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Summer vacation By Lena Katz

From sea to shining sea, America’s getting ready to celebrate all that tastes great this summer. Whether you’re in the market for a Hawaii vacation, an East Coast summer home or a quick family-friendly hop to a Tampa hotel, an awesome array of food festivals will add extra flavor to your holiday. Here are my top 10 picks for 2009.

In the Pacific Northwest, Bite of Oregon August 7-9 showcases organic/sustainable produce, great seafood, and craft beer — the latter in the brand-new Oregon Brewed Craft  Beer Garden. And may we just say…it’s about time? Oenophiles note, Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region may well be the wine snobs’ next “it” place — so don’t just sip, take notes!

Down south, the LA Wine Fest June 6-7 showcases primarily California Central Coast and Napa wineries, with contingents from the Loire Valley and Australia, as well as a number of boutique-label tequilas. In keeping with Los Angeles “get ready for your closeup” mentality, the festival includes “lifestyles” vendors like Italian gastronomy site, but very little in the way of actual food.

Chicago hotel Hop off the coast several hundred miles west, and you’ll float into Maui’s legendary Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, an expensive and sophisticated annual extravaganza with a four-day (June 11-14) schedule of cleverly themed tastings, dinners and events (Psycho Pinots, Fred Dame’s Rare Wines Dinner). Most events are individually ticketed, though four-day passes are available.

Come June 19-21, every food snob worth his United Mileage Plus awards will jet-set into Colorado for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. This event is as up-market as Kapalua but much higher-profile, with celebrity guest participants like Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentis. It’s also much bigger, with 5,000 guests and a packed event schedule. No individual event passes, but the $250 day passes cost about the same as a single-event ticket at Kapalua.

On the flip side of the foodie spectrum, LA Feria del Hongo in San Juanito, Mexico, is an obscure localfood festival featuring not a splashy media campaign and celeb chefs, but instead delicious food and educational displays — featuring more than 100 kinds of mushrooms.

When it comes to worldclass food, Midwestern destinations tend to get overlooked — but not in the Windy City. Here, Chicago hotel rooms are sure to book out fast for the time period of June 26 to July 5, when the annual Taste of Chicago turns Grant Park into a giant grazing ground. More than 70 participating restaurants serve up tastes by theticket — or rather, by multiple tickets depending on the item, but nothing costs more than about $10. Admission is free, as is the entertainment…but be forewarned, this is not an event for the claustrophobic among us. It is, in fact, the biggest food festival in the world.

On the East Coast, we look even further north than US borders, to the rollicking French-Canadian capital  of Montreal. Summer brings countless celebrations to this city, but the Mondial Gourmand held August 21-31 is the one that foodies have marked on their calendar. After paying a nominal $5 entry fee, guests nibble foie gras, ceviche, kangaroo, bison and other exotic dishes at approximately 100 booths. Pay by the ticket. It goes without saying that beer, wine and other libations will be available.

Hawaii-vacation Just south across the US/Canada border, the Maine Lobster Fest celebrates its 62nd year of summertime crustacean traditions. This family-friendly festival includes an art exhibit, a cooking contest, a carnival and live entertainment…but nothing can beat the allure of the Main Eating Tent, where more than 20,000 pounds of lobster will be consumed in four days. Pack a bib in your carry-on and head to the Maine seaside from July 29-August 2.

Tampa trips are popular this year — ranking nearly up there with Orlando vacations and Miami getaways — which is why we’re dropping in WaZoo, an annual Tampa beer festival that draws surprisingly large crowds in spite of being located in a zoo. Now in its 14th year, this evening benefit is one of Lowry Park Zoo’s biggest moneymakers, drawing thousands of people and featuring 200+ beers plus food, wine and live entertainment. Tickets for the August 1 event go on sale at in July.

And for the final stop, I recommend a quick trip off the mainland once again, for the Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival on August 28-29. Critics laud this event, which has a strong educational element — both in the chef demonstrations and the wine program — to balance out the “indulge, imbibe, over-serve” vibe that can sometimes take over food festivals. Celeb guest chefs, sizzling offerings from fave local restaurants, and a Caribbean yet no-passport-required setting make this a winner all around.

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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, Caribbean, Family time, Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, Midwest

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