Fall is a flavorful season, with grape harvests going on in California wine country, Oktoberfest drawing millions of visitors to Munich, and orchards in the Northeast brimming with apples to be turned into pie, cider, and other autumn treats.
These iconic foodie destinations probably take up a few lines on your bucket list, and understandably so—the food (and booze) of these places attract throngs of salivating tourists every year. But California isn’t the only place to sip some great wine, and Oktoberfest is just one of many beer festivals that happen around the world. And did you know that Kentucky, famous for its bourbon trail, is also the birthplace of beer cheese with a trail and a festival dedicated to the dip? Or that Connecticut-style pizza (yes, that’s a thing) rivals New York City’s iconic pies?
The point is, there are lots of great foodie regions beyond the most popular ones, and we’ve rounded up some of the best to visit this year. Take your taste buds on a trip to some of these lesser-known destinations where you’ll be rewarded with delicious fare and fewer crowds.
Beer: Pilsner Fest
Each year, more than 7 million tourists descend upon Munich, Germany, to indulge in German beer at Oktoberfest, but if you’re looking to skip the crowds, an alternative beer paradise lies just a few hours away. Pilsen, Czech Republic, is known worldwide for one of its breweries, Pilsner Urquell, which is the birthplace of pilsner beer, the Czech lager named after its home city. The city’s passion for beer is shared by their countrymen—the Czech Republic is known as the top consumer of beer in the world, averaging 148 liters per person, per year. (That's equal to about 312 pints of beer per person, per year.) And Pilsen itself sits atop 10 miles of underground tunnels that served as primitive refrigerators for its plentiful beer production.
There’s no better time to visit this brew heaven than the first weekend of October, when the city throws its annual Pilsner Fest, celebrating the anniversary of the first batch of pilsner brewed at Pilsner Urquell. Divided between two festival stages, one located in the brewery and second in the city’s Republic Square, the festival features a beer tapping school, guided tours of the brewery, music performances, and more. Finish off your weekend of beer tasting with a trip to the city’s Purkmistr Brewery Beer Spa, home to a “beer wellness program” that includes bathing in Czech lager. —Astrid Taran
Barbecue: Koreatown, Los Angeles
Are you charmed by charbroil? A meat-and-three meal? Does a perfect brisket make you have an out-of-body experience? If you answered yes to those queries, and especially if you have already eaten your way through traditional carnivorous capitals like Kansas City, Memphis, Dallas, or Lexington, North Carolina, it’s time to consider thinking outside the traditional barbecue box and taking a pilgrimage to Koreatown, Los Angeles for some smoky, spicy Korean BBQ. Thanks to the largest K-population outside of South Korea and California’s bounty of high-quality meat, fish, and produce, you can chow down on the best bulgogi (marinated thinly sliced sirloin), kalbi (garlic soy sauce short rib), haemul pajeon (seafood pancakes), yangnyeom tongdak (fried chicken), and banchan (all-you-can-eat complimentary side dishes of veggies, salads, pickles, and fermented treats) this side of Seoul. There is no shortage of places to choose from, such as the old-school, all-charcoal tabletop temple Soot Bull Jeep to massive all-you-can-eat joints like Oo-Kook and pork belly specialists like E!ght. Park’s BBQ is pricey and busy, but it’s probably the best sizzle spot for beginners, as English is widely spoken, the waiters diligently tend to the tenderloin (some places leave you to cook and flip your own food), the menu features a wide variety of mains and appetizers, and it’s even popular with famous foodies. —Carrie Bell
Kentucky's bluegrass country is most people's first thought when they think of bourbon, but the Lone Star State is gathering attention as a bourbon hotspot. Texas whisky has been at the forefront for several years now, but straight bourbon, which has stringent age and production requirements, is newer on the scene. Everything's bigger in Texas—and that goes for the bourbon, too: you'll find these bourbons to have bigger, bolder flavors than their bluegrass counterparts, largely thanks to the Lone Star State's unpredictable weather that expedites the aging process. Start your bourbon road trip at Fort Worth's Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., whose first batches of bourbon led to lines around the block as collectors vied for a coveted bottle, then head down toward the Texas Hill Country, planning stops along the way at Waco's Balcones Distilling and Garrison Brothers Distillery, located in the tiny town of Hye. —Laura Ratliff
A floppy New York City slice is undoubtedly iconic, but just 90 minutes away, New Haven, Connecticut, has quietly risen up the ranks of the country’s most impressive pizza destinations. The state’s second largest city, New Haven, was a landing spot for many Italian families who settled in the United States, and Wooster Square (now known as the city’s Little Italy) became the place to go to find the beloved "apizza" of their homeland. The thin-crust, coal-fired pizza that you'll find in New Haven is charred and packs a nice crunch when you bite into it. If you're looking to go traditional, you'll want to order a "tomato pie," which will get you the famous thin crust topped with oregano, a generous helping of tomato sauce, and pecorino Romano. Pizza in this city isn't generally sold by the slice, so be prepared to order a personal pie, and if you're craving mozzarella, you'll have to ask for it as a substitute topping.
Ready for a pizza adventure sure to win you bragging rights? Hop a train and make sure to sample the city's best at Pepe’s Pizzeria (the one that started it all), Sally’s Apizza (Frank Sinatra’s favorite), Modern Apizza, New Door New Haven, Mike’s Apizza, Zuppardi’s Apizza and BAR (order the mashed potato slice—yes, it’s real). —AT
Apples, crisp and fresh from the tree, are a quintessential symbol of the arrival of autumn. So it’s no surprise that many people opt for fall getaways that incorporate apple picking and all the fun that goes with the activity, from sipping cider to indulging in a slice or two of apple pie. If you love all things apples, skip the more well-known fall destinations like the Pacific Northwest or New York, and instead, head to South Georgian Bay, Ontario, to get your fix. Here, you’ll find the Apple Pie Trail, a self-guided culinary tour featuring 28 local orchards, restaurants, cafes, wineries, cider houses, shops, and farmers markets just waiting to be explored. Stops are scattered throughout Blue Mountain Village, Craigleith, Meaford, Beaver Valley, Duntroon, Thornbury, Clarksburg, so there’s plenty of apple-inspired fun to be had. Focus on one area if you’re short on time, or knock a few off your fall bucket list on a longer trip. —Jessica Padykula
You were expecting Wisconsin to be our top cheese destination, weren't you? Well, America's Dairyland might claim the title of amazing traditional cheese, but Winchester, Kentucky, is the home of beer cheese, and it's worth a visit to taste this take on cheese.
Most likely owing its origins to the German immigrant barkeeps, this mixture of cheese, leftover beer, and cayenne is so beloved that crowds flock to the annual Beer Cheese Festival every June. Whenever you visit, be sure to explore the Beer Cheese Trail—try to hit as many as you can to really experience this local cheese spread, but make sure a stop at Hall's on the River is on your itinerary because the beer cheese recipe there is believed to be the original, marketed by Johnny Allman in the 1940s. You can enjoy beer cheese in its simplest form as a dip with celery sticks or pretzels, and it makes a great topping, too. Try the beer cheese burger at DJ’s Steakhouse, and wash it down with an Ale-8-One, the local soda. True fans can get their beer cheese log stamped at five or more stops on the trail to earn a free T-shirt. —Fiona Young-Brown
Wine: Lake Erie
Nothing says “wine trip” like Napa and Sonoma, but for the wine connoisseur looking for something a bit off the beaten path, the Lake Erie Wine Country is the perfect alternative. Located in the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies, the 50 miles between Silver Creek, New York, and Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, is home to more than 30,000 acres of vineyards and 23 wineries, and it's quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing wine destinations in the U.S.
The region might be most recognized as home to the world’s largest number of concord grape farms—Welch’s, the grape juice behemoth, has been a mainstay in the area for decades—but Pennsylvania’s passing of the Limited Winery Act in 1968 allowed for individually owned grape farms to package and sell their own wines, and thus birthed a booming wine scene. European grapes like merlot, vignoles, and chardonnay quickly became more abundant, and several wines from the region now compete on the international stage. If you’re making a visit, be sure to hit Mazza Vineyards and South Shore Wine Company in North East, Pennsylvania, both owned by the Mazza family, one of the region’s most prolific wine producers. —AT
New England has long held the hearts of seafood lovers as a place to indulge in all things brought in from the sea, such as lobster, oysters, and all the critters included in a traditional clambake.
Instead of going to Maine for your seafood fix this year, head to Hawaii, the birthplace of poke, aka the colorful seafood dish seen all over Instagram. Poke can be found on almost any menu throughout the islands, at grab-and-go lunch counters, such as Fish Express on Kauai, as well as at more elevated establishments, such as Senia in Honolulu. Hawaii has a lot of poke pride, and later this year, Kauai is holding its first annual poke festival (on Nov. 2 at Koloa Landing Resort) that will feature vendors from all over Hawaii and even include a demonstration by the famous Hawaiian chef Sam Choy. —Taylor McIntyre
If you're the spiritous type, you’ve probably already thought about traveling through the highlands of Scotland to see where some of the best whisky in the world is made. But what if we told you that if you head just a bit farther east, you could see a few of the most sought-after scotches around? Japan has been producing whisky in the Scotch tradition for decades now, but over the past few years, the demand for their oldest bottles has skyrocketed, with many of them going for upwards of $500 or more per bottle! Perhaps the most famous is Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery in Osaka, home to both the insanely hard-to-find Yamazaki 12- and 18-year single malts. A visit here is a great way to try all of their offerings without breaking the bank. Closer to Tokyo is the Hakushu distillery, also owned by Suntory, which produces equally delicious, but not quite as in-demand whisky. Stop in to pick up a bottle of their revered 25-year single malt, which will likely cost nearly three times the price in the U.S. —Ryan Smith
Chocolate: St. Lucia
We’re all familiar with Switzerland's famous chocolate, but why not head to a country that actually grows the the main ingredient? Specifically, St. Lucia—the chocolate there is well worth your flight to the West Indies. Cacao plants have been growing on the island for centuries, and although the beans were exported in the past, St. Lucia has become a leader in chocolate production, making this destination a perfect fit for chocolate tourism. Visit the Fon Doux Plantation & Resort for tours and lessons on how to make your own chocolate, and for the ultimate chocolate experience, book a stay at the Hotel Chocolat, located in a cacao plantation. The boutique hotel only has 14 rooms, but visitors can make a reservation at the Boucan restaurant (where every dish is cacao-infused), or sign up for chocolate-making classes or tours of the cocoa groves on the Rabot Estate. For another boutique hotel situated in a sprawling cocoa plantation, consider the 75-acre Le Dauphine Estate in Soufrière. Travelers who love to mix indulgence with wellness should book a Chocolate Delight spa treatment (rich in antioxidants to vitalize your skin) at nearby Jade Mountain Resort. —Katherine Parker-Magyar