The city of Munich first threw an Oktoberfest in 1812 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, and invited the town to participate, ending the five days of festivities with horse races. Because everyone had so much fun, they kept doing it.
Though beer certainly flowed from the beginning, the tradition of the beer tent did not start until 1896. The horse races continued until 1960, and since then, the main focus has been on der bier (which must be produced within Munich city limits) and of course, traditional Bavarian cuisine, music and dancing.
The 2014 Munich Oktoberfest will run from September 20 to October 5. Despite its name, the festival’s start moved to September at some point in the early years to take advantage of warmer weather.
Not all of us in the United States have the resources to travel to Germany to experience the world’s longest-running beer festival. Fortunately the tradition has spread around the world. Here’s a list of seven Oktoberfest celebrations on this side of the Atlantic where you can raise your beer steins—before draining them.
September 10-12, Chicago, Ill.
Chicago’s longest-running Oktoberfest celebration kicks off Wednesday at the John C. Kluckzynski Federal Plaza with an opening toast at 11 a.m. Traditional Oktoberfest beer and food will be served. Admission is free, with live music each night in the adjacent Berghoff Catering & Restaurant Group. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, which helps the Windy City’s abused, neglected and abandoned children.
September 11 to 14 and September 18 to November 2, Helen, Georgia
The Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Georgia might not rival the Bavarian Alps in elevation, but the town of Helen (population 518) certainly tries to replicate the atmosphere. The town leaders decided in 1969 that the old main street needed a bit of sprucing up to attract tourists heading into the mountains, so the buildings’ facades were changed to replicate those of a traditional Alpine Village. And what’s a Bavarian village without an Oktoberfest? The festival now encompasses weeks of parades, arts festivals, polka dancing, music, food and, of course, beer.
September 12 to 14, Breckenridge, Colorado
There’s that weird lull at ski towns, between the hiking-and-mountain biking season of summer and the opening of the slopes to skiers and snowboarders, when the weather is outstanding but the snow has yet to fall. Breckenridge, Colorado, high in the Rockies, chose to fill at least one of the weekends with an Oktoberfest celebration. From the opening keg-tapping ceremony to the final pull of the tap, visitors can nosh on offerings from more than two dozen food vendors on Main Street, participate in a 5K run, and enjoy the traditions of Munich. There will be activities for the children as well, and for an extra charge, an opportunity to sit down to a Brew Master Dinner on Friday featuring four courses of delectable Bavarian cuisine—plus old-fashioned pretzels upon arrival.
Big Bear Lake, California. Weekends from September 13 to October 25
Feel free to bring your own beer stein to this Oktoberfest in the mountains of Southern California—as long as it’s empty when you arrive and empty when you leave. Taking place over seven weekends, this Oktoberfest features a host of such contests as stein holding, beer-drinking and beer-pong competitions, and log sawing races. Between the contests, two stages will feature traditional oom-pah and polka music (the main stage) and more modern tunes (the Spaten Rocktoberfest Stage). On the final night of Saturday October 25, dress yourself and the kids in your best Halloween costumes because there will be two contests—the children’s at 3 p.m. and the adults’ at 10 p.m.
September 18-21, Frankenmuth, Michigan
This Bavarian-based bash, according to its website, takes place “in Heritage Park along the banks of the Cass River just over the covered bridge from downtown Frankenmuth.” Park? River? Covered Bridge? Talk about atmosphere! That doesn’t even count the 5,700-square-foot wooden dance floor, the giant pavilion, and the wiener dog races. Yes, dozens of elongated pooches striving for the title of fastest wiener. And a wiener dog parade.
September 19-21, San Francisco, California
Four sessions over three days ensures that the two bands providing the advertised “nonstop” music—the Internationals and the 21-piece Chico Bavarian Band—will have to keep the beat going at this Oktoberfest taking place on Pier 48 right on San Francisco’s waterfront. Get your Chicken Dance skills sharp if you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion because the organizers say they’ll “put something together” if you give them a call ahead of time.
September 19 to 21, Cincinnati, Ohio
Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams presents this annual ode to beer, pegged as the largest Oktoberfest in the U.S. You’ll want to be in good shape to fully participate—The Gemuetlichkeit (Goodwill) Games include such competitions as log sawing, nail hammering, beer barrel rolling and the popular Beer Stein Race. Contestants navigate a short distance across downtown Cincy’s Fountain Square while carrying filled beer steins, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. The filled steins weigh nearly 35 pounds, and one second is added to a contestant’s time for each ounce spilled.
September 13, Kingsport, Tennessee
The only single-day Oktoberfest on this list packs enough activities and events to fill an entire weekend. Certainly you’ll find the traditional German food, music and dancing—and a wiener dog race, though in this one each dachshund will sport his or her own hot-dog bun costume. But in addition, there will be a Beer University featuring presentations from local brewers, a craft bier garden with regional craft beers, a Football & Bier Haus so festival-goers won’t miss their games, Das Kidzone for the youngsters, and more.
The Oktoberfest celebrations in this list share a few things in common, among them the chance to nosh on traditional German fare—sausages, pretzels, strudels and such. Always enjoyable—unless you’re a vegan. Those folks can head to Los Angeles to attend Vegan Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 4, billed as the world’s first such celebration. There, non-meat eaters can chow down on their sausages and wiener schnitzel, knowing the food is free of animal products.