Great American Vacations
Quirkiest American Festivals
Get the Scoop on America's Oddest Festivals
Featuring themes as varied as UFOs and Spam, if there's a quirky festival to be had, you'll find it in small-town America. If you're hurting for things to do during spring and summer months, heed our advice and check out one (or all) of the nation's finest -- and weirdest -- jamborees.
RC and Moon Pie Festival
Bell Buckle, Tennessee
For one day each June, the tiny pinprick of Bell Buckle, TN, celebrates two products that are said to have originated in the area -- RC Cola and Moon Pies, the calor-ific concoctions of graham crackers, marshmallow and chocolate. Much like any organized party in Tennessee, the festival features cloggers, country music and bluegrass bands galore. Fill your tummy with Southern culinary delights, like pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, hand-squeezed lemonade and deep-fried moon pies (calories don't count if you're on vacation). Engage in activities all afternoon from a Moon Pie toss, Moon Pie hoops, hog-calling and watermelon-seed-spitting contests. Awards are also doled out to the oldest and youngest attendee and the family who traveled the farthest. At the end of the day-long celebration, the World's Largest Moon Pie is cut and served by the king, queen and knights of the Moon Pie Round. And if you want to justify all the moon pies you eat, you can take part in the RC-Moon 10-mile run first thing in the morning.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
If ever you're passing through Gilroy, near San Jose, no matter the time of year, you'll catch whiffs of garlic for miles before and miles after. Home to Christopher Ranch Garlic, the largest shipper of garlic in the world, it wasn't dubbed "Garlic Capital of the World" for nothing. Each July, the town celebrates its pride and joy in a festival solely dedicated to the pungent bulb. The epicenter of the three-day event is Gourmet Alley, where pyro chefs entertain bystanders by whipping up everything from scampi to garlic chicken stir-fry (think "Iron Chef," only with a much more distinct smell). Additionally, there is a recipe contest and cook-off, non-stop musical entertainment, arts and crafts, a children's area and a Miss Gilroy Garlic pageant competition. This year's festival also includes a Battle of the Bands competition, as well, to recognize the growing number of teenage musicians in the area.
Roswell UFO Festival
Roswell, New Mexico
You've heard the paranormal tales of the inexplicable sightings that have allegedly been witnessed in the desert town. But sometimes you have to see it to believe it. If you head to Roswell during early July, you may just become a believer in the supernatural: Painted faces and peculiar, life-sized creatures of another dimension roam free at this annual spectacle. For four days each summer, aliens are glorified in Roswell, and thousands of people make the trek to the Southwest for haunted houses, parades, alien disc golf, UFO-inspired music and the works. It's an event that's simply out of this world.
Also known as the Pandemonious Potted Pork Festival, this annual one-day event pays homage to everyone's favorite meat in a can. Organized by Keep Austin Weird, a non-profit coalition for local businesses, the yearly tribute to all things Spam-related features a cook-off, using, you guessed it, recipes featuring Spam; the Spamalymics, where participants use cans of the meat product for various contests and relays; and, naturally, a Spamburger-eating contest. The Spam Jam features some of the area's finest musical acts, and a children's circus area is also on site for all the kiddies. Held in Austin's Waterloo Park, Spamarama takes place each April.
Cow Chip Throw and Festival
Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
If the term "chip chuckin'" doesn't ring a bell, you're not alone. The utility of the cow chip (or hardened cow droppings) was discovered by early Plains hunters, who found a way to brave tough winters: by burning buffalo chips and using them for fuel. The chips emitted a clean, scorching hot, white flame without soot when lit. Soon, pioneers were collecting cow chips left and right and storing them for winter; these chips were used as a means for survival and a vital trading tool for other things the pioneers needed. According to the Cow Chip Throw and Festival's website, "In 1970 tossing cow chips became a sport in the Cimmarron Territory Celebration held each year in Beaver, Oklahoma, in remembrance of the rugged courage and individualism of the early pioneer." Now, each Friday night and Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Wisconsinites pay homage to the great cow chip by chuckin' it as far as they can, shot-put style. Other events throughout the weekend include a parade, cow chip 5-K and 10-K runs, arts and crafts fair, and eating, dancing, and music aplenty.