You might think that Arizona’s food festivals celebrate cactus juice and barbecued rattlesnake, but the events really highlight the diversity of the state’s agricultural offerings, as well as the sophistication of local chefs and restaurants. Schedule your visit to coincide with some of these food festivals, and you can literally eat your way through the state. Plan on a visit with Miss Jenny Craig when you get home.
Here are just a few events to chew on.
Apple Harvest Celebration – Willcox, Arizona
Apples? In Arizona? Actually, Southeastern Arizona’s elevation is ideal for orchards. Each Labor Day weekend, Apple Annie’s Orchard & Produce in Willcox hosts a harvest celebration, when you can pick Red Delicious, Rome and Criterion apples, fill up on pancakes doused in cider syrup, hop on a hayride or opt for peaches and pears, which are also ripe then.
My Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge – Tempe, Arizona
Some like it hot, and some like it a wee bit milder. Held in April at Tempe Beach Park, the salsa competition challenges professional and amateur chefs to stir it up with the best complement to those addictive tortilla chips. Sample more than 70 salsas, then cool your taste buds with margaritas or beer.
Pumpkin and Chili Festival – Queen Creek, Arizona
Pick out your pumpkin and down some chili at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek during October weekends. You can also take part in a pumpkin-pie-eating contest, walk a maze, watch pigs race, listen to live music or buy jams and jellies at the farm’s country store.
Raw Spirit Festival – Sedona, Arizona
Sedona’s spiritual vibe and its acclaimed vortexes make for the perfect backdrop to this October festival that celebrates raw, vegan food and a healthy lifestyle. Look for celeb vegan speakers and presenters, meditation sessions, belly dancing and music. You can also participate in yoga sessions, and, of course, there’s the food, raw, glorious food.
SalsaFest - Safford, Arizona
Every year in September, the Salsa Trail® celebrates everything salsa with an annual SalsaFest in Safford Town Square. The event features salsa-making contests, a festival marketplace, salsa music and dancing, food demonstrations and salsa eating competitions.
Scottsdale Culinary Festival – Scottsdale, Arizona
The granddaddy of all Arizona food events, the festival was founded in 1978 and has expanded to six April days of dinners, brunches, tours and tasting. It culminates with the Great Arizona Picnic on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, where you can sample goodies from some 50 local restaurants against a backdrop of live music and entertainment.
West of Western Culinary Festival – Phoenix, Arizona
Local chefs are the main attraction at this downtown Phoenix happening, which got its start in 2005. Watch them do their thing al fresco in the gardens of Arizona Center, sample some yummies, then wander over to the wine vendors for a bit of the grape. Watch for the event in March.
Yuma Lettuce Days – Yuma, Arizona
In winter, no matter where you live in the United States (if you do indeed live here), it’s likely that something in your salad bowl was grown in Yuma. The January festival celebrates Yuma’s thriving veggie business with food, seminars, games, kids’ activities, live music and a farmers’ market, all held in downtown’s historic district.
(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2010)