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A knight on horseback at the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire

California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, D.C.

5 Offbeat Events That Reveal the Spirit of U.S. Destinations

By: Morgan Little

Robert Armstrong/Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire
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  • States:
    California
    Oregon
    Colorado
    Washington, D.C.

Each city and region in the United States has its own heart and soul, which is manifested in different ways.

Some have beloved culinary traditions, some are characterized by vast urban spaces, and others have quirkier diversions that reveal the true character of the destination. Here are five offbeat festivals and events you shouldn’t miss.

Bay to Breakers, San Francisco, California

Born out of tragedy and constantly evolving with a flair for absurdity, Bay to Breakers is a sprawling footrace, costume fair and party every May that traverses San FranciscoCalifornia, from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach. Originally held in 1912 to help bolster morale following the city’s devastating 1906 earthquake, the event has come to represent San Francisco’s long-running celebration of free expression and eccentricity.

Following the serious racers comes a swarm of costumed participants. If you don’t join the run, pick a spot at Patricia’s Green and watch a parade of people dressed in everything from simple superhero spandex to coordinated exercises in cross-dressing. Bans on alcohol and nudity have taken an edge off of the event, but be warned: You may still see a stray rear end here and there.

Runners often dress in costume for Bay to Breakers, a San Francisco race that embraces the city’s spirit of free expression.

Runners often dress in costume for Bay to Breakers, a San Francisco race that embraces the city’s spirit of free expression.
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Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington, D.C.

Few arts are as tightly woven into a nation’s character as traditional music and folk festivals, and Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Folklife Festival combines the beloved musical genres with the Smithsonian Institution's keen bent for education.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage that has taken place on the National Mall since 1967. The two-week event, which overlaps the Fourth of July holiday, delves into the country’s diverse cultural histories, as well as those from around the world. There are few cities that celebrate diversity more than Washington, D.C., which is home to the National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Folklife Festival
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Colorado Brewers’ Festival, Fort Collins, Colorado

The craft beer movement has evolved into a nationwide phenomenon, and few states are as closely tied to the trend as Colorado. The state is home to some of the nation's trendiest brewers, like Oskar Blues and Avery, and the city of Fort Collins, located 105 kilometers north of Denver, is proud to be the home of New Belgium Brewing, the eighth largest brewery in the country.

That’s partly why Fort Collins, not Denver, is the home of Colorado Brewers’ Festival in June. The entire event takes place outdoors.

Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Southern California

The United States may not have been around during the European renaissance, but that hasn’t prevented the nation from becoming a hotbed for celebrations of that time period. The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire was the first of its kind, debuting in 1963 and setting the standard for a nearly endless stream of similarly themed fairs.

The concept is simple: In April and May, the imaginary town of Port Deptford pops up in Irwindale, California, with shops, stalls and performers emulating the 1580s. But beneath that simple concept lies a wealth of complexity. Each piece of the faire keeps to strict historical standards to preserve the illusion, a pursuit that's perfectly suited to Southern California, a hotbed of actors and performers because it’s home to Hollywood.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age
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Portland Rose Festival Plunderathon, Portland, Oregon

PortlandOregon, is known as the “City of Roses” for good reason. The city first launched the Portland Rose Festival in 1907 as part of a bid to raise Portland’s prominence as a travel destination, and it has made a tradition of it since.

But that doesn't mean the city’s unofficial motto, “Keep Portland Weird,” isn’t obeyed. For years, the Rose Festival has been followed by the pirate-themed Plunderathon, during which you may stumble across residents decked out in full costume, coasting around the town in makeshift pirate ships. The late July event involves an ever-changing combination of parades and bar crawls that frequently run through Portland landmarks like Powell’s Books and the Shanghai Tunnels.