The 5 Best Destinations for Oktoberfest in the U.S.

Jon Fesmire |

Oktoberfest is a German celebration of beer, begun in 1810 when the citizens of Bavaria were invited to the celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The main Oktoberfest celebration is held annually in Munich, Germany, but Bavarian immigrants brought it to the U.S. generations ago.

Whether you want to celebrate German culture or just sample some delicious beer and brats, here are five major Oktoberfest destinations to choose from in the U.S.

Cincinnati, Ohio

The Oktoberfest celebration in Cincinnati, dubbed Zinzinnati, is the apotheosis of all American Oktoberfests. This huge event draws more than half a million attendees yearly. It takes place in late September every year, and you’ll find everything you’d expect in an Oktoberfest: German music, bratwurst, soft pretzels, jumbo pickles, Samuel Adams OctoberFest beer, and tons more. While Samuel Adams sponsors the event, you’ll also find beer from Edinger, Weihenstephan, and others. Check out the dachshund race at the beginning of the event, dubbed the Running of the Weiners, with 100 dachshunds in hotdog costumes, and find out which wins the title King, or Queen, of the Weiner Dogs. Test your strength in the stein holding contest, join in during the world’s largest chicken dance, and watch, or enter, a brat-eating championship.

Mount Angel, Oregon

Another huge, yet somehow less well-known, Oktoberfest takes place in mid-September in Mount Angel, Oregon. This is a small city of 3,500 residents founded in 1867 by Bavarian settlers. Despite the city’s size, the event, which lasts four days, brings in 450,000 attendees every year.

You’ll find a different set of events here. They include a Maypole dance, pedal tractor race, golf tournament, car show, a Von Trapp Family Singers performance, and wiener dog races. There are about four dozen food vendors selling not only all sorts of German cuisine but also Russian food and even fish tacos. Yes, you’ll find plenty of beers from the local Benedictine Brewery and elsewhere.

San Francisco, California

Every year around the end of September, San Francisco holds Oktoberfest by the Bay. This is a three-day event hosted by the United German American Society. You’ll get to enjoy the German parade, watch as the German Consul taps the keg, and witness the cutting of the logs. Polka bands play German music featuring the accordion and glockenspiel for your enjoyment, and traditional Bavarian dances are performed. There is lots of food like pretzels and sausages, and of course all sorts of beer. If you want to get deeply traditional, keep in mind that lederhosen are encouraged.

Denver, Colorado

Denver Oktoberfest takes place over two weekends in September and is full of craft beer and live music. It’s a more modern take on Oktoberfest, less about German culture and more about enjoying current bands and a variety of food. That doesn’t mean the German has been taken out of Denver Oktoberfest, though. You’ll enjoy lots of traditional German food, like pretzels, currywurst, and potato salad. There’s even a Bavarian brunch. Other festival events include keg bowling and a bratwurst eating contest for the title of “Brat King.” Also, the event is free to attend, and pets are allowed.

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth, Washington is another Bavarian village and home to Leavenworth Oktoberfest. This festival may be smaller than some of the others but still brings in an impressive 10,000  revelers every year. Plus, this Oktoberfest actually takes place in October, and over three weekends to boot.

Feast on turkey legs, pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue ribs, and plenty of German food. The snowy Cascade Mountains in the distance will make you feel like you’re in the Alps. The parade and keg tapping take place not once, but on each of the three Saturdays. And, yes, there are German bands and plenty of beer.

There you have it, five fantastic Oktoberfest destinations. If you can’t make it to one of these, look for one near you this fall.