Food and travel are a perfect pair, like tacos and Tuesdays. And what better way to plan a road trip than by heading to a celebration of local food? Whether you choose a melting pot metropolis to sample a little bit of everything or a tiny town that proclaims its love for the local produce, exploring a region’s cuisine is a great way to connect to a place and its people. Pack your appetite for adventure — and some stretchy pants — and eat your way across America for tasty travel that will leave you with many sweet memories.
McLoud, Oklahoma: Blackberries
The small town of McLoud, Oklahoma (population: 4,600), has been the official “Blackberry Capital of the World” since 1949, when enterprising growers sent a box of their best berries to then-U.S. President Harry Truman. Every summer, the town celebrates the sweet designation at the annual McLoud Blackberry Festival, a weekend jam-packed with events including a cobbler-eating contest, parade, and beauty pageant — as well as, of course, a bushel of blackberries and blackberry-enhanced foods. If you can’t make the festival, stop down the road in the city of Stroud at Stable Ridge Winery for some blackberry wine any time of year.
Castroville, California: Artichokes
Enjoying that artichoke dip? It probably originated in Castroville. This community in central California’s Monterey County produces almost 80% of all artichokes in the U.S. and is the (self-proclaimed) artichoke center of the world. Castroville celebrates its most important crop — which, in spite of being the state’s official vegetable, is actually the thorny flower of the thistle plant — each summer at the Artichoke Festival, with chef demos, a car show, and other entertainment. There’s no beauty pageant, but in 1948, Norma Jeane Mortenson, better known as Marilyn Monroe, was California’s first honorary Artichoke Queen. Hungry for more? Head to the Giant Artichoke Restaurant for French-fried art hearts, and then make a side trip to the nearby city of Gilroy — the garlic capital of the world.
Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Wings
It’s estimated that Americans consume over 1 billion chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday alone. The finger-licking craze was born in 1964 at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar, but the wings have spread far and wide since. While many locals pledge allegiance to Duff’s, Bon Appetit magazine goes all in for the offerings at Gabriel’s Gate. Since 2002, wing worshippers have convened over Labor Day Weekend for the National Buffalo Wing Festival, where visitors can sample entries in the sauce-off, “bob” for wings in a baby pool filled with blue cheese dressing, and watch competitive eater Joey Chestnut (who downed 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes on the Fourth of July) probably win the wing-eating contest. Chicken averse? Seek out another Buffalo specialty, Beef on Weck.
Warrens, Wisconsin: Cranberries
Cranberries aren’t just for Thanksgiving. Although the town has fewer than 400 permanent residents, little Warrens draws 120,000 visitors each September to the world’s largest celebration of the tart and tangy official state fruit. Browse the art and antique stalls and farmers market, attend the parade, or fuel up at the pancake breakfast. Throughout the rest of the year, visitors can tour a cranberry marsh or stop by the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, which features different flavors of cranberry confections.
Wenatchee, Washington: Apples
Washington grows more apples than any other state in the country, with about 12 billion orbs hand-picked from lush orchards each year. While harvest is in late summer and fall, spring finds 100,000+ people heading to the small town of Wenatchee to celebrate the blossoms that appear before the fruit. At the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival, visitors enjoy 11 days of carnival rides and booths, parades, a golf tournament, live entertainment, and of course, apples in every form from fritter to wine. If you’re in town another time, be sure to grab a slice of pie at local favorite The Windmill.
New Orleans, Louisiana: Cocktails
New Orleans is a city synonymous with good times, and they roll 365 days a year. The word “cocktail” may have been invented there in 1838, when chemist Antoine Peychaud served up the first Sazerac in a coquetier, or egg cup. Cocktail aficionados and mixology megastars gather in the Big Easy every autumn for the world’s most well-respected spirits event, Tales of the Cocktail. If a daiquiri in a to-go cup is more your style, you can opt for a Sonic-style drive-thru experience at any of the Fat Tuesday locations, or elevate the experience at Bar 1908 in the glam Pythian Market or at Erin Rose in the French Quarter.
Kodiak, Alaska: Crab
Alaskan crab is indisputably some of the finest flesh to grace a shell. If eating your body weight in crab is an item on your bucket list, the Kodiak Krab Fest is for you. While the events have changed since the festival’s 1958 founding — there is no longer a seal-skinning contest — the four-day Memorial Day weekend event has plenty of activities in addition to delicious crab offerings, including Alutiiq dance performances, a Survival Suit race. For non-festival dining, head to Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant and tuck in with the locals.
Hamilton County, Indiana: Pork Tenderloin
The Midwest loves its pork tenderloins, and nowhere more than in this county just north of Indianapolis. Fuel up on the “Tenderloin Trail,” where more than 50 restaurants offer up different versions of the classic dish — including a vegan version! Every Tuesday in July, visitors can savor discounts and specials on Tenderloin Tuesdays. Served as a sandwich or smothered with gravy, it’s a hearty meal and a Hoosier tradition.
Denver, Colorado: Beer
Denver has a long reputation as a city with great beer. The first city government met at the Apollo Saloon, and the homebrew scene became firmly centered in Colorado after its legalization in 1979. The Great American Beer Festival was born there in 1982, and is now the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States, with more than 60,000 attendees donning pretzel necklaces and sampling offerings from 1,700+ breweries. If you’re a fan of foam but not festivals, have no fear. The Denver Metropolitan Area has around 150 craft breweries open throughout the year.