Oktoberfest is one of the world’s most famous celebrations. Most people focus on the drinking aspect, but this Bavarian party is a folk festival and carnival as much as an excuse to hoist a few beer steins. The most famous version of Oktoberfest is in Munich, where 5 to 7 million people attend the 16- to 18-day event, including visiting the Hippodrom (pictured). Going to Munich in autumn is not always possible, and even if a trip to Central Europe is financially doable, you might want to celebrate a little closer to home.
Luckily, Munich isn’t the only place to do it. A number of places have authentic celebrations, especially towns founded by German immigrants. While American versions of Oktoberfest don’t draw as many revelers, you’ll be able to find good beer, authentic food, enthusiastic polka bands and, most importantly, a celebratory atmosphere.
New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all have Oktoberfest celebrations, but the largest ‘fest in the U.S. is held in Cincinnati. More than 500,000 people attend the weekend-long event that is usually referred to as Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Six blocks of downtown are closed off to car traffic for the weekend. Beer flows freely and huge amounts of sausage and other specialities are grilled in open-air kiosks.
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati aims to do more than just mimic the Munich festival. This celebration contains some offbeat activities. You can take part in the Stein Hoisting Championship, cheer your favorite competitive eater at the World Bratwurst Eating Championships and watch the Running of the Wiener Dogs. The highlight event is the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, which is traditionally headed by a celebrity grand marshal.
Helen is a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia. A former logging village, Helen was changed to resemble a town in the German alps in the 1960s after the wood boom ended. There are town laws that require using German architectural styles for new buildings, and even fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s must obey them.
The surroundings will certainly put people in the Oktoberfest mood. However, the schedule is one of the most attractive aspects of Helen’s fall festivities. Celebrations begin in the middle of September and continue through October. There are parades and chances to shop and eat in town, but the main events take place in the Festhalle, which is open every evening and all day on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Leavenworth is located in Central Washington. It was transformed into a German-style alpine town in the 1960s. The town’s business leaders at that time were inspired by Solvang, California, a village built to resemble a Danish city. In fact, Solveng’s municipal authorities helped Leavenworth complete its transformation into a theme town.
Leavenworth is best known for its holiday attractions, including the Nutcracker Museum and a large Christmas market. However, Oktoberfest, which is held from the end of September to the middle of October, is an attractive celebration, too. The town is about two hours from Seattle, so it is ideal for a day trip.
Frankenmuth is sometimes referred to as Little Bavaria. This Central Michigan town is probably best known for its huge Bronner’s Christmas Store, which is open year-round. The town, and similarly named neighboring towns, were established in the mid-19th century by Frankish people, who hailed from the Bavarian region of Germany.
Frankenmuth has one of the few Oktoberfests in the world that is officially sanctioned by the government in Munich. They achieved this by trying to make every aspect of their Oktoberfest celebrations as close to the original Bavarian traditions as possible. Frankenmuth has other German-themed cultural celebrations during the year. These include the World Beer Expo, the Summer Music Fest — which features polka bands, naturally — and Bavarian Fest, a summer celebration that draws more than 100,000 attendees.
Tulsa’s Oktoberfest celebration tries to align its attractions with the traditions of Munich’s Oktoberfest. In addition to beer and polka music, the event features Bavarian desserts, sausages and the Chicken Dance, a rather goofy tradition that was actually started in the U.S., not in Munich. Bands are sometimes flown over from Germany to provide the music.
Tulsa’s Oktoberfest also has a large carnival with rides. This is something that can be found in Munich but that many American version of Oktoberfest lack. The party is held at River West Festival Park. It runs for a long weekend in mid-October, from Thursday afternoon through Sunday.
Mount Angel, Oregon
One of the largest Oktoberfests in the U.S. takes place in the small town of Mount Angel in Oregon’s Salem metro area. Several hundred thousand people travel from all over the Pacific Northwest to this traditional mountain village. Held in the middle of September, Mount Angel’s celebration has a lot of the typical Oktoberfest traditions.
The town itself seems very authentic. Founded by German and Swiss immigrants, Mount Angel is not an artificial “theme town” like some of the other Bavarian villages in the U.S. The German influences here date back to the 19th century when Swiss monks and Bavarian settlers came to the area. There is still a strong European alpine feel here, which is enhanced by the architecture and design.
Las Vegas Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest
Las Vegas has a venue that offers an interesting Oktoberfest option. The Hofbrauhaus is designed to appear just like its namesake venue in Germany. According to the designers, it is an exact replica down to the smallest detail.
One advantage of the Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest is that it lasts for over a month. This means that people who want raise a few steins do not have to come on a specific weekend. Music, food and performances take place nightly from mid-September all the way through the end of October. Actually, the Hofbrauhaus is one of a number of Oktoberfest celebrations held in Las Vegas. Many of the venues along the Strip have some sort of party, while other events are geared towards local residents.
Cleveland has a slightly different take on Oktoberfest. First of all, it is held very early in the season, usually taking place around Labor Day weekend at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. Despite its early date, the Cleveland ‘fest has a lot of traditional elements: a beer garden, a full polka lineup, wiener dog races and child-friendly attractions like gingerbread houses and marionette shows.
There is certainly a strong German theme here, but other ethnic groups are also represented. There is an international pavilion with performance groups representing cultures from elsewhere in Europe and in Asia. Because it is on Labor Day weekend, this Oktoberfest is a good option for families and people who can’t travel after the school year starts.
Denver and the Great American Beer Festival
Denver was one of the birthplaces of the microbrew craze that has swept through the U.S., so it is no surprise that it is a great place to celebrate Oktoberfest. Actually, the Mile High City’s Oktoberfest is the start of a month of beer-related events.
Oktoberfest in Colorado is modeled after Munich’s traditional celebrations. It is held over two weekends, usually in September. Several hundred thousand people attend on average each year. In early October, the city hosts the Great American Beer Festival. This is a second chance for people to immerse themselves in the world of craft brews. The event, which draws beer aficionados all over the world, is held at the Colorado Convention Center.