It started with a royal wedding back in 1810 and morphed into one of fall’s largest festivals, but you don’t need to travel all the way to Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest anymore. Here’s a look at some of the United States’ biggest and best celebrations.
Bear Mountain, New York -- Weekends in September and October
New York City has no shortage of Oktoberfest celebrations, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens, which have heralded the rise of the beer garden in the 2010s. Yet, the Empire State’s best festival is a short one-hour ferry or train ride up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain. Unlike in the city, at Bear Mountain you’ll find fresh air, cheap eats and real Germans who wear lederhosen and dirndls in an un-ironic manner. Beyond the Bavarian food and entertainment, expect to find craft vendors, a carousel, paddleboats and leaves in every shade of color on the top of the rainbow.
Cincinnati, Ohio -- Sept 20-22, 2013
As if to prove to the world just how much it loves beer, Cincinnati boasts what it says is the largest Oktoberfest in the U.S. and second largest in the world outside of Bavaria. It even has its own catchy name, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, and calls itself “America’s Oktoberfest.” Indeed, more than half a million herren und frauen are expected to converge on a six-block area downtown this September to eat, drink, sing and polka dance at one of seven stages showcasing German music. Organizers have secured 1,300 barrels of beer, or 1.6 million ounces, for the event, and 30 food vendors serving close to 200 dishes will be on hand to ensure revelers soak up their alcohol with some greasy German fare.
Tulsa, Oklahoma -- Oct. 17-20, 2013
Calling all lovers of the Chicken Dance (you know who you are). Tulsa, Okla., may not be known for many things, but it does have this claim to fame: In 1981, Germany’s Heilbronn Band first introduced the Chicken Dance to an American audience at the Tulsa Oktoberfest. Thereafter, it would go on to become a pop culture phenomenon. Perhaps in an attempt to find the next big thing, the 2013 festival is full of bizarre competitions, including a wiener dog run, a beer barrel race, a stein-carrying contest and a test to see who can hold 34 ounces of beer the longest. If making the annual celebration into its own unique event were the main criteria, Tulsa would win the prize for world’s best Oktoberfest hands down.
Frankenmuth, Michigan -- Oct. 19-22, 2013
Willkommen to Frankenmuth, Michigan's Little Bavaria, where bells from the glockenspiel tower ring across the village as costumed waiters and waitresses in lederhosen and dirndls serve you a hearty meal. If you’re craving a slice of Germany smack dab in the heart of America, this is a ye ole town of horse-drawn carriages and covered bridges, of riverboat cruises and world-famous chicken dinners. Founded in 1844 as a colony for German pioneers in the American Midwest, generations of families thereafter have made this a true enclave of Bavarian culture. As for bragging rights, the small city has got plenty. It was the first town in the U.S. to import beer from Munich’s famed Hofbrauhaus, is the only U.S. destination whose Oktoberfest has been officially sanctioned by a German official, and boasts a scaled-down version of a German beer hall that can accommodate 5,000 people, more than its entire population.
Las Vegas, Nevada -- Weekends in September
Can’t make it to the real Hofbrauhaus for Oktoberfest? Why not head to the land of lavish replicas instead. Naturally, Las Vegas boasts its own Hofbrauhaus, replete with a beer hall, beer garden, signature beers and the infamous beer-toting, dirndl-wearing waitresses. True to its go-big-or-go-home nature, Vegas’ Oktoberfest kicked off with a celebrity keg-tapping from famed German-American magicians Siegfried and Roy. Other Vegas celebrities will do the honors each Friday and Saturday night through September.
Leavenworth, Washington -- First Three Weekends In October
The Pacific Northwest and Bavaria share several things in common -- lush green mountains, strong beer, a love of heavy metal music -- so it should come as no surprise that a group calling themselves Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee thought it would be a wunderbar idea to transform the downtrodden town from a small timber community to a mock Bavarian village in the 1960s. The result is a quaint village befitting of the homeland, boasting a nutcracker museum, microbreweries, and, of course, one of America’s most beloved Oktoberfest celebrations. Each weekend in October, save the last, the town will throw open its doors, set up four stages for live entertainment and tap the kegs early for what it calls “the next best thing to being in Munich.”
San Francisco, California – Sept. 20-22, 2013
Believe it or not, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to a whopping 17 German clubs, all of which will be in full regalia for the 2013 Oktoberfest By The Bay celebration at Pier 48. While you can expect plenty of Spaten beer and soft pretzels, this frequently sold-out celebration is known mostly for its top-notch entertainment, including “sizzling oompah music” and traditional dancing. Headlining the 2013 event will be San Francisco’s own 21-piece Chico Bavarian Band, now in its 40th year of playing German music at venues across America.
New Braunfels, Texas -- Nov. 1-10, 2013
Though it has the unfortunate name of Wurstfest, that’s no indication of the quality of this Texan tribute too all things sausage. German for “brown rock,” New Braunfels celebrates its heritage each year with a 10-day festival of beer, bräts and Bavarian entertainment. The event’s tagline is “Sprechen Sie Fun?” and, like its surprisingly family-friendly counterpart in Munich, there will be carnival rides and children’s entertainment aplenty. If you and your family like your German folk music with a hint of Texas twang, y’all better get down to Hill Country for the best, eh hem, Wurstfest in the Lone Star State.
Helen, Georgia -- Sept. 12 - Oct.27, 2013
Helen, Ga., hasn’t just latched on to the Oktoberfest fad in the 21st century, it’s been celebrating Bavarian beer for 43 years and running, ever since it transformed itself into a replica Alpine village complete with cobblestone alleys and Old World towers in the 1960s. Like other cities on this list that have done the same, Helen’s second life as a faux Bavarian town has breathed new vitality into the Blue Ridge Mountain hideaway and brought the town prosperity. Some 2 million visitors make the hour and a half drive up from Atlanta each year for a series of themed festivals -- none more popular than the month-long Oktoberfest. Each night through Oct. 27, the Helen Festhalle will house German-style bands, polka dancing and enough lager, lederhosen and accordion squeezing to whip even the most jaded of visitors into the Bavarian sprit.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...