In addition to the main public holidays – on July 4, Independence Day, the entire country takes time out to picnic, drink, salute the flag, and watch or participate in fireworks displays, marches, beauty pageants, eating contests and more, to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – there is a diverse multitude of engaging local events in the USA: arts-and-crafts shows, county fairs, ethnic celebrations, music festivals, rodeos, sandcastle-building competitions, chilli cook-offs and countless others.
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Certain festivities, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, are well worth planning your holiday around but obviously other people will have the same idea, so visiting during these times requires an extra amount of advance effort, not to mention money. Halloween (Oct 31) is also immensely popular. No longer just the domain of masked kids running around the streets banging on doors and demanding “trick or treat”, in some bigger cities Halloween has evolved into a massive celebration. In LA’s West Hollywood, New York’s Greenwich Village, New Orleans’s French Quarter and San Francisco’s Castro district, for example, the night is marked by colourful parades, mass cross-dressing, huge block parties and wee-hours partying. Thanksgiving Day, on the fourth Thursday in November, is more sedate. Relatives return to the nest to share a meal (traditionally, roast turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all manner of delicious pies) and give thanks for family and friends. Ostensibly, the holiday recalls the first harvest of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, though Thanksgiving was a national holiday before anyone thought to make that connection.
Annual festivals and events
The state tourist boards can provide more complete calendars for each area.
Cowboy Poetry Gathering Elko, NV westernfolklife.org.
Sundance Film Festival Park City, UT sundance.org/festival.
Winter Carnival St Paul, MN winter-carnival.com.
Daytona Beach, FL daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
Groundhog Day Punxsutawney, PA groundhog.org.
Mardi Gras New Orleans, LA (the six weeks before Lent) mardigrasneworleans.com.
Academy Awards (the “Oscars”) Los Angeles, CA oscars.org.
Ice Alaska Fairbanks, AK icealaska.com.
St Joseph’s Day and the Mardi Gras Indians’ “Super Sunday” New Orleans, LA mardigrasindians.com.
South by Southwest Music Festival Austin, TX sxsw.com.
Ultra Music Festival Miami, FL ultramusicfestival.com.
World Championship Crawfish Étouffée Cook-off Eunice, LA eunice-la.com.
Arkansas Folk Festival Mountain View, AR arkansas.com/events.
Coachella Music & Arts Festival Coachella, CA coachella.com.
Festival International de Louisiane Lafayette, LA festivalinternational.org.
Fiesta San Antonio San Antonio, TX fiesta-sa.org.
French Quarter Festival New Orleans, LA fqfi.org.
Gathering of Nations Pow Wow Albuquerque, NM gatheringofnations.com.
Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) New Orleans, LA (into May) nojazzfest.com.
Crawfish Festival Breaux Bridge, LA bbcrawfest.com.
Folk Festival Kerrville, TX (into June) kerrvillefolkfestival.com.
Indianapolis 500 Indianapolis, IN indy500.com.
Kentucky Derby Louisville, KY kentuckyderby.com.
Leaf Festival (also Oct) Black Mountain, NC theleaf.com.
Memphis in May International Festival Memphis, TN memphisinmay.org.
Merrie Monoarch Hilo, HI merriemonarch.com.
Spoleto Festival Charleston, SC (into June) spoletousa.org.
Tejano Conjunto Festival San Antonio, TX guadalupeculturalarts.org.
Bluegrass Festival Telluride, CO bluegrass.com.
CMA Music Festival Nashville, TN cmafest.com.
Little Bighorn Days Hardin, MT custerslaststand.org.
Texas Folklife Festival San Antonio, TX texasfolklifefestival.org.
Cheyenne Frontier Days Cheyenne, WY cfdrodeo.com.
Essence Music Festival New Orleans, LA essencemusicfestival.com.
Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture Flagstaff, AZ musnaz.org.
National Basque Festival Elko, NV elkobasque.com.
National Cherry Festival Traverse City, MI www.cherryfestival.org.
Newport Folk Festival Newport, RI newportfolkfest.net.
World Eskimo-Indian Olympics Fairbanks, AK weio.org.
Augusta Festival of Appalachian Culture Elkins, WV augustaheritage.com.
Burning Man Black Rock City, NV (into Sept) burningman.com.
Elvis Week (Anniversary of Elvis’s death) Memphis, TN elvis.com.
Indian Market Santa Fe, NM swaia.org.
Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Gallup, NM theceremonial.com.
Iowa State Fair Des Moines, IA iowastatefair.com.
Maine Lobster Festival Rockland, ME mainelobsterfestival.com.
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival Asheville, NC folkheritage.org.
Newport Jazz Festival Newport, RI newportjazzfest.net.
Satchmo SummerFest New Orleans, LA fqfi.org.
Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival Opelousas, LA zydeco.org.
Bluegrass and Chili Festival Claremore, OK claremore.org.
Buffalo Roundup Custer State Park, SD southdakota.com.
Bumbershoot Seattle, WS bumbershoot.org.
Detroit International Jazz Festival Detroit, MI detroitjazzfest.com.
Festa di San Gennaro New York, NY sangennaro.org.
Fiestas de Santa Fe Santa Fe, NM santafefiesta.org.
International Balloon Fiesta Albuquerque, NM balloonfiesta.com.
Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival Greenville, MS deltablues.org.
Moja Arts Festival Charleston, SC (into Oct) mojafestival.com.
Monterey Jazz FestivalMonterey, CA montereyjazzfestival.org.
Panhandle South Plains Fair Lubbock, TX southplainsfair.com.
Pendleton Round-Up Pendleton, OR pendletonroundup.com.
Southern Decadence New Orleans, LA southerndecadence.net.
Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival Helena, AR bluesandheritagefest.com.
Art & Pumpkin Festival Half Moon Bay, CA miramarevents.com/pumpkinfest/.
Festivals Acadiens et Créoles Lafayette, LA festivalsacadiens.com.
Great American Beer Festival Denver, CO greatamericanbeerfestival.com.
Helldorado Days Tombstone, AZ helldoradodays.com.
Ozark Folk Festival Eureka Springs, AR ozarkfolkfestival.com.
Voodoo Experience New Orleans, LA worshipthemusic.com.
Art Basel Miami, FL artbasel.com/Miami-Beach.