It’s no secret that Californians love their food, with fresh produce, diverse ingredients and local flavors aplenty found across the Golden State. But for some destinations, certain foods are so popular they have become attractions in their own right, creating a unique cultural identity for local communities.
Take, for example, the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. Holding strong since 1979, the festival provides an opportunity for the entire community to come together in celebration of the pungent plant and welcome visitors from around the world.
“Over the last 39 years, the Festival has generated more than $11 million for community non-profit organizations,” says Jane Howard, executive director of the Gilroy Welcome Center.
Beyond generating income and supporting the economy, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has helped put this small agricultural town on the map.
“When people hear Gilroy, they think garlic — and they associate our community with a positive, friendly, welcoming experience,” Howard says. “This has translated into year-round interest from travelers near and far who want to get a taste of ‘The Garlic Capital of the World.’”
Beyond the festival, hotel rooms in Gilroy and surrounding areas sell out months in advance, according to Howard. The destination encourages visitors to extend their stay to experience the other attractions in the area, and restaurants tap into the town’s garlic-y reputation with garlic-infused menus year-round.
For Stockton and the San Joaquin Valley, the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival is the largest gathering by far in the destination, centered around the produce that helps distinguish the town from other areas of California.
“It connects us to our agricultural roots,” says Robyn F. Cheshire, director of marketing and communications at Visit Stockton. “Stockton and the San Joaquin Valley have been tied to agriculture for generations because of our rich, fertile soil. Agriculture is still our number one commodity.”
Cheshire believes that events like the Asparagus Festival are an asset to a destination simply because food festivals are a hit.
“Having an event for over 30 years gives Stockton a connection to something that people hear about again and again,” Cheshire says. “People in far-off places may not know much about Stockton, but they know we have an Asparagus Festival.”
If sea salt seems like a simple ingredient, think again: The Terranea Resort in Los Angeles has created an entire package around the mineral.
Terranea opened its sea salt conservatory in 2015 and began producing sea salt with water from the surrounding Pacific Ocean. The monthly Sea Salt Workshop launched in 2016.
The resort’s Sea Salt Workshops let visitors in on a learning experience about the coastal landscape, its natural habitat, the history of sea salt and the process for harvest and infusion. The hotel even offers a Land to Sea Culinary Immersion Package, which is a full package deal complete with sommelier-led wine tasting and cheese tasting.
One sure way to know a festival is a big driver? When California Dream Eater Chase Ramsey pays a visit.
This year, he sampled deep-fried asparagus at the Asparagus Festival and visited the sea salt conservatory at Terranea as he makes his way to more of the state’s unique culinary gatherings.
Does your destination have a culinary festival that helps distinguish the area? How does food play into your identity? Share with us below!
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