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Ultimate festival guide: USA edition

Published June 10th, 2016

The Coachella dust has settled and festivals like Burning Man, Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy are fast approaching go-time for 2016 in the USA.

While the summer festival season is blazing, the good news for all wannabe travellers to the United States is the land of the free also happens to be the land of never-ending supply of festivals and events throughout the year. And well beyond the famed Halloween, 4 July and Thanksgiving staples.

Here’s some of the best of #festlife in America…

Sundance Film Festival, Utah, January each year

The spawn of actor Robert Redford, Sundance has humbly grown from a space to showcase local US and indie films and documentaries in the late 70s into the most celebrated film festivals in the country – and launching the careers of Tarantino, Moore and, um, more along the way. 50,000 attend each year.

Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, 2 February each year 

Do you remember the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day? You know, when Bill Murray’s character has to relive the same day over and over again until he becomes a better person? That day is real! Live the day (just once) alongside 40,000 others in celebrating a groundhog that predict an early spring or long winter.


A photo posted by seduction (@seduction_dk) on

New Orleans Mardi Grass , February each year

For debauchery at its best, eave your inhibitions at home and come along for the wild ride in the lead up to lent! Think masked revellers, beads and throws tossed from floats, breast-baring tourists, drag queens on parade and street parties, just for starters.

NFL Super Bowl, Houston (for 2017), February each year

Where Janet Jackson’s nipple was seen by 143 million people and now thousands more Aussie fans will likely watch thanks to Jarryd Haines. See the annual championship game of the United State’s highest level of professional football –– and one of the world’s most coveted sporting events – if you’re lucky enough to score a ticket or be in town for the fun.

Spring Break, various locales, March each year

A right of passage for American high school and college students, the wild, wonderful and free antics of Spring Break can be found in the US. The biggest and best of the bunch takes over Florida’s Panama City Beach where there are endless bars, pool and beach parties, concerts and the rest for one mad month each year.


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Calle Oche, Miami, March each year

The 23 blocks of Miami’s Little Havana transform into one giant street fiesta for their coveted place in Miami Carnival. Latino Miami shines with amazing food, dancing, drinks and fun during this, the mother of all salutations to spring. In between your salsas, conga lines and Cuban rum good times, Calle Ocho also boasts 30 stages of Latin music.

SXSW, Austin, Texas, March each year

One of the premier events for indie music and film where not just bands and punters attend, but the industry-types scout and network for the next latest and greatest. Attracts over 30 000 people plus in excess of 2 000 acts for over 100 live venues in a place usually reserved for oil (Texas Tea), beef and Dallas.

Ultra Music, Miami, March Each Year

Think Depeche Mode for the name, think three-days of electronic music for the festival. Running since 1999, this is the original Ultra. Held over three days, the festival has previously attracted in excess of 160, 000 punters and the likes of Carl Cox, Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, Cut Copy and Basement Jaxx.

Coachella, Palm Springs, California, April each year

Pack your gumboots and boho tops and hit the Empire Polo Field, just outside Palm Springs for the ultimate must-see festival. Held for three days over two consecutive weekends, Coachella attracts the best performers, old and new, from the hip-hop, indie, and alt-rock scenes and attracts over 200,000.


Girl with hands in the air at Coachella music festival.
Can you Coachella?

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San Fran Pride, June 26, 2016 

Wave the rainbow flags high. The USA’s biggest and brightest pride celebration takes turns San Fran into one giant party on the last weekend of June each year. This year’s theme is “For Racial and Economic Equality”, which will feature strongly in the event’s popular Sunday parade and on the 20-plus community stages and venues.

Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas, 17-19 June 2016

The largest electronic music festival outside of Europe, the Electric Daisy Carnival has spread its wings across the world but Las Vegas is the flagship for 2016. A number of genres to satisfy along with big names and many attendees, sleep may well be a low or non-existent priority as you plug-in for your ultimate electronic music fix.

Governor’s Ball, New York, June each year

Need another reason to visit concrete jungle, New York City? What about an independent music festival that has featured the likes of Björk, Ryan Adams, Death From Above 1979, Lana Del Ray and The Black Keys in the past? Gov's Ball is a delight for inner-city pressure and indie rock, alternative rock, folk, hip-hip and electronic music fans. Plenty for foodies too.


A photo posted by Will Oliver (@weallwantsomeone) on

Taste of Chicago, Chicago, 6-10 July, 2016

The Windy City’s Grant Park comes alive with a smattering of awesome pop-up restaurants, food vans, farmers, celebrity chefs and music to celebrate the city’s best eats for Taste. Expect to be stuffed the whole time from delicacies well beyond the deep-dish pizzas and hotdogs the city is known for (although they are great too).

Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, 13-16 July 2016

The ultimate homage to hip hop music and culture transcends on Brooklyn for the genre’s largest New York celebrations. Attracting the best and helping progress expression and social change, sick rhymes and fat beats have been busted out by Kanye, Busta Rhymes, Lupe Fiasco and Big Daddy Kane in the past.


A photo posted by Pim Pomsy (@pimpomsy) on

Comic-Con International, San Diego, 21 – 24 July, 2016

Unleash your inner geek, Peter Griffin or whatever you want to celebrate the biggest Comic-Con and pop culture convention in the world. Dressing up is invited to this ultimate tribute jam-packed with signings, screenings, costume comps and whatever is hip in a galaxy far, far away.

Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, 29 Aug to 25 Sept 2016

Become a “Burner” at the epic week-long music, lifestyle, art and spiritual event in the middle of the desert. Here almost anything goes, and you might leave a different person altogether. More than 50,000 people gather in the temporary Black Rock City to celebrate self-expression, art, music and humanity (and of course the coveted ritual burning of a large wooden effigy).


Burning Man festival in the USA.
Burning Man festival is a favourite.

Lollapalooza, Chicago, 28-31 July 2016 

To celebrate this super duper Chicago festival, Lolla organisers added another day of music to the bill this year. That’s four days, 8 stages and more than 170 music acts – plus the usual arts markets, Chicago eats from corndogs to craft brews and then some. Radiohead and Kings of Leon to headline.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco, 30 Sept- 2 Oct, 2016

Famous Golden Gate Park opens its gates yet again, this time for 750,000 people to enjoy a free festival with 100 artists, 7 stages and full dedicated to bluegrass and beyond. Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss & Union Station and Gillian Welch are former headliners.

Love catching cool local events and festivals while you're on the road? Don't miss our epic rundown of the best events and festivals around the world!

Jolee Wakefield

A seasoned backpacker and travel writer, Jolee has spent the past decade wandering the globe in pursuit of good vibes, unusual conversations and unforgettable adventures like cave diving in Mexico, mountain climbing in Borneo and learning (failing at) local dances in the Pacific nation of Kiribati.