Summer just isn’t complete without hopping on a flight with a group of friends and heading to a summer festival. Whether it’s music, sports, or quirky food contests you’re after, there’s no better time to hit the friendly skies and get in on some festival fun.
We’ve rounded up the best cheap or free alternatives to expensive or sold-out festivals, and added in a few must-do events that are worth the splurge.
It’s time to get your festival on.
Go to the Maine Lobster Festival instead of the North Carolina Seafood Festival
While the North Carolina Seafood Festival is a three-day food and entertainment extravaganza, it doesn’t roll around until the end of September. Can’t wait that long to get your seafood fix? Try the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine. For five days (August 3-7), this small coastal town serves up whole lobsters as well as lobster rolls, lobster salad and even crab cakes, calamari and clams, all for a (reasonable) price. In addition to the food, the festival has carnival rides and concerts (not included in the general admission ticket price). Sunday is Family Fun Day and admission is free for all ages. Adult tickets range in price from $5-$10 depending on the day.
Go to Chicago Jazz Festival, Illinois, instead of Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island
The 38th annual Chicago Jazz Festival features four days of free jazz concerts (by comparison, Newport Jazz Festival offers three days of concerts for ticket purchasers only). Concerts at Chicago‘s Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center include performances by saxophonist/composer Benny Golson, saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, the John Scofield/Joe Lovano Quartet, and a 95th birthday celebration for percussionist Candido Camero.
Go to Shakespeare in the Park instead of “Hamilton,” New York, New York
You could enter the “Hamilton” ticket lottery to try to score tickets to the hottest show on Broadway, or you could go with free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. The Public Theater’s annual free plays at the Delacorte Theater in New York‘s Central Park are a hit with locals and tourists alike. This year’s line-up includes “Troilus and Cressida” July 19 to August 14 and “Twelfth Night” September 2-5.
Go to the Connecticut Open, New Haven, Connecticut, instead of the U.S. Open, Flushing Meadows, New York
While the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the season, the crowds and its proximity to New York City can make finding reasonable accommodations during the busy time difficult. If you’re looking to get your tennis fix, consider swapping the U.S. Open for the WTA’s Connecticut Open. Held in New Haven, Conn., the week prior to the U.S. Open (August 19-27), this stop on the women’s tour is your chance to enjoy world-class tennis with a fraction of the crowds (or ticket price).
Go to the Calgary Stampede, Alberta, Canada, instead of Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming
Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wy., might be one of the oldest outdoor rodeos and western celebrations, but the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is a more budget-friendly celebration of western Canadian heritage. Wear your denim best for the 10-day event, which runs July 8-17 and includes a rodeo with ladies barrel racing, bareback, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc and bull riding, chuckwagon racing, stage shows, concerts by Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Jeff Dunham and Simple Plan, amusement rides and more for just $18 per day for adults and $9 per day for children.
Go to KAABOO, San Diego, California, instead of Lollapalooza, Chicago, Illinois
If you like summer music festivals, chances are you’ve been to (or loathe) Lollapalooza. Either way, it’s sold out, so check out KAABOO in Del Mar, Calif., instead. The late summer festival near San Diego is a fancier affair – there’s no dirt or porta potties at the festival, which runs September 16-18. This year’s lineup features concerts with a who’s who of musicians including Jimmy Buffett & The Coral Reefer Band, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Aerosmith, Fall Out Boy, Flo Rida and comedy shows with the likes of Dana Carvey and Janeane Garofalo. Plus, enjoy culinary experiences with chefs like Richard Blais and Michael Fiorelli, as well as public art displays. Three-day passes start at a pricey $279, but they include access to all stages.
Go to Luckyrice food festival, Los Angeles, California, instead of Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Since the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival isn’t happening this year, head to the West Coast to get your foodie fix at Luckyrice instead. The one-day soiree is Friday, July 29, and includes 40 of Los Angeles’ top Asian and Asian-influenced chefs and mixologists. Tickets are $88 for general admission or $150 for VIP admission, which includes an extra hour to sample pastrami dumplings with sauerkraut, sriracha and Thousand Island dressing from Bling Bling Dumpling, coconut fluff with lychee jelly from Fluff Ice, and soy milk panna cotta with matcha green tea sauce and candied edamame from Katsuya. You can also sip cocktails like Banana The République (brown butter banana-washed Bacardi Superior Rum, lime, hazelnut orgeat, dry curaçao, Falernum Bitters, vanilla, brûléed banana, banana leaf and marigold) from Birch.
Go to Hooters World Wing Eating Championship, Las Vegas, Nevada, instead of Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest, New York, New York
For the past century, competition lovers have descended upon the Coney Island boardwalk in New York every Fourth of July to watch competitive eaters scarf down hot dogs to win fame and a mustard-yellow belt in the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. If you’re sad you missed out on the hot dog eating action this year, don’t fret. The less well known, but equally entertaining, Hooters World Wing Eating Championship is on July 11 in Las Vegas. Sit poolside at the Palms Casino Resort as competitive food eaters consume as many chicken wings as possible in 10 minutes for a shot at $17,500 in prizes.
Go to Toronto International Film Festival, Canada, instead of Venice International Film Festival, Italy
For film buffs, the Venice International Film Festival is a must-do, but forego the long flight in favor of a trip to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival to see Oscar-worthy films. Many films have had their world or North American premieres here, including “Argo,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “The King’s Speech.” This year’s festival runs September 8-18.
Go to Slip ‘n Soar, Park City, Utah, instead of Long Beach Sea Festival, Long Beach, California
Why be a spectator at the Long Beach Sea Festival when you can be the star attraction at Slip ‘n Soar at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City? Slide down the single and mini water ramps at the Spencer Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool and soar like an Olympian on the world’s steepest slip ‘n slide. The one-day event on August 20 includes other summer games like bubble ball soccer, ping-pong and cornhole. Tickets start at $50.
Go to Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, Canada, instead of Brooklyn Comedy Fest, New York
Go big or go home, right? Instead of going to the boutique Brooklyn Comedy Fest, opt for the largest international comedy festival Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival July 13-31 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The festival includes French- and English-speaking comedians, with events such as a Nathan Lane Gala, a Russell Peters Gala and An Evening with the Cast of “Veep” all on the bill. Ticket prices vary by event.
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