When newlyweds King Ludwig I and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (try saying that three times fast) tied the knot, they decided there was only one appropriate way to celebrate: a beer-fueled, five-day party. Over two hundred years later, we continue to celebrate their union in much the same way. It’s called Oktoberfest.
Traditionally, Oktoberfest starts in mid-September and ends the first Sunday in October, but several American festivals run longer (including the first few picks below). Although the original Munich Oktoberfest was canceled this year due to COVID-19, it’s still possible to bust out the lederhosen and hoist a stein at a (mostly) authentic version a bit closer to home. If you’re looking for polka bands, tangy sauerkraut, cold beer, and a good time, you’ll find it at these Oktoberfests.
The Best Oktoberfests in America
1. Oktoberfest USA
An estimated 42 percent of all Wisconsin residents claim at least partial German heritage, so it makes sense that the state goes all out in its Oktoberfest celebrations. Oktoberfest USA in La Crosse, Wisconsin is the longest-running Oktoberfest (2021 marks its 60th year) in the Midwest, as well as one of the largest. Each year, traditional events include stein races, barrel rolls, grain tosses, polka dancing, stein holding competitions, a Festmaster’s ball, and the tapping of the Sam Adams Golden Keg.
Sept. 30–Oct. 3, La Crosse, WI
2. Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest
This southern California Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint. The Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest runs for nine consecutive weekends each fall, giving guests plenty of time to learn the difference between a bratwurst and a knockwurst. Plus, the organizers make a point to source the same beers that are being poured in Munich, including Spaten, Warsteiner, and Ayinger. Aside from drinking and eating, events include log sawing, a beer-drinking contest, cornhole, and a pretzel toss for kids.
Sept. 11–Nov. 7, Big Bear Lake, CA
3. Fredericksburg Oktoberfest
The Texas hill country community of Fredericksburg was founded by German immigrants in 1846, and even 175 years later, those roots still show. While it’s a cliché to say everything is bigger in Texas, in the case of the Fredericksburg Oktoberfest, it’s true. At any given time, tuba players are leading traditional marches, artisans are selling everything from heart-shaped gingerbread cookies to alpine wool hats, and a staggering 50 varieties of local and imported beer are available to fill your glass. Be sure to stretch beforehand—you’ll want to be ready for the massive group Chicken Dance.
Oct. 1–3, Fredericksburg, TX
4. Helen Oktoberfest
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like step inside a nursery rhyme, Helen, GA is the place to go. 50-odd years ago the community reimagined itself as a German-style alpine village and added Bavarian architectural details like decorative shutters, wooden balconies, and gingerbread house-style trimming throughout the buildings in town. Accordingly, it makes an incredible backdrop for a German heritage festival. While other Oktoberfests are confined to the festival grounds, Helen’s version extends throughout the town, so when you tire of lagers and ales, take time to poke around the various specialty shops for art and imports.
Sept. 30–Nov. 7, Helen, GA
5. Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa
Timing-wise, the Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa is very untraditional: It often takes place on one of the last weekends in October, long after most other ‘fests have shuttered. It does, however, toe the line in all other aspects, with authentic food, numerous drinking tents, and beer-centric festivities like the Bier Barrel Race (where teams compete for the fastest keg roll) and the Masskrugstemmen (the Strong Stein, an obstacle course where contestants try to race without spilling their beer).
Oct. 19–24, Tulsa, OK
6. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati
Over half a million people converge on Cincinnati, OH each year to listen to Bavarian-style oompah bands and belt out the lyrics to the drinking toast “Ein Prosit” at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Also important? Thoroughly sampling German fare. Alongside staples like bratwurst, sauerkraut, and strudel, you’ll find delicacies like sauerkraut balls, potato pancakes, cream puffs, Limburger cheese, German-style potato salad, and pickled pigs’ feet—make sure you’re hungry when you show up.
Sept. 16–19, Cincinnati, OH
7. Trapp Family Oktoberfest
It makes sense that many of the best Oktoberfests in the nation take place in the Midwest—the soil and climate in that region is similar to Central Europe, and many German immigrants settled there. You don’t necessarily have to go to the Heartland to experience a legitimate Oktoberfest, though. One particularly famous Austrian family, the von Trapps, ended up in Stowe, VT—and their descendants continue to host an excellent Oktoberfest at their family lodge and brewery each year.
Sept. 17, Stowe, VT
8. Denver Oktoberfest
If you’re looking to attend an Oktoberfest solely to drink beer out of impossibly large glassware, the Denver Oktoberfest is for you. The Mile-High City fete focuses more on libations than Germanic traditions, but it’s still a riotously good time. Come for the local craft beer garden; stay for the keg bowling and wiener dog derby.
Sept. 17–26, Denver, CO
9. Frankenmuth Oktoberfest
There are oodles of Oktoberfests in the United States, but there’s only one so authentic that a Munich mayor gave it his official blessing: the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest in Michigan. Now Hofbrauhaus, a famous beer hall in Munich, is the official sponsor of the weekend. It may not be the original Oktoberfest, but with Bavarian food, freshly tapped German suds, and locals in lederhosen and dirndls, it’s about as close to the real thing as you’ll find without booking a flight to Germany.
Sept. 15–18, Frankenmuth, MI
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