By Matt Meltzer
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Since the chances of keeping your New Year’s resolution to “work out” are about as good as last year’s effort to “stop drinking”, best make a resolution this go-around that you actually WANT to keep. Like “travel more”, or “be more adventurous”, or “hit the most awesome event in every state”, if you want to be weirdly specific.
And if you do (and, of course, you do), you’ll need to know what the best, coolest, most popular event in each state actually is. Which is why we’ve compiled this list. Good luck.
Alabama: The Iron Bowl
November 28: Auburn, AL
If you enjoy watching grown men cry because a teenager they’ve never met drops a ball, this annual matchup between the state’s two biggest college football programs — Auburn and the University of Alabama — is your move. It’s one of the most intense college rivalry games in America. Just don’t wear the wrong team’s colors or you may not make it out alive.
March 7-22: Anchorage to Nome, AK
Just watching this 1,000mi sled-dog race through the Alaskan wilderness on TV will have you shivering in your flannel pajamas. It’s cold. But that doesn’t stop over 60 teams from racing their Siberian huskies to Nome every year, recreating a supply route that once brought reinforcements to gold miners.
Arizona: Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo
(Photo: PRESCOTT FRONTIER DAYS)
June 28 - July 5: Prescott, AZ
Kinda of like Hannukah for cowboys, what was once supposed to last only a day has stretched into an eight-day festival of bull-riding and cowboy competitions. Considered the oldest rodeo in the world (est. 1888), it now even features a dance and parade.
Arkansas: Arkansas State Fair
(Photo: ARKANSAS STATE FAIR)
October 9-18: Little Rock, AR
While you might be tempted to hit the state’s Scottish festival or world championship cardboard boat races, the single biggest draw in Arkansas is actually the annual state fair; it attracts over 400,000 people to Little Rock for 10 days of seriously deep-fried southern food, carnival rides, country music, and popular livestock competitions.
California: Opening Day at Del Mar
July 16: Del Mar, CA
Sure, MAYBE 10% of the people partying on the infield could explain to you what a trifecta box is. Or even that there’re horses nearby. But that’s not why you go to Del Mar. You go because it’s like attending the Kentucky Derby — gorgeous people, gorgeous weather, cocktails! — every weekend.
Colorado: Great American Beer Festival
(Photo: GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL)
September 24-26: Denver, CO
This is like those little 250-brewer weekend festivals where you stroll around and sip beer until you can’t taste it anymore, but on really, really good B12 injections. Here, attendees dress in zany costumes and sample pretty much every beer you’ve ever heard of (and even more that you haven’t).
Connecticut: Milford Oyster Festival
(Photo: MILFORD OYSTER FESTVIAL)
August 15: Milford, CT
If the best song about Connecticut is correct, and the state really is for f***ing, then this is definitely THE go-to event of the year. At this annual all-day bivalve extravaganza, Connecticutters (best name ever, btw) can rev up to do what they do best while enjoying libations and live music. And speaking of tunes, last year’s event was headlined by none other than Bret Michaels. Oh yea.
Delaware: Punkin Chunkin
November 6-8: Dover, DE
What started as a typical two-beers-deep argument about who could throw a pumpkin farther has grown into the most celebrated annual event in Delaware. Teams compete in a number of divisions (catapult, human power, air cannon) and recent winners have come close to chucking a pumpkin almost an entire mile.
Florida: Fantasy Fest
(Photo: FLICKR ANOLDENT)
October 23 - November 1: Key West, FL
Key West takes the “it doesn’t count if you do it on Halloween so do whatever the hell you want” attitude to a level that only an island at the end of a state shaped like a penis can. So yes, Fantasy Fest can get a little weird, as attendees dress in elaborate Mardi Gras-esque costumes, or costumes made entirely of paint, or well, costumes made out of nothing at all.
Georgia: The Masters
April 9-12: Augusta, GA
They don’t call it “a tradition unlike any other” for nothing. The biggest crown in golf is actually a green jacket, and it’s awarded to the winner of this four-day tournament held every year at the Augusta National Golf Club.
Hawaii: Ironman World Championships
(Photo: FLICKR CHRISTIANREED)
October 10: Kona, HI
While triathlons have become the midlife crisis sport of choice for many Americans, the original and greatest race of them all takes place on the Big Island in October. Competitors swim 2.4mi through the cool Pacific, bike 112mi through the heat, hills, and wind on the King Kamehameha Highway, and then run a 26.2mi marathon alongside scorching lava fields. And they do it all without sending their friends a million of those annoying “Will you please sponsor me?” emails.
Idaho: Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
(Photo: LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL)
February 25-28: Moscow, ID
When you think of great jazz fests around the world, obviously you think of names like North Sea, Montreux, and… Idaho? Yep. Every year, jazz great Lionel Hampton somehow convinces the greatest names in the biz to descend on the University of Idaho for a long weekend of clinics and concerts; showing everyone what the Kibbie Dome lacks in football atmosphere, it makes up for in jazz acoustics. Ok, no it doesn’t, but it’s still a way to hear the best jazz artists in the world without having to fly to Rotterdam.
Illinois: St. Patrick’s Day
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
March 17: Chicago, IL
It’s cute how every bar that has access to food coloring pours green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. But you know what wins St. Paddy’s Day? Turning an ENTIRE RIVER green, which Chicago does for their annual St. Patrick’s celebration. There’s also an awesome parade where the entire city comes out and drinks like, well, Chicagoans.
Indiana: Indy 500
(Photo: FLICKR PAT_OSSA)
May 24: Indianapolis, IN
While auto racing that doesn’t involve stock cars and Winnebago campgrounds has fallen off the American sports radar, the Indy 500 is still the most famous car race in the nation. Hard to argue that it’s not the state’s top event of the year.
Iowa: Iowa State Fair
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
August 13-23: Iowa City, IA
Since Shoeless Joe Jackson won’t be leading a team of dead baseball players out of a cornfield anytime soon, the best annual event in Iowa is the state fair. Not only do big name country acts headline nightly concerts, but there’s all the food, games, and 4H club excitement that comes with a Midwestern expo.
Dates TBD: Wamego, KS
While the Old West charm of the state’s Dodge City-days is cool, aside from a great college basketball arena, what does America really know about Kansas? That tornadoes there can take you to a magical land of flying monkeys and munchkins, of course. Which is exactly what’s celebrated every year when the main intersection of Wamego is turned into the Road to Oz, complete with costume contests, film memorabilia, and appearances from the aforementioned munchkins. OK, so maybe a Jayhawks - K State basketball game would be more fun. Just a thought.
Kentucky: Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot
(Photo: KNOB CREEK GUN RANGE)
April 10-12: West Point, KY
Yes, we’re aware there is some sort of horse race that happens in this state too. But they have horse races in a lot of places. They DON’T, however, have organized three-day events where hundreds of Americans bring out guns that have no practical purpose other than to blow stuff up and, well, blow stuff up. The highlight is the Saturday night shoot where the West Point sky is lit up with tracer rounds in a spectacular display of light and gunpowder that’s both simultaneously beautiful, and horrific.
Louisiana: Mardi Gras
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
February 17: New Orleans, LA
Come on, what else are you going to do in Louisiana if your team isn’t playing in the Sugar Bowl. This might be the only time of the year when a few strings of cheap plastic beads will get you a better show than a bankroll of singles. God bless an event where the streets are filled with people ready to party, and the currency for stupid human tricks costs $2.99 at Walgreens.
Maine: Maine Lobster Festival
(Photo: MAINE LOBSTER FESTIVAL)
July 29 - August 2: Rockland, ME
Check this: 20,000 pounds of lobster are served up at the MLF, which also features a parade, an international crate race, cooking contests, and, of course, the crowning of the coveted “sea goddess.”
Maryland: The Preakness
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
May 16: Baltimore, MD
Nobody bothered telling the people partying at Pimlico that fewer than half the horses who run the Kentucky Derby run this second leg of the Triple Crown. Because, really, The Preakness is as much about a horse race as MTV is about music. Sure, the day-long booze fest culminates with the running of the second biggest race in the sport, but the antics on the infield are way more entertaining than the two minutes on the track.
Massachusetts: Patriots Day
April 20: Boston, MA
Boston might be the only city in the US with a civic holiday that involves something other than a lightly attended parade. Instead, they combine a Red Sox morning game with a marathon that EVERYBODY goes to. Originally observed on April 19 to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord, it was moved to the third Monday in April so, you know, everyone could have a three-day weekend.
Michigan: Mackinac Races
(Photo: FLICK PCURTNER)
July 11 (Lake Michigan, MI) & July 18 (Lake Huron, MI)
Sure, both consist of rich dudes and their buddies sailing from either Chicago or Port Huron to one of the biggest tourist destinations in the state, but attending the launch parties and the finish-line bashes begets some of the craziest times you can have on an isolated island populated with horses. The sight of hundreds of boats cruising the gorgeous waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron is awe-inspiring, but the eventual sh*t show that goes down when the boats hit the island makes attending at least one race in your life essential, especially if you get on a boat. Bonus points: There are no cars in Mackinac. But watch out for bikes.
Minnesota: Minnesota State Fair
(Photo: DREW WOOD)
August 27 - September 7: St. Paul, MN
Deep-fried olives? Deep-fried monte cristo on a stick? Deep-fried meatloaf with a donut-garnished beer? Are your arteries clogged yet? If not, check out all the fried goodness you’ll find at the Minnesota State Fair here. Or, you know, by actually going. Just remember to pack your Lipitor.
Mississippi: Tupelo Elvis Festival
(Photo: TUPELO ELVIS FESTIVAL)
June 4-7: Tupelo, MS
Though you could make a pretty good argument that the Minnesota State Fair was ALSO designed to celebrate Elvis, nobody does it more explicitly than this annual festival in the King’s hometown. Celebrating all things-Presley, the fest culminates in an Elvis Tribute Artist competition, an official preliminary to the UETA finals. Because, yes, that’s a thing.
Missouri: American Royal World Series of BBQ
October 2-5: Kansas City, MO
Boy, you win one American League pennant and all of a sudden they’re naming all kinds of world series after you. Or maybe they’ve been doing this since 1899. Either way, the top chefs from around the country descend on KC to see who’s got the best smoked meat, which you can chow down on while watching live cooking demos and rocking out to nightly concerts.
Montana: nullTesticle Festival
(Photo: TESTY FESTY)
July 31 - August 3: Clinton, MT
Sure, it’s a celebration of the joys of consuming Rocky Mountain oysters (that’d be bull nuts). But the biggest surprise isn’t how good balls actually taste, as evidenced by the wide array of fried reproductive organs on offer. No, this is also a glorious celebration of bad taste, because nothing says “I’m here to eat testicles” quite like wet t-shirt contests, an “Itty Bitty T***y” competition, and a co-ed underwear (“or less”) tricycle race. But worry not, Gloria Steinem, the objectification isn’t just aimed at the ladies… there’s also a Big Balls Contest, which has nothing to do with fried cow and everything to do with a panel of women examining dudes’ tackle boxes and declaring a winner. Seriously.
Nebraska: College World Series
(Photo: FLICKR J_REGAN)
June 13-24: Omaha, NE
Perhaps the only major college sports championship that’s still more about the game than TV ratings, this 10-day baseball tournament brings the best college teams from America together in idyllic Omaha to settle the national championship with absolutely zero input from ESPN.
Nevada: Burning Man
(Photo: FLICKR LIGHTMATTER)
August 21 - September 7: Black Rock Desert, NV
The music lineup (yes, it’s actually a music festival) is obviously the best in the world, since people stay up for seven straight days/nights in primitive conditions to listen to it. Not to mention walk around with no clothes on, spend days with complete strangers, forget to eat, and then burn down a giant wood statue at the end before returning, in some state, to the real world.
New Hampshire: Keene Pumpkin Festival
(Photo: FLICKR JADELL)
Dates TBD: Keene, NH
Remember all those pictures of people rioting over pumpkins you saw last fall and thought were a joke? Yeah. That was this event, after they set a world record lighting 21,912 jack o’lanterns in one structure. This is usually followed by the pumpkin dump derby where teams compete to see who can clean up the fastest.
New Jersey: Miss America Pageant
(Photo: MISS AMERICA)
September 13: Atlantic City, NJ
Once upon a time this was as highly-rated a TV event as the Super Bowl, Oscars, or HBO series finale. And while now it regularly gets outdrawn by reruns of ‘Hunter’, it’s still an American cultural icon that has thankfully returned — after a brief run as a Las Vegas reality show — to its rightful home in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
New Mexico: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
October 3-11: Albuquerque, NM
Before it was known for college basketball venues and crystal meth, Albuquerque was most famous for this annual hot air balloon festival. It kicks off with the “Is that really a good idea?” dawn patrol where balloons fly in the dark, then peaks with the launch of hundreds of hot air balloons at once. Yea, the sky looks like it’s full of guys trying to escape from Oz.
New York: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
November 26: New York, NY
American Authors probably didn’t realize this thing was such a big deal, or they might have actually tried singing live. Or maybe not. Either way, this is the one event a year that actually gets millions of people to tune in and watch giant balloons float through New York City, reminding them of what they’ll look like if they don’t hit the gym before dinner.
North Carolina: The Barbecue Festival
October 24: Lexington, NC
If KC is gonna have the World Series of barbecue, you bet one of the Carolinas will throw a festival to rival it. This annual event in the “birthplace of barbecue” (although Germans might argue otherwise) draws over 100,000 visitors to tiny Lexington for literally tons of meat and plenty of country music.
North Dakota: Motor Magic Festival
(Photo: MOTOR MAGIC FESTIVAL)
August 30 - September 1: Minot, ND
Though which states are in the Midwest is a topic of debate, which states are in the upperMidwest is probably even harder to determine. That’s why this fest’s claim of being the biggest auto show in the Upper Midwest is hard to verify, but they’ve still got cool military vehicle demonstrations, classic cars, and dirt track/drag racing.
Ohio: The Arnold Classic
(Photo: ARNOLD SPORTS)
March 5-8: Columbus, OH
Technically, it’s known as the Arnold Sports Classic. Then again, technically Arnold is a Republican. So let’s not get hung up on silly things like words and focus on the important thing: Meat. As in the muscle on display at this bodybuilding contest/MMA fight/industry expo, and at the nearby Thurmon cafe where you can protein (and fat) load on theThurmonator.
Oklahoma: Mangum Rattlesnake Derby
April 24-26: Mangum, OK
If you consider base jumping too basic and think extreme snowboarding is more, like, extreme snore-boarding, head to Oklahoma and spend three days catching live rattlesnakes. We assume a waiver of some sort is required.
Oregon: The Oregon Brewers Fest
(Photo: FLICKR CHINKERFLY)
July 22-26: Portland, OR
With respect to the annual Naked Bike Ride, the most essential event in a city known as the best damn beer town in the US is one of the country’s biggest and best beerfests. Last year, 188 specialty and craft beers showed up underneath the tents at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, while Portland’s trademark food carts provided sustenance to some 85,000 token-wielding drinkers. And that’s to say nothing of the brewers’ dinners and other unofficial events that take place at Portland’s 70+ breweries during the five-day event. Which is to say… maybe you’ll be taking an unsanctioned naked bike ride after all.
Pennsylvania: Little League World Series
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
August 20-30: South Williamsport, PA
A lot of American sports like to call their winners World Champions despite the fact that Canada is the only other country competing. And barely. But this is the one World Series in the US that actually includes teams — made up of kids under 13 (unless you’re from the Dominican Republic) — from ALL OVER THE WORLD. How refreshing.
Rhode Island: Volvo Ocean Race Series
(Photo: VOLVO RACE NEWPORT)
May 16-17: Newport, RI
Even though the America’s Cup abandoned Rhode Island like the NBA abandoned defense, Newport is still known as an international sailing destination. And this year, the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race comes to town. Expect a day of in-port racing and plenty of parties before the boats set sail for Lisbon on May 17.
South Carolina: The Carolina Cup
(Photo: FLICKR INTHEMEDIA)
March 28: Camden, SC
Strangely, wagering on horse racing is illegal in the state of South Carolina. So what does that leave people to do at a day-long festival of horse racing and steeple-chasing? Put on their race day finest and tailgate like it’s the first Gamecocks/Tigers game of the year, that’s what. And speaking of USC-Clemson, they play on November 28 this year in Columbia, in case you’d rather make that pilgrimage.
South Dakota: Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
August 3-9: Sturgis, SD
The Mecca of motorcycle enthusiasts sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where over 460,000 riders from all over the country merge every August to celebrate their love of bikes. And while it might be the only time all year you can easily get into a fight at Wall Drug, it’s also an event that raises the population of South Dakota by 50% and brings in an estimated $800 million. This year is a special one, too — it’s the 75th anniversary.
June 11-14: Manchester, TN
While it might kinda suck having to spend four days sitting outside in the Tennessee wilderness, an outdoor festival is the only way organizers can contain egos like Kanye West, Jack White, Elton John, and Skrillex, who all headlined different parts of last year’s event.
September 25 - October 18: Dallas, TX
Sure, SxSW would’ve been the easy choice, but does hanging out in Austin with a bunch of folks from LA/NY really count as a Lone Star experience? Probably not, which is why the state fair is the better move; not only does it switch up the syntax (come on, state fair “of”?) but also extends to almost a full month of rides, cows, fried food, and barbecue. What really makes this the best state fair in the country, though, is that it also includes the annual Red River showdown football game between Texas and Oklahoma, the only relevant game still played at the venerable Cotton Bowl.
Utah: Sundance Film Festival
(Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
January 22 - February 1: Park City, UT
Since Utah is a state known for its open-mindedness and encouragement of creative thought, it was a natural choice for Robert Redford when he needed a home for this festival aimed at fostering the potential of independent films in the US. And it has! Launching the success of classics like Sex, Lies and Videotape, Napoleon Dynamite, andSuper Troopers — meow.
Vermont: Vermont Brewers Festival
(Photo: VERMONT BREWERS FESTIVAL)
July 17-18: Burlington, VT
Though not as big as its counterpart in Colorado, this annual beer fest draws the top brewers in the northeast to the Green Mountain State and is one of the largest tourist attractions in Vermont that doesn’t involve excessive amounts of ice cream.
Virginia: Foxfield Races
April 25: Charlottesville, VA
Proving that you don’t need an actual race track to throw a first-rate racetrack party, the good people of Charlottesville dress in their Sunday best (or Saturday best, if there’s a football game) and head to the fields outside of town to drink the day away while some horses run around in the background. If you want a similar experience but with fewer college kids and more Capitol Hill staffers, then hit the 90th annual Gold Cup a little further north the following week.
July 25 - August 2: Seattle, WA
Before Seattle had the Seahawks, or the Mariners, or the Oklahoma City Thunder, they had hydroplane racing, the cornerstone event of this annual festival held the first weekend of August. Here on Lake Washington, a Friday night torchlight parade filled with pirates leads to a weekend of on-the-water parties, which leads to a Sunday filled with insane, high-speed boat racing and aerial tricks from the Navy’s Blue Angels.
West Virginia: Bridge Day
(Photo: BRIDGE DAY WV)
October 17: New River Gorge, WV
What was once just a fun leap off the highest bridge in the state (to celebrate its completion) has turned into a major national event replete with corporate sponsorship and background checks. Still, that doesn’t stop the hard core from keeping it real, spending the day base jumping, bungee jumping, and otherwise safely hurling themselves off this perfectly good bridge in the New River Gorge.
June 24 - July 5: Milwaukee, WI
Quick, pub trivia question of the day: What city plays host to the largest music festival in the world? Surprising answer nobody outside Wisconsin would ever guess: Milwaukee. Yep, for two weeks during the summer, America’s Dairyland shows off its best weather while over 800 acts from across the country put on 1,000-plus shows over 11 stages.
Wyoming: Cheyenne Frontier Days
(Photo: FRONTIER DAYS)
July 17-26: Cheyenne, WY
Typically, rodeos in a state like Wyoming are nothing special. But this is the biggest of them all, complete with a chuckwagon cook-off, carnival midway, concerts from bands like Alabama, and a daily pancake breakfast. Assuming pancakes aren’t your thing — or you’re looking for a smaller, crazier, tipsier version of Frontier Days — check out theLaramie Jubilee the weekend before.