key west hotels By Lena Katz

So many nibbles, so few frequent-flier miles. Food festival season is a challenge for any ambitious gourmand. Here are a few of my faves to whet your appetite — from northern California to the Caribbean.

Heat your blood at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya, where chile season is in full swing. Located in New Mexico on the Rio Grande, actually on land that’s part of the Santa Ana Pueblo, this hotel has an unexpectedly unique culinary program that draws from Native American traditions and local produce — of which, of course, the chile is a major component. From now through November 30, Tamaya commemorates the chile harvest with a special tasting menu, cooking classes and a special chile mud spa treatment at the Mist Spa. For a more in-depth experience, arrange a tour of a salsa factory or a native blue corn mill.

Over on the California coast, the entire county of Mendocino is donning their waterproof boots and prepping to head into the woods and fields for the annual mushroom season. Porcinis, morels, chanterelles and that rare delicacy, the candy cap, are just a few of the 3000 kinds of mushrooms that grow in Mendocino County. From October through January, Mendo menus will be all about the mushrooms. The high point of the season is Mushroom Festival, which takes place November 7-16 and includes cooking classes, mushroom walks and a wild mushroom winemaker dinner at MacCallum House that’s guaranteed to rank among the best meals of your life.

For Caribbean travelers, a heads-up on NICHE Nevis, which takes place this year from October 17-19. This is a very high-end annual culinary event, with chefs from luxe resorts like the Four Seasons and Montpelier Plantation Inn heading up tastings, dinners, and a final Veuve Clicquot-sponsored gala in which all island chefs participate. Local flavor also gets a chance in the spotlight: don’t miss the Coco Beach barbecue and rum tasting, or the tour of Mansa’s Last Stop, a locally beloved farm and fruit stand.

Finally, Key West‘s annual Fantasy Fest is happening this year from October 16-26. Though this has little to do with food, I’m throwing it in because it sounds like the ultimate in awesome.

"Fantasy Fest is Key West’s answer to Mardi Gras, only much more outrageous," says South Florida travel maven Cheryl Andrews. "It’s a party that goes all Halloween weekend. Every couple years the mayor says ‘Let’s make it family friendly,’ and all the residents laugh and say, ‘Nahh.’"

If you’re at Fantasy Fest, definitely check out a new event taking place at Beachside Resort: Dancapalooza. According to the release, this is a dance-off where people compete in duos or eight-person teams — you pick the music, bust your moves onstage, and are rated on creativity, style and costumes. Like everyone else in the world, I love "So You Think You Can Dance" — and though I probably shouldn’t admit this, I watched 4 solid hours of "Pants Off Dance-Off" on one particularly hungover winter weekend in ’07. Meanwhile my mother is a "Dancing With the Stars" junkie. This party sounds like it has potential to go in any or all of the three directions, and the opportunity to see it live is something no self-respecting heckler should miss.

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Lena Katz lives on the Left Coast and writes about tropical islands, beach clubs and food, but her heart belongs to NYC.

Tagged: California Vacation, Caribbean Vacation, Florida Vacation, Foodie vacations

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