Trip Reports

Gilroy Garlic Festival: Pyro Chefs & Garlic Wine

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When I heard there was such a thing as the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, I had to plan a trip for the end of July! So this past weekend found me pulling into Gilroy, CA windows rolled down to enjoy the prevalent smell of garlic in the air.

They just happened to be harvesting in one of the roadside fields as I came in from the 101, which made waiting in line at the traffic light a lot more interesting.

Before I’d even parked I could tell the festival was very well run. There was clear signage for parking miles before you arrived. Volunteers were everywhere to guide you into the parking lot. The parking shuttle buses were numerous and frequent and they had water trucks spraying constantly to keep dirt parking lots from getting dusty. They were even handing out cups of water to help hydrate as you left the grounds.

We’d planned ahead and bought our tickets online which saved us a lot of time. The admission lines weren’t too bad right after the 10AM opening, but they got pretty long throughout the day. If you weren’t able to buy tickets in advance, bring cash and use the express cash only line which moves quickly.

The festival is larger than you might think, and though everything is quite walkable, you’ll want to plan ahead on what you want to see. Coming from the yellow lot there were a lot of vendors with freebies — Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Pepsi’s 1893 beverages, etc.

But our main goal was to head to the free Garlic Ice Cream stand before the lines got bad. It was on the opposite edge of the park near the cooking demonstrations. If coming from CalTrain, just head to the left as soon as you enter.

Trying the free garlic ice cream is a must. It’s very light, more like a savory palate cleanser than a garlic bomb. However, if the lines are extremely long, consider just buying a cone elsewhere in the park and saving yourself a half hour.

Heading to the ice cream stand we’d stopped by the Garlique BBQ Festival to get tasting tickets. $3 gets you a 2 oz sample from one of the “People’s Choice” participating competitors. There was no line to get tickets, but at 10AM only 3 tents were open, the others opened at noon.

We made the mistake of waiting until 1:30 to go back which is when many folks were focused on their competition meats and had closed for samples. Still, the three we did get to try were quite good.

We briefly checked out the cooking demonstration arena which was shaded and had good seating, but decided to walk around while the weather was still on the cooler side. The handicrafts and artwork are not limited to garlic, though you can buy a garlic version of almost anything, including hats.

Garlic Fries stands can always be spotted by the balloon marker…

We wandered into the Wine Garden where we discovered that the Santa Clara Valley makes wine just as good as Paso Robles and more affordably priced. It was also a fairly shady cool area next to one of the music stands.

Tickets are $9 for 3 tastes or a full glass, $25 for 9 tastes or 3 glasses. I splurged and got the commemorative glass since tasting out of tiny plastic cups wasn’t going to be very representative. Used to the East Coast wine festivals which feature mostly sweet and unremarkable wines, the offerings here were great!

Definitely check out Hecker Pass,

And…you will want to try the garlic red wine. It’s an experience, even if it wasn’t to my liking.

A quick note about the bathrooms. It’s all port-a-potties, with outside hand washing options. By noon many of the areas had run out of soap or paper towels, so consider bringing your own hand sanitizer or hand wipes in case you have to visit in between refills. The bathrooms by the cooking demonstration seemed to be the least used in the morning and had soap.

Vendors offering garlic versions of almost every fair food

After the wine tasting we were ready for food! There are independent food vendors around the park, but Gourmet Alley offers set menu items cooked onsite by their pyro chefs.

Or you can pose next to the flaming garlic…

Several of the dishes such as the mushrooms and shrimp dishes were equal parts garlic. They also had a new dish this year, fried Gilroy garlic shrimp. Not bad, but at only 6-7 shrimp for $10 not a deal.

Our tickets had come with our choice of combo platter which is a great way to try a little of everything. The general consensus is the Combo Meal #2 was the better choice — the scampi, mushrooms, and sausage sandwich were quite good. The calamari in the Combo Meal #1 was rather rubbery and tasteless, the steak sandwich fine but uninspired.

Combo Meal #1

Combo Meal #2

Bring your own bottles of water — there are no water fountains anywhere and while you can buy water there, it’s $3 a bottle and the lines are long. And of course, bring a hat and lots of sunscreen as shade is at a premium. Coming from the east coast, I was so excited about a high of only 80 that I forgot to protect myself from the sun!

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

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