Summer is festival season – the time of year that small towns celebrate the ripest produce, regional cooking, and traditional hospitality. It’s Americana at its finest, and a chance to introduce kids to the quirky pleasures they won’t find in chain restaurants and corporate amusement parks. Here is a sampling guaranteed to get your mouth watering:

Blue Ridge BBQ Festival, Tyron, North Carolina, June 10 - 11, 2011

If you only visit one cook-off this summer, this should probably be it. It’s not only “the biggest event in Polk County” – it’s also considered one of the top ten barbeque cook-offs in the world. In addition to meat cooked “low and slow,” you’ll find bingo, live music, and fun parks.


Georgia Peach Festival, Byron and Fort Valley, Georgia, June 4 - 11, 2011

This festival in “Peach County” is home not only to the world’s largest peach cobbler, but also to a train, water slides, free concerts, tours of a local packing company, and the “painting of the peaches.”


Hampton County Watermelon Festival, Hampton, South Carolina, June 18 - 26, 2011

The 66th annual watermelon festival will feature a carnival, old-fashioned street dance, youth parade, fishing contest, free kayaking and canoeing on the lake, a “mud run,” live gospel music, and, of course, watermelon judging in the categories of “best crimson sweet,” “best jubilee,” and “heaviest.”


Taste of Chicago, Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, June 24 – July 3, 2011

The Taste of Chicago is more of a straight pig-out than an all-around festival. Since most kids don’t have the patience to sit through a meal at Charlie Trotter’s, this is a great opportunity to sample food from local restaurants – vendors include everyone from local pizzerias to five star restaurants.


Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, California, July 29 – July 31, 2011

You’ll know you’re there before you reach the parking lot – the smell of everything from garlic ice cream to garlic pizza is that strong. The children’s area features art projects and entertainment, rock climbing, and live music.


Maine Lobster Fest, Rockland, Maine, Agust 3 – August 7, 2011

Celebrate the king of crustaceans with a carnival, live music, a parade, a kids’ one mile fun run, all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts, and, of course, lotsa “lobstah.”


National Blueberry Festival, South Haven, Michigan, August 11 – August 14, 2011

If the prospect of unlimited blueberry confections doesn’t tempt them, the chalk art sessions, pie-eating contests, magic show, sand sculpting event and parade should do the trick.


West Point Sweet Corn Festival, West Point, Iowa, August 11 – August 14 , 2011

The 56th annual festival of all things corny includes a carnival, pee wee drag racing, water fights, miniature tractor pulls, a parade, and Midwestern treats like corn on the cob, pork chop sandwiches, and barbeque chicken.


Shrimp Festival, Delcambre, Louisiana, August 17 – 21, 2011

Looking for a little Cajun flavor? You’ll find it here, with all day “fais-do-do’s,” the crowning of the “Little Shrimp Queen,” the blessing of the shrimp boats, carnival rides, and of course, shrimp, shrimp, shrimp – boiled, fried, in sauce piquante….


Kingsland Catfish Festival, Kingsland, Georgia, September 3 – September 5, 2011

It doesn’t get any more regional than this: southern fried catfish with hush puppies and grits, boiled peanuts, and a parade starring Cecil the Catfish. Of course, you’ll also find more generic attractions like an antique car show, pony rides, a truck and tractor exhibit, a parade and live music.


Can’t make the festival, but still want your kids to know what real food’s all about? Check out Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More by Jane and Michael Stern.