Care for crab or fresh dates? Food festivals around California in 2008

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer



61st Carrot Festival

The root-vegetable celebration brings out amateur chefs and duffers with cookery contests for kids and adults, plus a golf tournament, a parade and midway. A low-key, family vibe prevails at the Feb. 10 Día de la Familia, where a cook-off (carrots not required) carries a $1,000 first-place prize.

Where: Holt Park, at Holt Road and 6th Street.

Cost: Free admission; $25 for cook-off entry fee.

Info: (760) 356-2923,


FEB. 9 AND 10


Wine & Chocolate Weekend

Winemakers will be on hand to chat with visitors as 10 family wineries on the Madera Wine Trail open their doors. Current and new vintages will be available for tasting while visitors nibble on chocolate, cheeses, olives and other specialty foods. Also: live music and fine-art displays, including a juried show at Quady Winery.

Where: Various sites in Madera County.

Cost: $20 buys a wine glass, which covers wine and food tasting for both days.

Info: (800) 613-0709,

FEB. 15 TO 24


Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival

A different date concoction is whipped up daily at the annual fair by area chefs who stop in for a cooking show. Amateurs can compete for best date recipe or amble the grounds munching on date pastries washed down with date shakes (a popular choice) and watch the camel and ostrich races. Plus: big-name entertainment, with concerts included in the fair admission. This year, it’s LeAnn Rimes, Heart and Blues Traveler.

Where: Riverside County Fairgrounds, 82-503 California 111, Indio.

Cost: $8, $6 ages 5 to 12, 4 and younger free.

Info: (800) 811-3247,

FEB. 23


Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off

It might be the seaside location or the theme of the day, but participants are inspired to dress up as scuba divers, mermaids -- there was even a “clam fairy,” a spokeswoman said. Teams compete in three divisions (individuals, restaurants and corporate/media) for “best clam chowder,” be it Boston or Manhattan. There are cash prizes, round-trip plane tickets and other awards.

Where: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach St.

Cost: Admission free; contest entry fees are $50 or $60; $7 to taste chowders.

Info: (831) 420-5273,



6th annual Celebrity Crab Cracking

Players for the San Francisco 49ers show they have finesse as well as muscle when they team with Bay Area chefs to provide a crab-cracking how-to demonstration. After the demo, the players, the 49ers’ Gold Rush cheerleaders and local VIPs compete in a timed crab-cracking-and-cleaning contest. Visitors can sample Dungeness crab and follow it with sips from the Wine & Beer Garden.

Cost: Free admission; tickets for tastings of food, beer and wine are $5 each or six for $25.

Where: Union Square, 301 Post St.

Info: (415) 781-7880,

MARCH 27 TO 30


Pebble Beach Food & Wine

This high-end event features culinary dream teams creating multi-course meals, such as a rare-wine auction dinner. In addition, two grand tastings will be held in a 30,000-square-foot tent where 300 wines from 200 top wineries will be poured, and there will be edibles created by 16 celeb chefs. And master sommeliers will take part in the Sommelier Challenge, a blind tasting of wines.

Where: The Inn at Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach Resorts, 2700 17-Mile Drive.

Cost: $165 for a single-day event pass to $4,750 for a three-night stay with VIP package that includes after-hours parties with chefs and winemakers.

Info: (866) 907-3663,

APRIL 25 TO 28


Asparagus Festival

The claim to fame is the best deep-fried asparagus found anywhere. Organizers also say they have the finest celebrity-chef cooking-demonstration kitchens. This year, the celeb kitchens feature chef Martin Yan (of TV cooking shows and travelogues and the Yan Can restaurants in Santa Clara and Pleasant Hill, Calif.). Also: the Spear-Its of the Valley wine and beer pavilion, entertainment on two stages and more.

Where: Weber Point Events Center, 221 N. Center St.

Cost: $10, $5 ages 11 to 17, 10 and younger free.

Info: (209) 644-3740,

MAY 17 AND 18


California Strawberry Festival

Several publications have ranked Oxnard’s event among the nation’s top outdoor festivals, and this is its 25th anniversary year. The goings-on are going to get gooey with the Tart Toss, the Strawberry Pie Eating Contest and the Strawberry Stomp (said to be similar to the classic “I Love Lucy” episode when Lucy stomps grapes in a barrel). Visit the Build Your Own Strawberry Shortcake tent, or try the strawberry pizza, strawberry nachos, strawberry funnel cakes and fresh-brewed strawberry beer. Also: The Budweiser Clydesdales will be on parade, and top-name acts will perform on two stages.

Where: Strawberry Meadows of College Park, 3250 S. Rose Ave.

Cost: $12, $5 ages 5 to 12, 4 and younger free.

Info: (888) 288-9242,

MAY 17


Uncorked! Wine Festival

Seminars such as “Wine 101" and “Chocolate & Wine Pairings” are among highlights of the event, a fundraiser for COPIA, the Napa nonprofit dedicated to wine, art and food. Thirty-plus wineries will be pouring samples as area chefs do demonstrations.

Where: Ghirardelli Square, 900 N. Point St.

Cost: Free admission; seminars free; $40 for wine tasting.

Info: (415) 775-5500,

MAY 17 AND 18


Artichoke Festival

Artichokes aren’t just boiled, grilled and fried at this fest, they’re made into art. The “agro art” competition features three-dimensional fruit-and-veggie works; each work must be at least 10% artichoke. Cooked creations include artichokes in burritos, breads, soup, chow mein, ice cream, etc. The fest features a parade down Merritt Street; live music; stilt walkers, clowns and other kid-friendly stuff; cooking demos; and field tours to a nearby farm.

Where: Several blocks along Merritt are closed to traffic.

Cost: $8, $4 children 12 and younger.

Info: (831) 633-2465,

JULY 12 AND 13


Santa Barbara French Festival

Little tables with checkered cloths set the mood for this Bastille Day celebration, as do cancan dancers, artists in berets and the Poodle Parade (costumed poodles welcome). Among the offerings: crepes, French-style hot dogs in baguettes, pâté, escargots, onion soup and Cajun and French Moroccan fare.

Where: Oak Park, 300 W. Alamar Ave.

Cost: Free.

Info: (805) 564-7274,

JULY 18 AND 19


California Peach Festival

Peaches in pies, peaches in turnovers, peaches in ice cream, shortcake, jam, marinade, muffins and fudge. The peachy list goes on. Also: stages with live music, singers, comedians and children’s acts, and fun stuff for the kids including bounce houses and craft-making booths.

Where: Along D Street downtown.

Cost: Free.

Info: (530) 671-9600,

JULY 25 TO 27


Gilroy Garlic Festival

Perhaps the most aromatic festival around, the event this year features a return of the Garlic Showdown, an “Iron Chef"-style competition with four top San Francisco Bay Area chefs competing for $5,000 and 1,000 pounds of fresh garlic. And the most popular attraction of the festival, the Gourmet Alley Demonstration Stage, will have chefs explaining how they prepare their garlic-laced entrees. Among fare at the fest: garlic fries, garlic calamari, garlic scampi, garlic ginger chicken stir fry, garlic frog legs, French-fried garlic artichoke hearts and garlic chocolate.

Where: Christmas Hill Park, 7100 Miller Ave.

Cost: $12, $6 ages 6 to 12, 5 and younger free

Info: (408) 842-1625,

JULY 26 AND 27


Salsa Festival

The dancing is spicy and the food spicier. The Chile Kitchen has how-to’s on salsa preparation and cooking with chiles. At the Salsa Tasting Tent, visitors can sample and purchase salsas. The salsa dancing is continuous, with three bands a day, a large floor for dancing and salsa dance contests. Featured fare includes carne asada tacos, tamales, tortas and margaritas, barbecued corn on the cob and Mexican-style shrimp cocktail.

Where: Plaza Park at Plaza Park, 5th and B streets

Cost: Free admission; $4 for salsa tasting (10 tastes plus tortilla chips).

Info: (800) 269-6273,

AUG. 15 TO 17


America’s Best: Celebrity Food Show

A general admission ticket buys you access to samples of products from 100 gourmet food companies and sips from more than 50 wineries. Meanwhile, restaurants cook and compete daily for “Chef Best Product Award” and TV chefs whip up dishes on stage.

Where: Anaheim Hilton, 777 Convention Way.

Cost: $10 for admission to the main floor, with food sampling, wine tasting; $35 also includes a chef show.

Info: (949) 366-8379,

AUG. 16


San Rafael Food & Wine Festival

Area vintners will pour, and Marin County-based chefs will show off their techniques during cooking demonstrations.

Where: Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission Ave., and on Mission from D to E streets.

Cost: Free admission; $15 buys five tasting tickets and a glass, which can be returned for $5 refund.

Info: (800) 310-6563,

AUG. 16 AND 17


Tomato Festival

If you want to compete in the Best Home Grown Tomato Contest, you’d better get planting. The fruit will be judged on color, flavor and size. If you’d prefer just to enjoy the fruits of the vine, there’s a Tomato Eating Contest and Tomato Alley; last year, there were nearly 100 varieties of tomatoes in a rainbow of colors and tomato products to sample and purchase. The West Coast Barbeque Championship pits experts as well as rookies in these categories: chicken, ribs, brisket, butt and tri-tip. The event also features live music and two blocks of children’s activities.

Where: Along seven blocks of Texas Street in downtown Fairfield.

Cost: Free.

Info: (707) 422-0103,

AUG. 23 AND 24


Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival

The party atmosphere is a draw, with more than 20 wineries and a dozen microbreweries pouring samples in a large tent while music acts hold forth outside. But the big draw may be seafood dishes such as crab cakes, albacore kebabs wrapped in bacon, barbecued oysters, cioppino, coconut shrimp, fish tacos, cedar plank salmon with apricot glaze, sushi and Key lime calamari.

Where: Watts Ranch, 16855 Bodega Highway.

Cost: $12, $8 ages 12 to 16 , 11 and younger free.

Info: (707) 824-8717,

AUG. 31 TO SEPT. 1


Harvest Wine Celebration

Thirty-five to 40 wineries will greet guests with food, art and entertainment. At the event, organized by the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Assn., winetastings will be accompanied by live music, dancing, fine-art displays, olive-oil and mustard tastings and more.

Where: At wineries in the Tri-Valley area, which includes Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, San Roman and Danville.

Cost: $45 to $65 per person

Info: (925) 447-9463,



Lemon Fest

Pucker up. Lemonade, lemon bars, seafood with lemon, funnel cakes with lemon topping, lemon chicken, lemon cheesecake and lemon-and-chipotle braised short ribs are on the menu at this citrusy fair. Plus: live music, a recipe contest, lemon-meringue-pie eating contests, Lemonhead-spitting contests and a children’s play area with crafts and activities.

Where: Pacific View Mall, at East Main Street and Lemon Grove Avenue.

Cost: Free.

SEPT. 19 TO 21


Almond Festival

A classic parade with baton twirlers and marching Cub Scouts opens the festival, which ends at the event site. Live bands will entertain, there will be a carnival, an art contest for the kids and, of course, heaps of almonds.

Where: O’Hara park, 1100 O’Hara Ave. at West Cypress Road.

Cost: $2

Info: (925) 625-1035,

OCT. 4


Wine Country Cajun Food & Music Festival

N’awlins-style fare and wines from Napa chefs and wineries are the culinary core of this Mardi Gras-flavored celebration. Also: Zydeco bands and dancing, parades and roving musicians playing blues, gospel and Dixieland jazz.

Where: Oct. 4 in downtown Napa, in the area of 1st and 2nd streets.

Cost: Free.

Info: (707) 257-0322,

OCT. 4


Loomis Eggplant Festival

Imagine, if you can, a hot Belgian waffle topped with eggplant ice cream and eggplant syrup. Unique new concoctions are created every year for the Loomis fest. Other nibbles: spicy eggplant garlic dip with pita chips, eggplant burger, charbroiled eggplant Benedict, eggplant tacos and roasted eggplant soup. Winners of a cooking contest are announced at the event, and a cookbook with the winners’ recipes is for sale. There’s also a wine garden with gift and gourmet items, two stages of live music and vendors selling crafts and home-and-garden wares.

Where: Taylor Road between Horseshoe Bar Road and Webb Street.

Cost: Free.

Info: (916) 652-7252,

OCT. 11


Candy Festival

The sugar rush centers on Candyland, where as many as 25 candy-related companies set up shop, including Granny Jan’s Homemade Fudge, Guittard Chocolate Co. and Jelly Belly. Magicians, barbershop quartets and street performers are among entertainment as organizers go for an old-fashioned ice-cream-parlor state of mind.

Where: Seven blocks along Texas Street.

Cost: Free.

Phone: (707) 422-0103,

OCT. 18 AND 19


Apple Festival

Visitors can pile on the calories at the apple-pie-eating contest and then work it off at the Apple Run -- 5K, 10K and kids’ runs -- a seven-mile mountain bike race. There’s also an apple baking contest, live bluegrass tunes, clowns, kids’ rides and more than 200 juried crafts booths.

Where: Most activities at Springville Park, along California 190 in downtown Springville.

Cost: Free.

Info: (559) 539-0619,

OCT. 19


North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival

In Berkeley’s so-called Gourmet Ghetto, home of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, this foodie event has cooking demos by neighborhood chefs, gourmet food offerings and vendors alongside bistro-style seating, and wine and beer gardens. Businesses will host author appearances and cookbook signings, interactive art projects, and yoga and bodywork demonstrations.

Where: On Shattuck Avenue from Virginia to Rose streets.

Cost: Free.

Info: (800) 310-6563,

NOV. 12 TO 15


San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Billed as one of Southern California’s largest wine and culinary events, the weeklong festival has celeb-chef cooking demonstrations, master sommelier wine-tasting seminars and the Reserve & New Release Wine Tasting. To top it off, the Nov. 15 finale, dubbed the Grand Event, showcases more than 160 domestic and international wineries, 60 San Diego restaurants, gourmet fare, live music, a Chef of the Fest contest, an olive oil tasting tent and more.

Where: Various venues.

Cost: Tickets $40 to $450 for a weekend package.

Info: (619) 342-7337,

NOV. 22 AND 23


Mountain Mandarin Festival

Mandarin lovers get a workout hauling home 10-pound orange-mesh bags filled with this late-fall fruit. At the festival, they can sample foods enhanced with mandarins such as ice cream, nuts, barbecue sauce and marinades; and don’t miss the chocolate-dipped mandarins. Also: 250 gourmet food, home décor, gift and handcraft vendors.

Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St.

Cost: Admission $5, parking $5; prices subject to change.

Info: (916) 663-1918,

NOV. 28 TO 30


Apple Butter Festival

Help make apple butter at a period encampment set up at Los Rios Rancho. The theme is pioneer days, with demonstrations of tomahawk throwing, archery and cornhusk-doll construction. And visitors can help slice apples, stir the apple butter simmering in a big copper kettle and take home free samples of the results. Saturday night, there’s a hoedown in the barn and a harvest supper featuring pumpkin stew served in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

Where: Los Rios Rancho, 39611 Oak Glen Road.

Cost: Free admission; $25 for hoedown.

Info: (909) 797-1005,

DEC. 6 AND 7


Tamale Festival

Indio’s tamale-eating, tamale-judging, folklorico-dancing bash has been ranked by Food Network as among the top 10 All-American U.S. food festivals. In 1999, it made it into the Guinness Records with a 40-foot-long tamale. And big things are also being cooked up for this winter’s event.

Where: In the area of California 111 and Indio Boulevard.

Cost: Free.

Info: (760) 391-4175,

-- Amy Hubbard