For the 50+ Traveler

Imagine tasting the creations of some of the hottest restaurants in the country without making a reservation or waiting in line.

In cities from San Francisco to New York, you can do just that at wonderful events known as food and wine festivals.

In cities large and small across the country, food and wine festivals showcase the best cuisine and beverages that communities have to offer.

After attending San Francisco’s stylish Eat Drink SF and Austin’s sunny and boisterous Austin Food + Wine Festival, I am convinced that a food and wine festival is one of the most entertaining ways to immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of a region.

Of course, entrance to the festivals can be a bit pricey -- usually upwards of $100 per person, and more for VIP treatment. But when you consider that you have unlimited access to, say, Austin’s famous barbecue or the San Francisco Bay area’s wineries, plus entertainment unique to the community, it can start to sound like a bargain.

Conveniently, major United States food and wine festivals take place almost every month of the year. From longtime community institutions to trendy upstarts, here are 10 of America’s best, listed in order from January through November.

The Key West Food and Wine Festival.

1. Key West Food & Wine Festival, Key West, Florida -- January/February

For eight days in late January and early February, Florida’s southern island city of Key West showcases its diverse wines and inventive food scene at the Key West Food & Wine Festival. The festival comprises a series of unique events ranging from waterfront wine tastings to winemaker/chef collaborations.

The combination of a tropical setting and culinary creations brings thousands of visitors from around the country to the festival “to escape the winter and delight their senses,” says the festival’s website.

Pro Tip: A free Duval Bus Loop runs through the heart of Key West every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. to midnight, making it convenient to get to the festival events without a car.

The Devour Phoenix festival.
Cindy Barks

2. Devour Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona -- February

Set on the grounds of Phoenix’s stunning Desert Botanical Garden, Devour Phoenix offers “a sensory experience of desert sounds, tastes, sights, and feel,” according to the event’s website.

A variety of festival zones are positioned throughout the garden grounds, featuring everything from a beer garden to an edible garden to a sunset plaza. Along with the food and wine, guests get to soak up the garden’s desert terrain -- always gorgeous against the backdrop of Phoenix’s jagged mountain ranges.

Pro Tip: Parking is limited at the Desert Botanical Garden, so organizers suggest carpooling, taxiing, or getting there with a combination of light rail and a bike. Ample bike parking is available, and the average high temperature in Phoenix in February is a comfortable 72 degrees.

The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.

3. New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, New Orleans, Louisiana -- March

From a parade-style Royal Street stroll that showcases fine art, live jazz, and outstanding wines, to a grand tasting event featuring foods served by New Orleans’s finest chefs, the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience has been delighting food and wine lovers for more than a quarter of a century.

The grand tasting event takes place in the Sugar Mill venue, just across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center near the Mississippi River in the historic Warehouse District, while the Royal Street stroll passes through New Orleans’s iconic French Quarter.

Pro Tip: For festival enthusiasts who are more interested in cocktails than food and wine, the hip Tales of the Cocktail event takes place in July at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on New Orleans’s world-famous Bourbon Street.

4. Austin Food + Wine Festival, Austin, Texas -- April

Expect to rub elbows with celebrity chefs at the lively Austin Food + Wine Festival. When I attended in 2017, I had a chance to chat with Food Network star Aaron Sanchez, and I took in a cooking demo by celebrity chef Amanda Freitag.

Located at Austin’s beautiful Auditorium Shores at Town Lake, the festival offers an easy-to-navigate outdoor venue. Along with famed Texas barbecue being prepared over a live fire, the festival features a gourmet taco competition and beer, wine, and spirits exhibits.

Pro Tip: For a more music-focused experience, Austin also offers the Hot Luck Food & Music event in May, a festival billed as “a DIY casserole of the culinary and music world.”

The Taste of Chicago festival.

5. Taste Of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois -- July

Unlike many of the other major U.S. food fests, Taste of Chicago doesn’t have an all-inclusive entrance price. Rather, admission is free, and visitors buy strips of tickets that they use to pay for food and drink samples.

The festival -- known for regional favorites such as Chicago-style pizza, Polish sausages, hot dogs, pierogi, and barbecued turkey legs -- also features live music on multiple stages, as well as carnival rides. It takes place in Chicago’s Grant Park along Lake Michigan.

Pro Tip: With its more than 300 menu items, Taste of Chicago can be a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors. Veterans suggest getting a list of the offerings beforehand and deciding which ones you want to try.

6. Eat Drink SF, San Francisco, California -- August

Now in its 12th year, San Francisco’s Eat Drink SF is known as the premier food and wine event in the Bay Area. It was founded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and features a stellar selection from the city’s most coveted eateries. Past participants have included Credo, E&O Kitchen and Bar, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, and the Fairmont San Francisco.

The festival has changed venues twice; in 2019, it moved from its former Fort Mason location to The Midway in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.

Pro Tip: Eat Drink SF aims to be a zero-waste event that creates no landfill waste, and the event is serious about its recycling and compostable flatware and glassware. Visitors are encouraged to contribute to the effort by keeping an eye out for the appropriate waste bins.

The night market at Feast Portland.

7. Feast Portland, Portland, Oregon -- September

From a bicoastal chef face-off to a waterfront night market to a showcase of live-fire cooking, Feast Portland brings plenty of excitement to its annual festival.

Occurring over four days in September, Feast Portland includes more than 50 events that center on downtown Portland. The festival’s grand tasting event was rebranded as the Big Feast in 2019 to reflect its grander offerings and new venue at the scenic Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Pro Tip: Among the festival’s most popular events is the East Coast vs. West Coast Battle Royale, which pits teams of renowned chefs from the east and west against one another.

8. Chow Chow, Asheville, North Carolina -- September

Even its name conjures up a tasty treat. The trendy new Chow Chow festival in Asheville, North Carolina, is named for the region’s traditional pickled slaw/relish that consists of colorful vegetables.

Like its namesake, the festival’s offerings focus on the creative food culture of Southern Appalachia. The festival promises to highlight all aspects of the supply chain, “from farmer to maker, mixologist to chef, brewer to baker, artist to potter.”

Pro Tip: While the Pickled in the Park grand tasting at Asheville’s Pack Square Park is at the heart of the festival, the inaugural Chow Chow also featured a host of other events, seminars, and sessions that took place over the four-day festival.

Food from the NYC Wine and Food Festival.

9. New York City Wine & Food Festival, New York, New York -- October

For a star-studded affair that includes 500 chefs and 80 events, head to New York City in October for the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival.

The festival got its start in 2007 with a one-night event and has since grown to a four-day extravaganza that brings together some of the world’s greatest culinary talents. Events range from culinary demonstrations to intimate dinners to a grand tasting held at Manhattan’s Pier 94.

Pro Tip: Tickets typically go on sale on the event’s website in June.

10. San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival, San Diego, California -- November

If sailboats and sandy beaches sound like an irresistible backdrop for a food festival, then the San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival should be on your November travel itinerary.

The weeklong festival features dozens of events, hundreds of domestic and international wineries, and a grand tasting finale on San Diego’s scenic Embarcadero. The festival regularly attracts celebrity chefs, legendary winemakers, and James Beard Award-winning authors.

Pro Tip: While November might not seem like the most inviting time for an outdoor food festival, San Diego enjoys nearly year-round sunshine, and its average high temperature in November is 69 degrees.