So amazingly popular that it has had to move out of its namesake town and 18 miles south to Monterey, the two-day Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival is a long-standing favourite on California’s Central Coast. Cool fog and warm early June sunshine create the perfect environment for growing these tasty clusters of scales and florets, which are considered one of California’s signature foods.
If you have never tried artichokes—or, nearly as pitiable, have only ever eaten them out of glass jars—this festival will be a sensory epiphany. Have them in the traditional style, dipped in melted butter, or be adventurous and try one of the countless creative takes on how to prepare them (some decidedly wacky) offered here. Steamed, grilled or fried, in burritos, or served with sausage, or in a cupcake… it’s almost certain that you’ll find your future favourite artichoke dish among all the options. Wander over to the wine, beer and spirits garden for the perfect liquid accompaniment.
In addition to all the attractions that require an appetite, the Family Stage highlights live local musical acts (including excellent mariachi bands), while the Main Stage features acts performing R&B, rock and Latin music. All performances are free with admission ($15 for adults, $5 for children 6–12). You can even go on a guided tour ($10) of a Castroville artichoke field to find out exactly what goes into raising this unique bounty, which is, botanically speaking, a thistle that hasn't flowered yet. Shop at the extensive farmers' market, browse the entries in the 'agro art' competition (impressive three-dimensional fruit and vegetable sculptures), and get tips at the chef demonstrations where top Monterey Bay area chefs will demonstrate how to prepare their favourite artichoke dishes.
For children, there’s the Wild Science! Imagination Gallery, where those aged 1–10 (adults and older children are welcome too) are presented with a wide range of science and technology oriented adventures through interactive, fun and curiosity-inducing displays and activities.
Fun fact: Marilyn Monroe was named California’s first honorary Artichoke Queen in Castroville in 1948.