Best Places to Live

2013 10 Best Summer Festivals

To make our picks for best summer festivals for 2013, we looked for those most connected to their host cities' identities in terms of theme, the experiences to be had and community participation.

"Festivals often highlight the distinctiveness of a city and help it establish its unique brand," says Lee Fisher, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities. "Every city must discover its authenticity and use it as a comparative advantage."

As we wrote on the Best Places Blog, the best community festivals benefit cities in six major ways: create or reinforce branding efforts, increase tourism, educate, enhance community pride, encourage exercise and raise money.

Meanwhile, the American Bus Association, which represents the motorcoach tour and travel industry, suggested we also look for locations with attractions beyond the festivals that enhance itineraries for those who attend. The ABA releases its own annual festivals ranking, which is based on bus and tour operators' input.

With these factors in mind, we then consulted with a variety of festival organizers and travel professionals to identify festivals that fulfill most or all of these criteria.

Take a look at our picks for the 10 best festivals that connect with their cities.

Ranking Criteria
Festival best showcasing community values
Number and diversity of festival activities
Community participation
Attractions beyond the festivals
  • 10

    Bozeman, MT

    Population: 40,319
    Photo: Sweet Pea Festival

    The annual Sweet Pea Festival unites Bozeman, MT, when residents participate in many activities highlighting the community's history, restaurants, artists and favorite flower - the sweet pea.

    Though the festival itself lasts three days over a weekend, several activities leading up to the festival build a celebratory atmosphere all week. First, chalk artists decorate sidewalks throughout downtown Bozeman, where Main Street becomes a giant food court for Bite of Bozeman, an event during which 40 local restaurants serve food and musicians play on street corners. The Bozeman Public Library also hosts a juried art show that opens during festival week.

    "By attending our prefestival events you can experience our thriving downtown, where every storefront is occupied by a locally owned business with unique offerings and friendly customer service," says Andria Huntsinger, executive director of the Sweet Pea Festival. "As the weekend approaches, meander a few blocks east down Main Street to Lindley Park to witness community service and spirit at its finest."

    The modern day Sweet Pea Festival got its start in 1978, but takes inspiration from a series of carnivals held in the early 1900s. The festival opens on Friday with flower shows, Shakespearean performances and live music. A children's run kicks things off on Saturday, and a parade follows. A variety of performances occur throughout the festival grounds while artists and craftsmen sell their work under the shade of giant trees.

    Thousands of runners, many dressed in costumes, race to the finish line during the Big Sky Wind Drinkers Stampede 5k and 10k, which ends on Main Street.

    Festival organizers use proceeds to fund local arts grants, and approximately 15 local nonprofit groups raise money selling food.

    When: First weekend in August

    What: More than 100 arts and crafts vendors, theater and dance performances on four stages, live music, kids zone, 5k and 10k races, parade

    Cost: $15 for three-day pass, $10 for adult day pass, $5 for child day pass, free for children 6 and younger

    Average Attendance: 14,000 to 16,000

    See where Bozeman ranked on our list of the Top 10 Winter Cities.