The Gilroy Garlic Festival (or reasons why I smell bad)

My biggest complaint about having a husband at DLI is that, with all the studying and staff duty, we don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like to explore Central California together. We’re still working on hitting the Monterey area’s must-sees: While we’ve knocked off Big Sur and 17 Mile Drive, Jonathan still has not made it to the infamous aquarium, and we’ve yet to taste a single wine in Carmel.

We got lucky this weekend and were able to strike through an anticipated item on our bucket list: the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Gilroy Garlic Festival flaming garlic

This garlic’s on fire.

Have you heard of the Gilroy Garlic Festival? Like most hardcore lovers of pesto, I had definitely heard of it; the garlic festival has become a recognized national food festival, and it’s even sort-of mentioned in a Progressive commercial right now (if that’s not fame then I don’t know what is).

It’s rare that I cook a meal without a few minced cloves of garlic or a hearty shake of garlic powder, and I luckily married a man who doesn’t mind the specific stinky spiciness slipped into his meals. So it’s good news for us that Gilroy, California is less than an hour’s drive from Monterey. It’s also good news that Gilroy is not closer to us, because you can pretty much smell the pungent, garlicky stank on festival weekend as soon as you hit the Gilroy exit on the 101.

Gilroy Garlic Festival food


Gilroy Garlic Festival

Tickets for the festival are on the pricier side, in my opinion, at $20 per adult (with a $5 discount for active duty military). Though there are cooking events and live music that can be enjoyed for free once you’ve paid for the ticket, almost everything else within the confines of the garlic festival required you to shell out more dollars.

Because we’re on a bit of a self-sanctioned family spending freeze (yay military life), we did our best to take advantage of the festival freebies, like the beautiful weather, the music, and the free mini cone of garlic ice cream.

Gilroy Garlic Festival country music

Gilroy Garlic Festival garlic ice cream

The verdict on garlic ice cream: not necessarily bad, but neither of us went back for seconds. This was a garlic festival, so you have to imagine they went straight to the heart of the garlic when making the ice cream. The taste was straight spicy garlic, but with the consistency of a creamy summer soft serve. It’s a strange sensation between your taste buds and your texture palate. In Jonathan’s words, “You start to get used to it after a minute.”

There was additional garlic ice cream for sale at a kiosk that mixed the garlic flavor with more traditional ice cream flavors (like vanilla), and others have told me that those were much pleasanter.

On our way to the ice cream, we got a good scan of the festival as a whole: two or three separate sections lined with craft booths and products for individual sale, a cooking competition arena, several music stages, some cooking demonstration tents, a few beer tents, and more food kiosks than you could ever visit in one weekend without a later trip to your cardiologist. But we decided to fork over a few bucks when we came upon a wine tasting tent.

Gilroy Garlic Festival wine tasting

Like a mini wine festival within a festival, for $8 you could nab yourself three tasting-size samples of wine or one full glass. We opted for the three tastings, but if money weren’t an issue I definitely would have sprung for more. My favorite was a merlot from Satori Cellars, which is located right in Gilroy.

And, yes; there was a garlic wine. But I had it on good authority from a friend that it was not as pleasant as the garlic ice cream, so I passed.

By the time we were wined up and had sat in on a country cover band, we were ready to shove more garlic into our face holes.

Gilroy Garlic Festival garlic fries

The gigantic balloons advertising the garlic fries were right to make a big deal out of them. So. Much. Garlic. So. Good. I’m sure there was potato product somewhere in there, but they tasted more like deep-fried garlic sticks, covered in more garlic and a sprinkling of parsley. They were a little too intense for my better half, which meant more garlic fries for me.

In related news, it took two days for the smell to completely wash out of my pores.

Gilroy Garlic Festival garlic man


Gilroy Garlic Festival offerings

The food kiosks had offerings ranging from the expected pesto pasta and garlic calamari, to Thai food, steaks, and frozen lemonade. Jonathan opted for a garlic sausage sandwich, but I went balls to the wall and literally just ate garlic bread for lunch.

I don’t regret it, but I’m going to be honest here: I probably won’t be cooking with anymore garlic this week. Everything was delicious, but two days of burping up that aftertaste was deeply unpleasant. Which is probably why the Gilroy Garlic Festival happens only once a year.

Gilroy Garlic Festival sky


Gilroy Garlic Festival garlic kitsch

Spending freeze in consideration, Jonathan and I mutually agreed that the garlic festival was a good decision. We may never have the opportunity to go again and (even though we missed all the big cooking competition events), it was a great atmosphere filled with great people for a great cause.

As an added bonus, the drive to and from Gilroy was another reminder that Central California is incredibly beautiful. Even when you’re stuck in traffic. Which you will be, because a lot of people care as much as you do about garlic.

Gilroy, California

Have you ever attended a food festival?



2 thoughts on “The Gilroy Garlic Festival (or reasons why I smell bad)

  1. I went to the Taste of Minnesota food festival, but I wasn’t actually attracted to any of the food lol

    I bought a dip-dyed hippie wrap skirt and hung out listening to music. The cool thing is that Jeff ended up surprising me at the end of a Judas Priest concert back when we were still long distance 😀 Best food fair ever 😛

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