15 Unique Festivals to Discover This Summer

  • Photography by: Lucy Laucht
  • Copy by: Nicole Ziza Bauer

What better characterizes the summer than sun-kissed skin, wind-tangled hair, and that careless feeling of watching the sky fade into a warm sunset, dotted with fireflies and punctuated with an ice-cold glass of rosé?

OK, so maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve had this type of summer. Maybe your summers now are simply extensions of the rest of the year, you know, awash in 40-hour (plus) workweeks, overloaded calendars, and a smartphone that’s forever buzzing.

First, turn off those phone notifications—for the sake of your mental clarity and life’s enjoyment. Second, there’s an easy solution for a summer escape that doesn’t have to eat into vacation time or cost the entirety of your next paycheck. Summer festivals are perfect for getting outdoors, widening your imagination, and for remembering some summer magic that maybe, just maybe, you’ve forgotten about.

Most likely we all know the big music festivals to hit this summer, so we won’t name those here. Below is a humble round-up of local festivals you might not think to see, characterized by regional charm, seasonal produce and, yes, even Patrick Swayze.

FOOD FESTIVALS

Source: Treasures and Travels

1. Gilroy Garlic Festival 

July 29 – 31 Gilroy,  CA | Even if you don’t care for garlic, this festival along California’s central coast (just outside of San Jose) is not to miss. Live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, wine, pesto, even garlic ice cream—where else can you see such a tiny bulb make such a big fuss?

2. Watermelon Wine Festival 

July 2nd Concord, VA | A vineyard tucked into the rolling hills of Virginia is home to this annual festival, best for sipping watermelon sangria, enjoying a picnic dinner and live music while relaxing among the vines. 

3. Vegan Beer & Food Festival 

 June 18th Los Angeles, CA | Indulge your inner veggie at this festival full of animal-friendly eats. With over 50 different breweries and over 60 different food vendors, chances are high even the meatiest meat eaters will find something to enjoy.

4. Brewgrass Festival 

September 17th Asheville, NC | This is one of the biggest scenes for all things craft brew—you’ll be able to sample from over 55 different breweries at the local, regional, and national level. And the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains is hard to beat.

5. Tomato Art Festival 

August 12 – 13 Nashville, TN | Love tomatoes? You’re not alone. Last year almost 50,000 people descended on hip East Nashville for this all-things-tomato festival. In addition to food, you can enjoy a tomato-themed 5k, parade, concerts, even a “Biggest-Littlest-Ugliest Tomato” contest.

TRAVEL THEMED FESTIVALS

Source: Kyle Ericksen

6. Jazz Age Lawn Party 

August 13 – 14 NYC | Downton Abbey withdraws? We feel you. So come dressed in your Flapper-best for this nod to the Prohibition era. Transport back to the 1920s while sipping cocktails and doing the Charleston on Governor’s Island in New York City.

7. Wanderlust Festival

Various Dates & Nationwide Locations | Want to change the world? You’ll feel right at home among attendees of this festival for mindful living. Held around the country at jaw-dropping mountain retreat resorts, here you can practice yoga with the best of ‘em while exploring natural treasures and learning from holistic healers.

8. Bastille Day on 60th Street

July 10th NYC | If you can’t make it all the way to Paris for France’s Independence Day (July 14, 1789), maybe New York City will do it for you. The Sunday before the annual anniversary, celebrate with crepes, éclairs, champagne, and other Francophiles along Fifth Ave to Lexington Ave. C’est la vie… d’été!

9. San Fermin in Nueva Orleans 

July 9th New Orleans, LA | You don’t need a ticket to Pamplona to run with the bulls. Visit New Orleans instead, where you can run with slightly safer “bulls,” otherwise known as roller derby girls. ¿Por qué no?

10. Dublin Irish Festival

August 5 – 7 Dublin, OH | Don’t let the location fool you. This is the largest three-day Irish festival on the planet, with over 100,000 guests, seven stages, 65 bands and over 500 performers. Come for a Guiness and some fish and chips, stay for the red-locked (way-too-adorable) Irish dancers. 

ART & CULTURE FESTIVALS

Source: C. Whitney Ward

11. Dirty Dancing Festival

August 19 – 20 Lake Lure, NC | Who doesn’t want to practice “the lift” in the lake? Much of the beloved 1987 classic was filmed in and around Lake Lure, so diehard fans will relish the opportunity to screen the movie while eating, drinking, and enjoying live performances. It’s license to have the “time of your life.”

12. Summer Theater at Up-the-Hill 

All Summer in Spring Green, WI | While technically not a festival, outdoor theater performances can be just as good. And they certainly are here at the outdoor amphitheater for American Players Theater, Up-the-Hill. This summer catch performances of An Ideal Husband or King Lear under the stars, side by side with the trees.

13. Cheyenne Frontier Days 

July 22 – 31 Cheyenne, WY | The spirit of the Wild West still exists here, with nearly ten days of rodeos, an art show, carriage parades, pancake breakfasts, American Indian exhibits, and even a wild horse race. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and get back to your roots, Wyoming is the place for you.

14. What the Festival

 June 17 – 20 Mt. Hood, OR | Though, yes, one music festival did slip in this list, What the Festival is by no means just for electronic music. While camping here you can also immerse yourself in fantastical art exhibits, dance classes, listen to creativity talks, and learn how to lessen your environmental impact. It’s been called a “summer camp for adults,” so if you’re daring, go ahead and file on in.

15. Art Santa Fe 

July 7 – 10 Santa Fe, NM | If you’re a fan of modern and contemporary art, you’ll love this festival with exhibitors and attendees from around the globe. With one of the top art markets in the U.S. (second overall, in fact) Santa Fe is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the talent and inspiration of others, while still capturing some for yourself.

What must-see festivals are on your summer bucket list?

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