• Image about Food Festivals

Forget Tilt-a-Whirls and Ferris wheels. When we want to go for a ride, we head to a food festival for flavors that will send us swirling. Here are two months' worth of festivals that feature protein, produce, and sweet potatoes aplenty. Now that's tasty tourism.
By Jenna Schnuer

Overheat at the eighth annual Houston Hot Sauce Festival. If you want respect from the locals, there's only one thing to say to the various vendors: "Hurt me." Then, if you can still write, cast your vote for the hottest hot sauce of the year.

Festival must-try: The limited-edition, made-for-the-festival hot sauce

Details: September 22, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and September 23, noon to 5 p.m.; $5 per person, free for children 12 and under; Houston Farm & Ranch Club, just off Highway 6, a mile and a half north of I-10; www.houston hotsauce.com

Open up and let 'em slide. The Washington State Seafood Festival (a.k.a. OysterFest) hosts the annual West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship. Watch the competitors crack those puppies open. Then squeeze on a little lemon, and you're good to go.

Festival must-try: Bacon-wrapped oysters

Details: October 6 and 7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; $5 per person, free for children under 6; Mason County Fairgrounds, Shelton, Washington (about an hour and a half southwest of Seattle); www.oysterfest.com

Orange is the color of happiness on the streets of Darlington, home of the South Carolina Sweet Potato Festival. Join the 25,000 people expected at the festival's 25th showing to find out what makes the state's crop of sweets so special.

Festival must-try: The Pilot Club of Darlington's sweet potato pie

Details: October 13, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; free; on the public square of Darlington (about an hour and a half from Columbia); www.visitdarlingtoncounty.org/darlington_events.html

The bayou fishermen of Niceville, Florida, get mighty busy in the days leading up to the annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. They have to pull up nearly 10 tons of the area's beloved bottom-feeder to satisfy the festival's more than 100,000 attendees.

Festival must-try: Smoked mullet

Details: October 19 to 21, noon to midnight on Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday; $10 per person on Friday and Saturday, $5 on Sunday; Mullet Festival grounds, State Road 85 North at College Boulevard (about 30 minutes northeast of Fort Walton Beach and just over an hour from Pensacola); www.mulletfestival.com

While many food festivals offer fare that's far from healthy, the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival focuses on the greener (and beaner) things in life. Guest speakers and healthy-cooking demos will pack your brain with good-for-you info.

Festival must-try: Vegan caviar

Details: October 20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; free; Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, 1350 Tremont Street; www.bostonveg.org/foodfest