In the Canadian Traveller office we're always keen to know how locals are spending their weekends, or what they're doing on stay-cations. This is exactly how Gilroy, California popped up on our radar. When we heard this historic darling of a town - known as the the Garlic Capital of the World - is a popular day and weekend trip for California natives, we immediately took note. Located a stone's throw from San Francisco and San Jose, Canadians heading to Santa Clara County would be remiss to pass over Gilroy. This is especially true for 2016. Here are three fresh reasons to dedicate a weekend away to discovering Gilroy:
The 38th Annual Garlic Festival
Dates: July 29-31, 2016
Festival website: gilroygarlicfestival.com
Visitors will find an abundance of garlic-themed attractions in Gilroy throughout the year, but each July it all comes to a head at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This stinkin' foodie festival is one visitors will surely sense the moment they arrive in town. Festival-goers have plenty to look forward to. First, be sure not to miss the famous 'pyro chefs' who can boast being a sort of entertainment in their own right. It's a flame-up over massive iron grills heaped with garlic-smothered calamari and scampi. (Our mouths are watering at just the thought of it.) Cruise down Gourmet Alley and sample free garlic ice cream or sip local vintages in the wine Pavillion.
The action isn't contained to your palate either. Take in the Champions for Charity challenge which pits four teams of first responders against one another in three elimination rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Then catch the eight amateur cooks selected as Great Garlic Cook-Off finalists as they prepare their recipes under the pressure of a crowd, all to win the coveted garlic crown and a cash prize. The festival wraps with a Garlic Showdown where four professional chefs compete Iron Chef-style.
The festival is a family-friendly event, even if the kiddos aren't concerned with sampling garlic gator on-a-stick. The atmosphere is made festive with carnival games, puppet shows, children's musical entertainers, clowns, juggling, face painting and so much more. With over 100 art and craft vendors, you'll no doubt find a new artisan ingredient to bring a bit of Gilroy home with you.
Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail
While the city's wineries can be overwhelmed by the hype of garlic and neighbouring wine meccas Napa and Sonoma, local winemakers here are without pretention. A lesser known fact: the Santa Clara Valley was California's first premium wine production region. It's also the type of place where the wine served in the tasting room may be poured by the vintner himself. We're starting to sense a bit of a hidden gem and that, we can not resist.
The best way to sample Gilroy's wine is to follow the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail. This 45-kilometre loops winds throughout its namesake valley and into Gilroy's northern country, up to San Martin and Morgan Hill. Home to over two dozen local vineyards and wineries, it's more than can be conquered in a weekend. Work your way through tasting rooms, estate orchards, and sample farm-to-fork fresh dining overlooking the vines. Savour the way this historic growing area shirks modern trappings in lieu of doing things the old way for the best flavours. And since you'll likely meet the maker, you'll be be able to give compliments direct to the vintner.
Prefer to leave the driving to someone else? Options abound for visitors who prefer the convenience of a shuttled tasting tour. For those exploring the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail independently, it is worth noting many tasting rooms are open seven days a week, though some have limited hours and or are by appointment-only.
Being Garlic Capital of the World it comes as little surprise Gilroy Gardens is a horticulture-focused theme park. Among six diverse and impressive gardens, and over 500 planted trees, are park rides like Banana Split and Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster. Visitors are transported to a jungle paradise in the tropical Monarch Garden and can admire eclectic flowerbeds in the Rainbow Garden from the vantage point of a round boat. Guests should make a point to visit the weird and wonderful collection of Circus Trees. They were born from the creative mind of Axel Erlandson who artistically grafted and shaped the trees into the most curious of shapes.
New This Year: Lumination
Gilroy Welcome Center
2016's Lumination installation will have visitors seeing Chinese culture in a whole new light. Take in the grandeur of larger-than-life reproductions of historic Chinese landmarks like The Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, and the Terracotta Warriors. (All without leaving the warm California sun, who would have thought?!) Playful pandas and mythical chimerical Qilin are hidden throughout, but the installation's crowning jewel will undoubtedly be a giant dragon constructed of porcelain plates and bowls.
Gilroy Welcome Center
While the intricate sculptures are beautiful any time of the day, they dazzle by night. After the sun sets, 30 master-crafted sculptures are alit, mystically illuminating the property. This newest attraction to Gilroy Gardens is the perfect end to wrap the day.
Note: the park will re-open for daytime operation on March 27, 2016.
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