Experience These Cities’ Real Roots at 5 Unique Summer Festivals

Food, music, parades and fun bring summer to life.

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Nashville, TN
Courtesy of Tomato Art Fest/Solar Cabin Studios

It’s summer, and like much of America, you’re probably hitting the vacation road. Whether you’re packing up the camper for a leisurely road trip or heading straight for cool New England mountains or sunny California, taking the road less traveled or following the beaten path, take time to sample some of the country's unique summer festivals. You might even find your best place to live this summer! Here are a few of our favorites:

New Orleans, LA's Satchmo SummerFest – August

Photo by Zack Smith Photography, courtesy of French Quarter Festivals Inc.

When it comes to partying, this city is hot, hot, hot – in more ways than one. Satchmo Fest, named for jazz icon Louis Armstrong, is all about great music, local food (crawfish etouffee, anyone?) and such special events as an authentic second-line parade you can join. Highlight: a talent-studded Satchmo Symposium.

“We love our music, but we also stress the educational component of the festival,” says Rebecca Sell. 

Make These Other Summer Festivals Part of Your Summer Travel

Rockland, ME's Maine Lobster Festival –  August

Photo: Courtesy of Tim Sullivan, MaineLobsterFesival.com

Everyone’s favorite crustacean lures 60,000-75,000 enthusiasts from all over (even, sometimes, plane loads from Japan, says the Main Lobster Festival’s Chuck Kruger) for a seafood cooking competition (we’re talking 20,000 pounds of lobster, folks), the crowning of the Maine Sea Goddess, a lobster crate race, parade, arts and crafts, rides, races, games and contests.

Nashville, TN's Tomato Art Festival – August

Photo: Courtesy of Tomato Art Fest/Solar Cabin Studios

What began as a neighborhood art show and party has boomed into one of Nashville’s favorite celebrations, all themed around “The Tomato … a Uniter, Not a Divider.” Some 50,000-55,000 people flock to artsy-historic East Nashville for a gala parade, art show, 5K race, Bloody Mary competition and more family-friendly wackiness. Why?

“In general the world is so serious that people are hungry to play and interact with each other,” says Tomato Art Festival originator Meg McFadyen.

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Fremont, CA's Fremont Festival of the Arts – August

Photo: Courtesy of Ray Funtanilla, Fremont Festival of the Arts

Combine fine art, music, gourmet food, more than 500 art and crafts vendors, and splendid San Francisco Bay-area weather and you can bet that 400,000 people will show up each year for a unique good time at the Fremont Festival of the Arts. Did we mention the roster of great brews and fine California wines on hand for the quaffing?

Traverse City, MI's National Cherry Festival – July

Photo: Courtesy of Gary Ennis, National Cherry Festival

The shores of Lake Michigan are always a refreshing place to visit. But Michigan, which grows 79% of the nation’s tart cherries, also lures summer visitors to the National Cherry Festival in the heart of the state's cherry growing region. More than 500,000 people enjoy s week of 150-plus fun activities, from cherry-pit spitting contests and cherry-pie eat-offs to a car show, an air show, several parades and a vibrant celebration of local Native American culture.


Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996. She enjoys travel, food, jazz, Titans football, he... more

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