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Gilroy Garlic Festival Fun

Do you love delicious food? How about a quirky and fun festival? The Gilroy Garlic Festival is for you!


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We’re always looking for great festivals to attend in an area, and California has some great ones. We loved the Berkeley Kite Festival and all the fun ones that pop up in San Francisco, but we couldn’t wait to attend the quirky and tasty garlic festival.

The Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California is one of the most fun food festivals that I’ve ever attended. Do I love garlic? Oh, yes. I do. I think most people who really are foodies love garlic as well. And one thing you can get at the Garlic Festival is lots of that tasty bulb.

It looks like Covid fall-out is still messing with normality. We received notification that the Gilroy Garlic festival will not be held in the traditional way laid out below, at least for 2022 and maybe for longer. Instead, there will be a few large events that might be of interest to you to include a golf tournament (June 24, 2022), a concert with KRTY at Clos La Chance Winery (July 13, 2022), and in the fall they will be announcing a Farm to Table dinner (TBA). Stay tuned!

In this article, you’ll find:

The Pyro chefs are fun to watch with their high flames at the garlic festival.
Don’t miss the “Pyro” chefs cooking up some huge flames!

Back in 1979 the first Garlic Festival was held. It took a while for Dr. Rudy Melone to get everyone excited about having the festival surrounding garlic, but loving his town and wanting to show it off stuck and now the festival attracts over 85,000 visitors per year.

Where is the Garlic Festival?

The Garlic Festival is held annually in the town of Gilroy; it’s in Santa Clara County about 35 miles south of San Jose. Gilroy is known as the garlic capitol of the world and is home to Christopher Ranch. Don Christopher founded the family-owned ranch in 1956 and cofounded the festival in 1979. The ranch is a major garlic grower and processor and supplies all of the garlic for the festival.

Garlic foods are offered all over the festival grounds.
Combo #1 was Sausage sandwich, garlic bread, garlic pasta, and garlic calimari.

How to Get to the Garlic Festival

The festival is held on Christmas Hill Park, but you don’t want to drive there. Officials have blocked off four designated parking areas that you can park in and take a shuttle; therefore taking you straight to the garlic festival without having to walk too far. As soon as you turn off of the highway you can’t miss the parking signs.

Once you’ve parked, you get in a line and take one of the many buses to the fair. We couldn’t believe how organized and quick the entire process was. The volunteers that make it work were so efficient.

One of the competitions is trimming the garlic bulbs, a race.
The garlic trimming competition was interesting and fun to watch.

What to Expect at the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Entering the festival grounds, everyone is very friendly and the first thing they do is give you a little package of garlic with two bulbs of garlic. There were four of us so we wound up with eight full bulbs of garlic (dozens of cloves) to use up in just a few weeks. It was yummy. And speaking of yummy, the Garlic Festival page on FaceBook has lots of garlic recipes.

As you walk through, it’s very similar to a county fair. There are plenty of shopping tents and booths, lots of food to try, located all over the place, but mainly in Gourmet Alley. And there are competitions, shows, all kinds of stuff to keep you busy for at least a few hours.

The garlic festival hosts chefs and cooking competitions.
Judges deliberating on one of the food competitions held throughout the day.

Things to Do and See at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy

Shows and Food Competitions

Some of the fun things to do at the Garlic Festival include watching the music shows and food competitions. Well-known chefs come to compete against each other or at least come to judge what other people are cooking. We had such fun watching the cooking competitions when we were there. This year they’re reported to have a junior competition for young chefs and I think that will be fun too.

Garlic Specific Events

There are all kinds of competitions and some of them of course revolve around growing and harvesting garlic. Garlic trimming is one of the biggest competitions. Each contestant gets a basket and one of the large piles of untrimmed garlic that have been dumped on the ground. The first contestant to trim their pile and fill their basket wins the competition.

We watched it and couldn’t believe how fast and precise the trimmers were. I’ve never seen a competition like this before, but I think it’s what makes local festivals so much fun.

There’s also a tent where you can learn to weave your own garlic braid and take it home with you. We couldn’t resist. How much fun!

Gourmet Alley at the Gilroy Garlic Festival is where you can purchase all kinds of delicious garlicky foods to try.
So many options for food to try in Gourmet Alley…come hungry!

Gourmet Alley

As you would expect there’s so much food around the entire festival grounds that you’re not going to leave hungry. There are always two combination meals to choose from, and Jim and I always have one of each so we can try the dishes on each others’ plates.

Other food you can find on the grounds are: garlic mushrooms, garlic shrimp, garlic beer, and of course the famous, free garlic ice cream. The garlic ice cream truck is always there and is quite a hit. We did stand in line for the garlic ice cream and we have to say it was tastier than we expected. I don’t know that I would ever choose it for my favorite ice cream choice, but I can forever say I tried it!

One of the most entertaining part of the festival food scene is watching the “Pyro” chefs cooking up some amazingly high flames. It’s mesmerizing.

Shop Until You Drop

Eat and shop, shop and eat. What else is there to life? There are tons of great things to buy at the festival from garlic festival specific souvenirs to local artisans bringing in their products. We loved the funny t-shirts, beautiful silver jewelry, stunning ceramics, but there’s so much more as well.

The free garlic ice cream truck is a must-stop at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
The garlic ice cream truck…don’t miss it!

Garlic Festival Tips

Go Early

Gilroy is in a very warm valley and the festival is held in late July, so it can get quite hot on the festival grounds. The garlic festival opens at 10 o’clock in the morning, and I suggest that you get there as early as possible because the longer the day lasts, the hotter it gets.

There are shade trees with bales of hay underneath so that you can sit and get out of the sun for a rest and a reprieve from the heat. There are also tents to sit in if you’re eating one of the Gourmet Alley Combo Meals, and you can rest there as well. The Gourmet Alley Meals can be purchased as an option when you get your festival tickets.

Wear Sunscreen and a Sunhat

The sun is blazing the entire day. We all got a little sunburned and had to squint a lot. Wearing a good sunscreen and especially a wide-brim hat makes all the difference.

It's hot in California in summer, and luckily there are some trees with hay bales under them so you can get out of the heat.
A place to relax and get out of the sun for a few minutes.

Get Your Photo Taken in Garlic Festival Regalia

One of the many things to do is get your photo taken. The photo booth will let you borrow their garlic clove hats, sunglasses, signs, whatever, and it’s tons of fun. Having a souvenir photo of you at one of the quirkiest festivals you’ve been to is well worth it, I’d say.

A greeter at the Gilroy Garlic festival handing out boxes of garlic with your admission.
The Gilroy Festival greeter with her present for you as you enter. A big smile and a box of local garlic!

How to Get Tickets to the Garlic Festival

The best way to get tickets is by creating an account and signing into the official website for the festival. They will send you to the vendor handling the tickets. Admission price includes parking and entry which of course includes seeing the music shows, cooking competitions, and other small events within the grounds. You can also add Gourmet Alley Combo Meals when you purchase your entry tickets.

Where to Stay

Gilroy has a few hotels to stay in, and we suggest that you find one with a pool. You’ll want to cool off when you get back and unload all your fantastic garlic and souvenirs. Another thing to look for when booking your Gilroy Garlic Festival hotel is a shuttle bus to the festival grounds. We were very happy with our hotel and restaurant choices:

Where we stayed: Park Forest Inn (a Best Western hotel)
Where we ate: Dinner at Westside Grill and breakfast at O.D.s Kitchen, both in Gilroy

4 people with garlic hats.
Getting a silly souvenir from the garlic festival.

Conclusion

We love a good festival. The Gilroy Garlic festival was as fun as they come, and we enjoyed the various foods we got to try along the way. We also appreciate the Garlic Festival’s mission to raise money to benefit the local community. The festival’s earnings go to local charities and non-profit groups.

Author Bio – Corinne is an avid camper and traveler. She’s been to all 50 of the US states and has four more Canadian provinces to visit. However, she’s not stopping yet. There’s always more to see of this great continent! Corinne loves local foods, getting outdoors, landscape photography, and road trips.