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So amazingly popular that it has had to move out of its original hometown of Castroville, Monterey’s two-day Artichoke Festival is a longtime favorite along California’s Central Coast. Cool fog and warm early-June sun are the perfect environment for growing these tasty clusters of scales and florets, which are considered one of California’s signature crops. 

If you have never tried artichokes—or, nearly as pitiable, have only eaten them out of glass jars—this festival will be a sensory epiphany. Have them in the traditional style, dipped in melted butter, or get adventurous and try one of the countless creative preparations (some decidedly wacky) offered here. Steamed, grilled, fried, in burritos, or served with sausage, or in a cupcake… it’s nearly certain that you’ll find your future favorite artichoke dish among all the options. Stroll over to the wine tasting area for the perfect liquid accompaniment.

In addition to all the attractions that require an appetite, the Family Stage highlights live local musical acts (often including top-notch mariachi bands), while the Main Stage features acts performing R&B, rock, and Latin music. All performances are free with admission, which is typically $15 for adults and $5 for kids 6–12. Check the festival’s events page for other activities, like a quilt challenge, car show, or activities for kids. 

You can go on a guided tour (usually about $10) of a local artichoke field to get schooled on what exactly goes into raising this unique bounty, which are actually, botanically, an unbloomed thistle flower. Shop 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 demos where top Monterey Bay area chefs will demonstrate how to prepare their favorite artichoke dishes. 

Fun fact: Marilyn Monroe was named California’s first honorary Artichoke Queen in Castroville in 1948.

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