For food lovers, one of the hardest choices to make when traveling to a new city is what restaurants to hit while there. A way to sidestep having to make those tough decisions is to plan your trip around a food and wine festival.
These well-organized events take place all over the country throughout the year, and this spring, some will transport you to fantastic destinations, including Maui, Aspen and Austin. So, don’t forget to pack your favorite stretchy pants because there’s no shortage of good eats ahead.
• New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
When: March 18-22
One of America’s most unique cities, New Orleans is also a culinary capital. Here you can feast on creole and Cajun creations, taste influences from Spain, France and the Caribbean while experiencing a depth of culture unknown elsewhere. Over five days in March, the city turns up the hospitality and party atmosphere for a series of events such as the Grand Tastings, where a few dozen wineries pour and restaurants such as Antoine’s, Domenica, Brennan’s, Shaya, Gris-Gris, Meauxbar and Commander’s Palace dole out bites. Experiences including the Vinola wine event, peeping into French Quarter wine cellars and celebrating legendary restaurant Broussard’s 100th anniversary occur during the festival all around the Big Easy. You can purchase some individual event tickets, but for the full experience, NOWFE offers three packages ranging from $340 to $995.
• UNwineD Culinary Festival
When: March 20-21
While some food festivals feature plenty of eats and drinks, this one in Panama City Beach, Fla., adds in music (Death Cab for Cutie and Joywave) and the beautiful backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico. Head to the Deep South for two days of deliciousness in Aaron Bessant Park, kicking off Friday night with a concert and party featuring recent “Top Chef” winner Kelsey Barnard Clark. Tickets are $175 each and include a private VIP bar and air-conditioned restrooms. Day two features the Grand Afternoon Tasting of treats from Northwest Florida chefs, plenty of drinks and the concert following the festivities. The tasting and concert cost $75.
• Taste of Vail
When: April 1-4
What could be cooler than enjoying a gourmet feast at 10,350 feet? Head to the gorgeous mountain resort of Vail, Colo., for a long weekend of skiing, snowboarding and, of course, stuffing your face during the Taste of Vail. Broken up into a number of events, your weekend starts with the Debut of Rose, where there are 100 just-released bottles of rose wine to sample. After that, hit the apres ski soiree, the Taste of Vail Lamb Cook-Off. The next day is the aforementioned feast in the clouds on the mountain, which is followed by the grand tasting event to top it all off. You can take it all in for $449 or experience individual events.
• Austin Food & Wine Festival
When: April 24-26
Austin is arguably one of America’s coolest and weirdest cities. Its food and drink scene has truly blossomed in the last decade (along with its tech explosion) with, naturally, a heavy influence of barbecue and Mexican fare alongside some of the best sushi you’ve ever had. Austin Food & Wine presents an ideal way to check it all out. Head south before the heat and humidity becomes unbearable in Texas to mingle with chefs such as Austin farm-to-table champion Bryce Gilmore, award-winning chef Mashama Bailey from Savannah’s The Grey, larger-than-life TV food personality Andrew Zimmern, progressive Mexican maestros Rico Torres and Diego Galicia from Mixtli, and barbecue master Tim Love. Sustainability will be the focus of a special family-style meal under the stars. You’ll taste food, tequila and wine, all at Auditorium Shores along the Colorado River. The all-in ticket costs $625 and a weekender pass is $250.
• Nantucket Wine & Food Festival
When: May 13-17
Do you ever need an excuse to head to Nantucket, the idyllic island enclave off the coast of Cape Cod? No, but here’s a great one: Enjoy five days of eating oysters, drinking rose, sampling cocktails, attending seminars and more. Will there be more than oysters? Absolutely. Other wine than rose? So much more (and New York Times critic Eric Asimov leads a seminar). There will be a Yappy Hour to honor our dog friends for $25, A Pop Open the Bubbles seminar for $150, a Harbor Gala for $275, a Sonoma County Wine Dinner for $400 and more. You’ll join a who’s who of culinary and wine luminaries all in one of the most gorgeous places in America.
• Four Seasons Maui Wine & Food Classic
When: May 21-25
Warm waters, swaying palm trees, gorgeous sunsets — it doesn’t get much better than Maui. Add in a luxury food and wine excursion, and this likely will be your most memorable and delicious Memorial Day weekend ever. Your journey starts with a feast under the stars and continues with creating your own adventure (the packages cost $2,995 each, not including hotel accommodations) as you choose from dinners with acclaimed chefs such as Josiah Citrin, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina and sit in on master classes, including Champagne and caviar featuring Billecart-Salmon Champagne and Calvisius Caviar; the Great Terroirs of California Pinot Noir featuring Williams Selyem, Kistler and Occidental; and the World’s Rarest Coffees. When not eating and drinking and learning, you can swim, surf, sleep and simply enjoy Maui.
• Aspen Food & Wine Classic
When: June 19-21
Finish your spring touring while ringing in the first day of summer at the grande dame of American food fests: the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Set in the ritzy mountain town, this truly is a gathering of the creme de la creme of the culinary world. You get chef presentations, wine tastings and seminars, panel discussions, hands-on exhibits and parties . Passes for the three-day affair start at $1,700 and go up to $4,295.