10 tasty summer food festivals

Photo courtesy of Gilroy Garlic Festival
Pyro-Chefs prepare Garlic Calimari at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, held July 29-31.

Two tons of garlic. 10,000 pounds of chicken. 2,000 loaves of zucchini bread. It's harvest time, and nowhere is the bounty of California's cornucopia more apparent than on a progressive dining tour of its many food-themed festivals. Have a hankering for fried green tomatoes, pear pie or… garlic ice cream? Mark your calendar and pack up the station wagon; here are 10 of our favorites among the region's annual food festivals.

Marysville Peach Festival

July 15-16 Historic downtown Marysville hosts this peach of a party, which highlights the fruit-full harvest of Yuba and Sutter county farms. Festival-goers can stock up on stone fruit from farmers like Sodaro Orchards, Urbina Farms and Tinoco Farms, and indulge in everything from peach milkshakes and peach cheesecake to peach salsa, peach barbecue burgers and peach tamales. Activities will include a hula hoop competition, a water balloon relay and a peach-pie-eating contest, as well as a Miss Peach Blossom pageant. Free. Fri. 4-10 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Downtown Marysville. 530-749-3954. marysvillepeachfest.com

Sacratomato Festival

July 23 The third annual Sacratomato Week (during which midtown restaurants present special tomato-centric menus) culminates with this outdoor festival at Sutter’s Fort highlighting the juicy red fruit (or vegetable, depending on your perspective). The celebration will include a salsa-making competition, live cooking demonstrations (using tomatoes, of course), a Bloody Mary bar and a “Tomato Patch,” where youngsters can get their faces painted and take photos with the midtown mascot dressed as a giant tomato. Paragary Restaurant Group’s executive chef Kurt Spataro and his wife, KFBK’s Kitty O’Neal, will take to the stage with their band Skyler’s Pool to perform indie-rock tunes. Free. 4-8 p.m. Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. 2701 L St. exploremidtown.org

Browse the many heirloom varieties of tomatoes at this year's Sacratomato Festival

Gilroy Garlic Festival

July 29-31 This flavorful festival attracts nearly 100,000 spice lovers each year and serves up about two tons of garlic harvested from Gilroy’s Christopher Ranch. Get set to feast on food spiced with crushed, chopped and grilled garlic, from the familiar (French fries, barbecued oysters and calamari) to the novel (kangaroo meat and kettle corn). Plus, don’t miss free scoops of the surprisingly popular garlic ice cream. $20. 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Christmas Hill Park. 7050 Miller Ave. 408-842-1625. gilroygarlicfestival.com 

Pear Fair

July 31 This summer soiree held in the tiny Delta town of Courtland marks the harvest of the Bartlett pear. Fruit fiends can get bushels of pears from local farms, as well as pear-infused treats like pear fritters, pear cider, pear tarts, pear ice cream, pear bread and the ever-popular pear pies (which often sell out, so arrive early). While the kids are climbing on rock walls, quacking in the duck-calling competition or tumbling over the inflatable obstacle course, adults can view a display of more than 100 historical photos depicting early life in the Delta or get in on the action themselves at the pear pie-eating contest. Free ($10 for parking). 180 Primasing Ave. Courtland. 775-2000. pearfair.com

Woodland Tomato Festival

Aug. 13 Tomato ice cream, anyone? You can give it a try, along with tomato agua fresca, caprese salad and fried green tomatoes, at this annual festival of Yolo County’s top crop hosted by the Woodland Farmers Market in historic downtown Woodland. Taste test over 15 different varieties of tomatoes and then buy your favorites from area growers like Eckhoff Ranch and Chavez Farms. Watch local chefs compete in an Iron Chef-style contest, and vote for the best restaurant salsa. Kids can partake in yard games like the tomato toss, or take a photo with the market mascot Tommy the Tomato. Free. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Main St. Downtown Woodland. 530-666-2626. woodlandtomatofestival.com

A pie eating contest at the Courtland Pear Fair

Japanese Food and Cultural Bazaar

Aug. 13-14 Join the hungry hordes at this two-day feast-ival, where 30,000 foodies will consume 500 pounds of shrimp, 1.5 tons of rice and more than 10,000 pounds of chicken in traditional Japanese dishes include shrimp tempura and teriyaki chicken. In between mouthfuls, watch performances by Taiko drummers and Japanese folk dancers, or learn the art of Ikebana (flower arranging), Japanese calligraphy and wooden doll making. Free. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Buddhist Church of Sacramento. 2401 Riverside Blvd. 446-0121. buddhistchurch.com  

Hayward Zucchini Festival

Aug. 20 & 21 Zucchini fries. Sausages with zucchini relish. Spiced zucchini cookies. Even—wait for it—hot-dog-stuffed roasted zucchini. While the grown-ups eat their vegetables and attend cooking demonstrations at this yearly festival in Hayward, kids can run wild in a carnival zone. Arrive early to nab one of the 2,000 loaves of fresh zucchini bread a local bakery makes especially for the event each year. $10. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Kennedy Park. 19501 Hesperian Blvd. 510-278-2079. zucchinifest.or

Sacramento Banana Festival

Aug. 20-21 This year, Sacramento’s seventh annual banana bonanza will move from William Land Park to Shasta Park in Elk Grove to accommodate the more than 13,000 visitors expected to attend. Festivities include a banana pie-eating contest and a Carmen Miranda hat contest, and festival-goers can help themselves to heaps of foods infused with the tropical fruit, like banana nachos, banana-chicken shish kebabs, banana-steak tacos and banana-ginger pudding. Or watch the “Smashed!” chef challenge in which contestants must create three courses using the honorary ingredient. Youngsters can go bananas on an inflatable obstacle course and help create a banana mural. $10 ($8 in advance). Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Shasta Park. 7407 Shasta Ave. Elk Grove. 320-9573. sacbananafestival.com

The Sacramento Greek Festival will feature a smorgasboard of traditional fare.

Sacramento Greek Festival

Sept. 2-4 Head to the Sacramento Convention Center for this big, fat Greek fiesta. Learn traditional Greek dances like the Kalamatiano (a 12-step circle dance where everyone joins hands), or roll up your sleeves for hands-on cooking demonstrations on how to manipulate phyllo dough to make delicious Grecian treats like spanakopita (a flaky pocket stuffed with spinach and cheese) and baklava (a decadent dessert made with walnuts and honey). As always, there will be no shortage of Greek foods to feast upon—yearly favorites include moussaka (a layered eggplant and beef dish) and the doughnut-like loukoumades. $5. Hours vary by day. Sacramento Convention Center. 1400 J St. sacramentogreekfestival.com

Crawfish and Catfish Festival

Sept. 10-11 Head to Woodland for all the crawfish you can eat, with more than 5,000 pounds of the crustacean served up in everything from gumbo to hand-held pies. Indulge in equally sumptuous portions of grilled or fried catfish, as well as other traditional Louisianan fare like jambalaya, sweet potato pie and beignets. This year, you can also visit a pirate encampment to see how the seadogs of the 1800s lived, or sidle up to a recreation of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (Lousiana’s oldest bar) for shots of absinthe or a classic Sazerac cocktail. Two stages will feature jazz, blues, Cajun and zydeco bands like Mumbo Gumbo, The Nickel Slots, the Zydeco Flames and the City of Trees Brass Band. $15. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Yolo County Fairgrounds. 1250 East Gum Ave. Woodland. 962-6415. louisianasue.com

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