hoop dancers compete for the top title.
Arkansas: Purple Hull Pea Festival
The Purple Hull Pea Festival in tiny Emerson, Arkansas, isn’t the state’s biggest fest, but it’s certainly the most original. Purple hull peas are similar to black-eyed peas and native to the area, so the town started celebrating them in 1990 as something to do. Today’s event involves a pea-shelling contest along with separate pea and cornbread cook-offs, but the real attraction is the tiller race. Tillers are a gardening tool that help prep soil for planting, and contestants run and ride all manner of altered tillers for the top prize and bragging rights.
Although not the oldest, Coachella has become one of the world’s most famous music festivals. It’s ballooned to attract about 100,000 people to the Empire Polo Club in the Indio desert, and is now held over two weekends to accommodate the hordes. (If you’re thinking of going, know that Coachella sells out months in advance of its spring date.) 2019 will be headlined by Grammy-winning Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover. Tame Impala and Ariana Grande are also among the other star attractions, along with dozens of other performers. And even though camping is part of the experience, be prepared to don your Coachella best considering all of the celeb-spotting.
Colorado: Great American Beer Festival
Like beer? The Great American Beer Festival is a three-day craft beer extravaganza that showcases the country’s newest brands and varieties from a Who’s Who of craft beer. What started in 1982 now attracts about 60,000 people as of 2018, who come to taste some 4,000 beers from 800 breweries. The festival is also a competition for the breweries, all vying for one of the industry’s most coveted awards. And yes, ticket holders can taste those beers too.
Connecticut: Milford Oyster Festival
Professional oyster shuckers from all across the U.S. and Canada descend on the Milford Oyster Festival to compete for the title of fastest oyster shucker in the world. But regular oyster aficionados also attend the festival. 2018 alone offered 40,000 oysters (and clams), with 21 different kinds of oysters from eight East Coast states, including Maine and Virginia. Plus, visitors can partake in an oyster-eating competition and interact with oyster growers to learn all about the tasty mollusks. In case you become oyster-ed out, the day-long festival also features entertainment (Eddie Money headlined in 2018), as well as a craft fair, kayak race, schooner cruise and even a classic car show.
Delaware: Firefly Music Festival
Every summer, upwards of 100,000 music lovers converge on sleepy Dover for the Firefly Music Festival. As the largest of its kind on the East Coast, it attracts plenty of famous acts, from indie to rock. Panic! At The Disco, Travis Scott and Post Malone are the major headliners for 2019, with dozens of other acts performing during the three-day weekend. The organizers behind Coachella recently acquired Firefly, but as of now the latter still provides a music and camping experience that's more laid-back than the Coachella scene.
Florida: Art Basel Miami Beach
Art Basel is basically the Super Bowl of the art world, a pinnacle event held every December in Miami Beach. (There are also shows in Switzerland and Hong Kong at other times of the year.) Although the four-day contemporary art fair draws the elite cognoscenti, collectors and a significant number of celebrities, it’s also accessible to the average art aficionado. In recent years, about 70,000 people came to peruse art from more than 250 international galleries at the convention center. But while anyone can buy tickets for the actual fair, you’ll have to work your connections to score coveted invites to private art shows and rooftop parties.
Georgia: Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
Whether you’re going for the day or weekend, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival showcases some of the South’s best restaurants. Themed food tents are the main attraction, where you’ll have to pace yourself — 2018 offered 35 different chefs a day, more than 60 breweries and almost 200 wine and spirit companies. The 2019 schedule isn’t available yet, but last year’s additional access (at additional cost) offered master classes plus unconventional food and alcohol pairings. Gourmands can dive even deeper with the themed Connoisseur Dinner Series; past meals have centered around personality types and zodiac signs.
Hawaii: Aloha Festivals
Started in 1946, the Aloha Festivals is arguably the granddaddy of Hawaiian events. Held on September weekends in the Honolulu area, it celebrates all aspects of Hawaiian culture, kicking off with an opening ceremony representing the Royal Court (laypeople, not actual royalty), and concluding with a three-hour parade. Expect traditional hula dancing, songs and food at all of the events, but really immerse yourself at what’s considered Hawaii’s largest block party, complete with live entertainment along with food and craft booths. Even better, admission to each celebration is free.
Idaho: Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
Idaho might appear to be an unlikely place for a jazz festival, but the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is actually one of the largest in the U.S. It started in the '60s at the University of Idaho in Moscow as a way to bring jazz students and professionals together, and today, both perform throughout the weekend. Among the 2019 professional lineup are the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and The Lionel Hampton Big Band.
Illinois: Taste of Chicago
Chicago’s food scene has ramped up in recent years, now home to numerous James Beard award-winning restaurants and chefs. There’s also a dizzying array of new eateries, so deciding where to dine can become overwhelming. Simplify matters at Taste of Chicago, five days of gluttony highlighting some of the city’s newest, best and favorite dishes. The food fest started in 1980 and has mushroomed into what might be the largest of its kind in the world. Since the 2019 fest isn’t happening until July, you have time to assemble your game plan, as the 70-plus dining options encompass restaurants, pop-ups and food trucks. While it’s now possible to sample everything from spam musubi to kati rolls, save room for local deep dish pizza and Italian beef subs. Luckily the event is always held in Grant Park along Lake Michigan, providing enough acres to walk off the zillion calories you’ll be consuming. Come evening, enjoy free concerts from recognizable names — the Flaming Lips and George Clinton were among the 2018 lineup.
Indiana: 500 Festival
The Indianapolis 500 is the premier car racing event in the nation, and Indiana has been marking this occasion with a festival since 1957. The 500 Festival now consists of a month-long event in May (Kids’ Day and the mini-marathon are popular), but the real draw is the IPL 500 Festival Parade. In past years more than 300,000 spectators crowded downtown to witness the spectacle of floats, marching bands and balloons — yes, many with a Nascar theme.
Iowa: Iowa State Fair
The annual fair is the major draw for many states, an event where the public can predictably find funnel cake, Ferris wheels and farm animals. But Iowa’s State Fair has become famous for its unexpected food offerings, and not just deep-fried butter. For example, more than a million 2018 fair-goers could guzzle pickle beer and feast on cookie dough spaghetti. Of course, traditions like the Nutty Bar (pictured), a good old-fashioned chocolate-and-nut-covered ice cream bar, are another must. The 11-day festival isn’t just about food though: There’s also the state’s largest parade; amusement park rides like the double Ferris wheel; a talent show and free bands. (Plus, bigger names like Hootie & the Blowfish sell for well under $100.)
Kansas: Dodge City Days
Every year, Dodge City celebrates its era as a notable frontier town in the 1800s. (If you’ve ever wondered about the expression "Get out of Dodge," it originated as a result of the town’s reputation for Wild West lawlessness, later immortalized in the show Gunsmoke.) Not to worry, since today’s Dodge City Days (and town) are a more family-friendly affair. The 10-day-long festival has even become one of the biggest in the state, consisting of a rodeo, barbecue contest, cattle drive, carnival and more.
Kentucky: Kentucky Derby
The famed Kentucky Derby horse race is the culmination of a two-week party that involves more than 70 events. The Kentucky Derby Festival commences with fireworks to rival July 4th, then spans concerts, marathons, hot-air balloons and a steamboat race. The Pegasus Parade is must-see viewing, featuring celebrity Grand Marshals and no shortage of horses. Perhaps less expected are the annual bed races, which, as they sound, involve teams racing beds on wheels. This is preceded by a parade of said beds, and awards are doled out for best decorated and most entertaining.
Louisiana: Mardi Gras
Although first celebrated in Alabama, New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras has earned international fame for its massive party that starts Jan. 6 and concludes with the start of Lent in March. In 2018, more than 65 parades were held during the main two-week period in February and March, attracting more than a million people. (Start planning now for the following year.) The parades are held by private clubs, or krewes, with some dating back to the late 1800s. While you can see all manner of krewes, from Barkus (costumed dogs) to 'tit Rex (a parade of miniatures), the huge draws include Endymion, Bacchus, Rex, Orpheus and Zulu (pictured) for their spectacular floats and coveted throws that are tossed into the crowd. Especially coveted are Zulu’s hand-painted coconuts, which, due to local laws, have to be handed instead of thrown.
Maine: Maine Lobster Festival
Maine is so intrinsically tied to lobster that it’s almost required for the state to hold a festival. The Maine Lobster Festival is now entering its 72nd year as of 2019, anticipating tens of thousands of lobster lovers who annually flock to Rockland for the five-day fest. As the main event, foodies can enjoy lobster rolls, lobster wontons and even lobster mac ’n' cheese. But the pinnacle is the Maine lobster dinner served under a tent overlooking Penobscot Bay, a wonderfully messy affair of buttered lobster and corn on the cob. This needs to be followed by homemade blueberry cobbler. Supplementing all of this food are a parade, pageant competition, seafood cooking contest, crafts fair and local bands. Stick around for the lobster crate race, with daring souls attempting to cross lobster crates without falling into the frigid water — no easy feat.
Artscape is touted as the country’s largest free arts festival, and it does indeed boast impressive numbers. Held annually in Baltimore, recent years offered more than 150 vendors and attracted more than 350,000 visitors. The weekend-long event also offers art exhibits and installations, performing arts and live music, plus a comedy club for good measure. Be sure to pace yourself as much of Artscape is held outside in July, but more than 30 local food vendors (The Local Oyster, Otterbein Cookies) combined with ice cream options and cold drinks should sustain you.
Massachusetts: Jacob’s Pillow
With a curiosity-invoking name, Jacob’s Pillow is one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the world, and the longest-running in the U.S. (The name stems from a nearby road dubbed Jacob’s Ladder in the 18th century.) At the center of the two-month-long festival are at least 50 acclaimed dance companies from Australia to Cuba. There are also more than 350 free performances by emerging dancers in addition to classes, talks and exhibits. And those who are members can also watch private rehearsals and meet the dancers.
Michigan: Tulip Time
There are actually tulip festivals all across the U.S., but Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan, is the biggest and baddest of them all. Tulips became a thing thanks to the town’s Dutch settlers, and the fest dates way back to 1929 when visitors came to admire 100,000 tulips. Today, about half a million people come during the week-long event in May to marvel at more than five million tulips that are planted around Holland. Each year focuses on a different theme; 2018 featured all manner of orange tulips. Besides tulip gazing, Tulip Time also celebrates Dutch culture with a Dutch market, food, cooking demos and three parades. Traditional Dutch dancing is another highlight, with about 1,000 locals in traditional dress performing klompen dances throughout the day.
Minnesota: Saint Paul Winter Carnival
It’s common for places that experience extremely cold winters to throw major winter parties, and Minnesota is no exception. Saint Paul has been hosting the Saint Paul Winter Carnival since 1886, and for almost two weeks the area warms up with parades, marathons and a treasure hunt. At the center of it all is the Kellogg Mall Park, with ice bars, ice sculptures and a rotating cast of events. There’s also a snow park, which is basically a winter playground with an oversize snow slide, snow maze, snow golf, snow sculptures and more offerings centered around snow and ice. Add to this a large-scale ice palace (2018’s consisted of 4,000 blocks of ice) and a ticketed dinner theater event that anoints the new "royal family" presiding over the carnival. Not snow-related but still Carnival-related is the Saintly City Cat Show, where a Winter Carnival Household Pet King and Queen are chosen from hundreds of competitors.
Mississippi: Tupelo Elvis Festival
Every year Elvis’ birthplace of Tupelo celebrates his legacy the best way they know how: with Elvis tribute contests and performances, a 5K Elvis race, pet parade (Elvis theme encouraged), living history scenes and gospel music. The Tupelo Elvis Festival has been going strong for about 20 years and attracts super Elvis fans from around the world. New for 2019 will be a youth competition during the five-day tribute event.
Missouri: Fair Saint Louis
Fair Saint Louis goes all out to celebrate July 4 in the city. The free three-day festival offers a bit of everything: face painting, rock-wall climbing, dog performances and food and drink vendors. Besides attracting major performers (2018 featured Martina McBride and Jason Derulo) each night culminates with a spectacular fireworks show.
Montana: Wild West Winterfest
Never heard of skijoring? While it sounds like the next winter trend, this Scandinavian tradition dates back to the 19th century, and typically involves being pulled on skis by a horse or large dog. This tradition isn’t new to the West either, and Red Lodge, Montana, has been hosting the National Finals Skijoring Races since 1980. Besides watching the competitive events, visitors can take wagon rides, watch the annual chili cook-off or hit up the s’mores station. Nighttime even brings live music and dancing, western style.
Nebraska: Nebraskaland Days
The best of Nebraskan culture is celebrated every June in North Platte during Nebraskaland Days: Think 10 days of rodeos and concerts, plus a parade and carnival to boot. But the main draw is the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, which he founded, that is now more than 100 years old. The rodeo itself lasts four days and is considered one of the best in the country.
Nevada: Burning Man
In all fairness, Burning Man doesn’t consider itself to be a festival, and it’s not in the strictest sense of the word. However, since the event is open to the public and involves optional activities, we’re including it as a non-festival kind of festival. As such, what started as a small group of friends burning an effigy of a man in 1986 has evolved into tens of thousands of people seeking to spend about a week with like-minded creative types in order to create a temporary city in the barren desert of Black Rock City. The overall point is to create a community that’s overseen by 10 principles, ranging from self-expression to radical inclusion. Art in every sense of the word is a key component, and large-scale installations are a defining element. Anyone interested in going needs to fully prepare for the elements since attendees have to haul in every possible thing they’ll need for the week, from food and water to the ubiquitous goggles (for sandstorm protection) and bikes (the main form of transportation). And while much has changed over the years, it wouldn’t be Burning Man without the ritual burning of a larger-than-life effigy to conclude the experience.
New Hampshire: New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival
Started in 1975, Scots from across North America and around the world converge on Loon Mountain Resort to celebrate their heritage at the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival. During the weekend-long fest in September, there are fun and games galore; particularly exciting is the heavy athletics category, where some of the best compete in stone carrying, hammer throwing and the like. The festival component brings together more than 65 Scottish clans who sell Scotch eggs and kilts, recreate aspects of daily life from the past and hold classes in everything from Highland dancing to playing the bagpipes. (And yes, expect performances involving both throughout the weekend.) Don’t miss the sheep dog trials where judges determine which dog herded sheep best, as well as whisky tasting.
New Jersey: Jersey City LGBT Pride Festival
Jersey City has spent the past 18 years throwing the annual Jersey City LGBT Pride Festival, a popular downtown mainstay attracting up to 15,000 people from the region. 2018 opened with a Pride march, followed by day-long performances, acrobatic acts and street fair vendors. The next one is happening in August, and yes, all are welcome.
New Mexico: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
What started as a party for a local radio station back in 1972 has ballooned (sorry) into the world’s largest hot air balloon festival. As of 2018, almost one million people from around the world attended the nine-day event each October, which is essentially tailor-made for Instagram. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta blasts off with a 6 a.m. dawn patrol, when some balloons ascend to check local weather conditions. What’s known as the Mass Ascension follows at 7 a.m., a mass spectacle as more than 500 balloons in all manner of colors, shapes and sizes begin their coordinated launch. The rest of the week continues with fireworks; a special shape category where you might spot a balloon whale, dragon or Yoda; and balloon glows, featuring illuminated balloons once the sun sets. Seemingly incongruous but no less popular are the annual chainsaw carving competitions.
New York: Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Arguably one of the most original parades in the country, every summer the Coney Island Mermaid Parade meanders through the Coney Island section in Brooklyn. This is the place to spy all manner of creative and risqué mermaid and nautical-themed floats and costumes, and you’ll be joined by half a million others who line Surf Avenue and the boardwalk to witness the spectacle. Take note that some of the best shots involve those with Luna Park (and Cyclone, the iconic wooden roller coaster) in the background. Though not a conventional festival, the event has all the built-in makings of one, from the various amusement park rides and games at Luna Park on the boardwalk to Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue, the hot dog chain's original location.
North Carolina: Carolina Renaissance Festival
The Carolina Renaissance Festival is one of the country’s largest, and come weekends in October and November, the fairgrounds in Huntersville become medieval Fairhaven. Here your inner Renaissance man or woman can watch knights joust, falcons fly and peasants sing. All of this unfolds across 25 acres that contain replica castles and pubs, along with more than 100 craft and food vendors (with a medieval bent, of course). Fairhaven also hosts 14 entertainment stages for comedy, circus and music, and often a combination of all three. A swimming mermaid exhibit is among the newest additions. Rounding out the fun are roving villagers, demonstrations and games. And in case you were wondering, yes, you can find giant turkey legs to eat.
North Dakota: United Tribes Powwow
The United Tribes Powwow is one of the largest gatherings of its kind as more than 70 tribes assemble for the annual song and dance competition. Now entering its 50th year, dance categories encompass traditional (as it sounds), fancy (a modern take with more elaborate outfits) and grass dance (similar to traditional but with distinctive dress). Be sure to read up on powwow etiquette beforehand, like asking dancers for permission before snapping photos and not touching costumes. Otherwise, the weekend also offers a craft fair, fashion show and buffalo barbecue for the 20,000 or so attendees.
Ohio: Columbus Arts Festival
Columbus, Ohio, not only holds one of the largest colleges in the U.S., but also one of the largest arts fairs. Ongoing since 1962, the Columbus Arts Festival features more than 250 approved professional and emerging artists from across the nation. The three-day event in June also offers food vendors, craft beer and free music, with the main action happening along the riverfront.
Oklahoma: Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa
Oklahoma isn’t typically associated with traditional German festivals, and yet the Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa has been going strong since 1979. Every year it strives to recreate the traditions one would experience in Munich, so of course that means vast quantities of beer, bratwurst, polka bands and lederhosen. The only aspect making this festival even better? The Dachshund Dash, involving more than 75 hot-dog-bun-wearing sausage dogs who do their best to scamper to the finish line. (Dachshund fans should also take note of the costume contest beforehand.)
Oregon: Portland Rose Festival
While not a household name like the more famous Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, the Portland Rose Festival still attracts thousands who come to Portland for dragon boat races, concerts, Fleet Week, fireworks and carnival rides. But really the main events are the float-filled parades and the long-running Rose Show (about 6,000 people are expected to attend the Rose Show alone in 2019). But the Grand Floral Parade isn’t to be missed either, with 2019 bringing 27 flower floats, and almost as many marching bands and horse units.
Pennsylvania: Mummers Parade
If you live in or near Philadelphia, the annual Mummers Parade on Jan. 1 along Broad Street is required viewing. (The parade is locally televised for those who don’t want to venture outside.) The name stems from an archaic term for masked mimes; today, it applies to those who don (often) elaborate costumes while performing musical skits. Since the Philly tradition can be traced to the 1800s, word has it that the parade is the country’s oldest folk festival — although superlatives are hard to prove. Regardless, it’s now a full day of different clubs who perform in divisions, ranging from comics (costumed clubs that lampoon current events) to string bands (no brass instruments are allowed, and "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" will be played a zillion times as the unofficial song). But the real highlight is the Fancy Brigade. This is where you’ll find clubs performing musical skits in all their sparkly, feather-costumed glory. Note that while all of the various groups once marched down Broad Street, the Fancy Brigade now performs at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Rhode Island: Newport Jazz Festival
Tiny Newport swells in size each summer as thousands flock to Fort Adams State Park for a three-day weekend of jazz greats like Laurie Anderson and Charles Lloyd. The Newport Jazz Festival has been a major draw for more than 60 years, and in between four open-air stages of acts there are beer and wine gardens and food and craft vendors. And those who have extra time can visit Newport’s famous Gilded-Age mansions like The Breakers.
South Carolina: Euphoria
In the past decade or so, Greenville has evolved from a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains that few beyond the region knew about, to a major food epicenter. Today, Greenville’s Euphoria festival has become a must-have ticket for foodies, with Michelin-starred chefs headlining the four-day affair. But guests can also expect an impressive showing of many of the region’s most notable chefs, as well as numerous opportunities to partake in wine seminars, cooking demonstrations and multi-course dinners. And since it’s not a festival without music, live performances are integral throughout the weekend. The popular Sunday Supper serves as the grand finale, with everyone dining family-style at long farm tables — and usually sells out fast.
South Dakota: Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup
Buffalo and arts aren’t usually mentioned in the same sentence, especially if you’re not from South Dakota, making the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup a truly one-of-a-kind experience. The buffalo roundup component involves gathering about 1,300 buffalo. This is done for population control, as Custer State Park can’t sustain an ever-growing population. As such, every year about 200 buffalo are weeded out and sent to auction, while the calves are vaccinated and branded before being returned. The main action occurs in the morning, and experienced riders can even apply for volunteer herder spots. Everyone else can watch from the sidelines, before spending the rest of the weekend cruising more than 150 art vendors, listening to live music and enjoying a large pancake breakfast or buffalo barbecue.
Tennessee: CMA Fest
The CMA Fest is country music’s must-attend annual event. Naturally taking place in Nashville, 2018 headline acts featured Keith Urban, Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood. But all told there were almost 400 performers throughout the four-day fest, requiring an advance game plan to get the most from it. And as the largest of its kind in the country, recent crowd tallies numbered around 60,000. Besides attending as many concerts as feasibly possible, there are also opportunities for fans to meet their idols. Don’t plan on getting much sleep.
Texas: South by Southwest
The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) that takes over Austin is a singular event that unites some of the best from the movie, music and interactive media worlds during a 10-day period. Put another way, it’s part music festival, part movie festival, part comedy festival, part gaming expo and part conference — the latter involving panels of thought-leaders discussing a broad range of current-day issues (Is America Ready for Universal Basic Income?; Defending the Nation: Immigrants in the Military). If your brain isn’t overloaded by all of the stimuli, there are also endless networking events, which is really one of the best reasons to attend. Badge access options include choosing from the film, music or interactive track, or splurging for all three.
Utah: Sundance Film Festival
Every year Park City becomes a mini Hollywood as celebrities, wannabes and film buffs descend on the ski resort to screen the latest independent films that are hoping to make it big. Founded as the Sundance Institute by Robert Redford in 1980 as a way to lure emerging, independent filmmakers to Utah, the Sundance Film Festival has since become the one film festival to rule them all, with industry folks on high alert to buy what will hopefully become the next Oscar winner. But with enough planning, non-industry folks can buy either full-access passes, ticket packages or even individual tickets to the 11-day run.
Vermont: Vermont Maple Festival
As a Vermont staple, of course there’s a Vermont Maple Festival to celebrate the sweet sap. 2019 marks the 53rd time the festival is going down, lasting for three days at the end of April in St. Albans. Highlights from the weekend encompass a parade along the main street with maple-themed floats; a pancake breakfast for maximum maple syrup enjoyment; a maple syrup contest to find the best Vermont syrup; a maple cooking contest; a maple-themed photography contest; sugarhouse tours; and a painting class with attendees replicating an idealistic Vermont winter with horses pulling a sled (part of Vermont’s maple syrup past). Rounding out the festivities will be local bands, a carnival, craft show and more.
Virginia: Neptune Festival
Every September Virginia Beach hosts its beloved Neptune Festival along the boardwalk, spanning 32 blocks beckoning with more than 250 craft vendors. This alone has attracted at least 400,000 people in the past. But the festival extends beyond the boardwalk, with more than 40 events around Virginia Beach, not limited to an all-out parade, live music, surfing competition, golf and sand-sculpting contest.
Washington: Issaquah Salmon Days
Remote Issaquah has been officially celebrating salmon for about 50 years, in part because the town is a hotspot for returning salmon every fall. During the Issaquah Salmon Days festival, visitors and locals alike welcome home salmon with a parade sporting more than 100 entries, along with more than 270 craft vendors. There’s also a carnival, entertainment, beer garden and yes, salmon barbecue. Another highlight is the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery where you can witness the salmon returning firsthand, and learn more about the process and the hatchery’s work.
Washington, D.C.: National Cherry Blossom Festival
If, like many, you can’t jet off to Japan for its annual cherry blossom bonanza, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., is more than an acceptable substitute. In fact, the first cherry trees were a gift from Japan in 1912, and today, cherry-blossom peeping is an annual spring rite of passage as more than a million visitors flock to the city during peak season in March and April to view 12 different varieties. But there’s more than just getting the perfect Instagram shot of blossoms. Festivities kick off with a massive opening ceremony that includes a performance of "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon" The Super Live, then continue throughout the three weeks with a kite festival and petalpalooza (live music, food, fireworks) before wrapping with a traffic-stopping parade.
West Virginia: Bridge Day
Bridge Day is heralded as West Virginia’s largest single-day festival, as every October thousands flock to Fayetteville to BASE jump — or simply watch. BASE jumping is basically hurling oneself off of a building, antenna, span or earth per the acronym (the New River Gorge Bridge in this case), wearing either a parachute or braver still, a wingsuit, a type of uniform with wings. It’s a dangerous sport, although Bridge Day has been ongoing since 1980. For those who want to participate but don’t necessarily want to leap 876 feet into the gorge below, there are options to rappel up or down from the bridge. A third option allows adventure-lite seekers to zip-line 700 feet from the bridge to the road. But everyone can take advantage of the Bridge Jam festival that coincides the same weekend, with an emphasis on country music and craft beer.
Guinness World Records declared Summerfest the world’s largest music festival in 1999. The 11-day marathon goes down every year in Milwaukee and attracts upwards of a million people who are there to see some 800 performers on 12 different stages. The biggest names (Ozzy Osbourne and Bon Iver are among the 2019 lineup) perform in the amphitheater, but don’t overlook the other 12 stages, as well as emerging artists.
Wyoming: Cheyenne Frontier Days
Finally, if you’ve ever wished for a rodeo and music concert mashup, you’ll find it at Cheyenne Frontier Days. That’s right, not only will you find bucking broncos and steer roping during the 10-day extravaganza in Cheyenne, but also some of the hottest country music names. Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Tim McGraw are among the 2019 major draws. Meanwhile, the rodeo component traces back to 1897, and just might be the world’s largest. It entails eight separate events spread over nine days, with a wild horse race and barrel racing in addition to the aforementioned activities. An online guide also provides a helpful rundown if this is your first time to the rodeo — pun intended. There’s also plenty of fun to be had at the large carnival, Western art show, chuck wagon cook-off and many more.