A few years ago, I made my first pilgrimage to the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This popular Northern California event is often ranked as one of America's best summer food festivals. I asked my friend Cesar to join me because he grew up in Gilroy and had fond memories, having gone to the festival each year as a kid. He also shared some of his best tips for navigating this popular (and pungent!) event.
Here are our tips for getting the most out of the Gilroy Garlic Festival:
- Plan to get there when the event opens. First, if you drive, you’ll need to park in a far off lot and wait for shuttle buses to take you to the event. Second, going early helps you beat the crowds that arrive later in the afternoon.
- Consider taking Caltrain to the event. The festival hosts shuttles from the Gilroy Caltrain station if you purchase the combined event admission + Caltrain ticket online.
- Go on Friday or Sunday. The first and last days usually have fewer attendees than Saturday.
- Buy your tickets in advance. If you order tickets them through the festival's Eventbrite listing, you'll save time in line and money, if you opt for the combined Gourmet Alley food + admission ticket.
- Do you live locally (Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Hollister, San Juan Bautista or Aromas)? If so, you can save $5 per person admission if you go on Friday, which is designated as "Local's Day."
- Be ready for the heat—it gets very hot (100+ degrees Fahrenheit) in Gilroy during the summer. Dress in light colors, wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a bottle of water.
- Save room to sample as many things as you can. The food stands and vendors serve all manner of garlicky treats like garlic-infused olive oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, hot sauce, mustard, and garlic jelly.
- Don't miss the free samples of garlic ice cream! Don’t be afraid, it’s surprisingly sweet and rich with vanilla. The garlic was noticeable on first taste, but it was subtle and fleeting. I was skeptical, but actually kind of enjoyed it.
- Don't miss the garlic wine! Gilroy’s own Rapazzini Winery often pours samples of two different garlic-infused wines, Chateau de Garlic Red and Chateau de Garlic White.
- Save room to indulge at the Gourmet Alley, tents selling garlic-heavy cooked foods that were the star of the event. These included pepper steak sandwiches, Italian sausage and thick, buttery slices of garlic bread.
- Stop to watch the "Pyro Chefs" and the massive flame-ups they light while preparing the meals for Gourmet Alley. Pounding rock music narrates their spectacular performance.
- Check out the quirky art and craft vendors, many include garlic-inspired housewares, clothing, and art.
- Pace yourself and be careful not to overeat. The pungent, fried foods can be hard to stomach. Take regular breaks to enjoy the culinary lectures and musical performances and try to leave the festival before you are totally full. You'll thank yourself later!
The Gilroy Garlic Festival
July 29-31, 2016
Christmas Hill Park, 7050 Miller Ave., Gilroy, CA