It’s great to be a cute small town. It’s even greater to be a cute small town that’s blessed with the bounty of a singular bodacious fruit.
Here are ten “world capitals” of fruit across the USA, representing the best small towns where, at one magical time of the year, all things fruit reign and local festivals celebrate their abundant, sun-kissed harvests kick up in high gear.
WHERE: Ponchatoula, Louisiana
California may produce more strawberries, but Ponchatoula’s are hands-down bigger and sweeter. Some say nutrients carried down the Mississippi River are the secret to the sugary taste. Whatever the case, this small town has reigned since 1968 as the official-by-proclamation Strawberry Capital of the World. When the fruit ripens February through Mother’s Day, you’re in for amazing strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, even fried strawberries—though there’s nothing as good as plain old-fashioned strawberries and cream. Be sure to pose by the larger-than-life strawberry across the street from city hall.
Festival Town: The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival in April features live music, carnival rides, a queen and king procession, berry-eating contests, and big crowds.
WHERE: Hammonton, New Jersey
With blueberries’ highly touted health benefits, you’d think that the little town of Hammonton in South Jersey would be more famous. But that’s part of its charm, to remain incognito while producing some of the world’s best blueberries. It’s a little known fact that the cultivated blueberry was actually “born” hereabouts. While wild blueberries were gathered for centuries by Native Americans, it took Elizabeth Coleman White—aka the Blueberry Queen—to domesticate the wild berries in the early 20th century, thereby introducing a new crop to the world market. Thank your holy antioxidants for that.
Festival Town: The Red, White and Blueberry Festival takes place in June, when all things blueberry—plants, cannolis, pies, and fresh berries—are on hand. Live music, craft vendors, and eating competitions are all part of the fun.
Blackberries and Marionberries
WHERE: Lowell, Oregon
As you’re shopping in your local supermarket, buying frozen blackberries for your breakfast smoothie, you can bet those berries most likely were picked at the peak of ripeness in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. There, the blackberry craze ignites as the fresh berries ripen in August, and farm stands and pick-your-own farms—notably around Canby, Oregon City, and Molalla—showcase all things blackberry. Driving loops link the best sites. Keep an eye out for marionberries as well, the so-called “Cabernet of blackberries,” overflowing at farm stands especially in, naturally, Marion County.
Festival Town: Honestly, Oregon hosts lots of blackberry festivals. One of the best is Lowell’s week-long Blackberry Jam Festival at the end of July in the southern Willamette Valley.
WHERE: Jacksonport, Wisconsin
At the peak of summer in Door County, you can’t escape the cherries—at cherry stands, pick-your-own farms, cherry-inspired restaurant menus, cherry-themed cooking classes, cherry-infused cocktails, cherry wine—not to mention, the panoramic views of thousands of acres of orchards burgeoning with the glistening fruit. But the epitome of cherry goodness can be found at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, with the nationally famous cherry-stuffed French toast.
Festival Town: Local orchards throw celebrations throughout the cherry harvest season, including the Summer Cherry Harvest Fest at Lautenach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market near Fish Creek and the Cherry Festival at Seaquist Orchards Farm Market in Sister Bay. The town of Jacksonport puts on the largest community cherry-themed festival, Cherry Fest, the first Saturday every August. Expect arts and crafts, food, music, and, of course, lots of cherry goodness.
WHERE: Fredericksburg, Texas
You think Georgia has the corner on peaches? Come mid-May, the highway between Fredericksburg and Stonewall in the Texas Hill Country burgeons with peach stands, proving that peaches love Texas too. Orchards occupying about 600 acres around Fredericksburg have been family-run for generations—one of the secrets to the region’s sugary sweet fruit. Another is the fact that dozens of varieties are planted, promising a progression of ripe peaches from May to early August.
Festival Town: In a state with many peach festivals, Stonewall’s Peach JAMboree unfurls the third weekend in June, including a rodeo, dance, parade—plus plenty of peach cobbler, peach ice cream, and, of course, fresh peaches.
WHERE: Lynden, Washington
In a county where a bounty of delicious berries grows, there’s one berry that stands out: the almighty red raspberry. Whatcom County, centered on the Dutch-flavored town of Lynden, produces more than two-thirds of the nation’s raspberries (including those found in the freezer section of your local grocery store). Now that’s a lot of fruit. Come July, you’ll find them filling Lynden’s fruit stands and markets—though the best way to enjoy them is by bike ride or drive through the fields around town.
Festival Town: The Northwest Raspberry Festival takes place in Lynden in July, featuring a run/walk through the raspberry fields, pick-your-own berries, raspberry dessert contest, and raspberry-wine sampling.
WHERE: Superior, Arizona
The little mountain town of Superior sits in the middle of the vast Sonoran desert, in the thick of prickly pears. Come August, the cactus bears a sweet fruit that’s not harvested, per se, but locals know how to turn it into delectable jam, candy, even syrup for your pancakes. You’ll find all kinds of surprising prickly-pear-inspired noshes in local restaurants and bakeries. Oh, and it’s great raw, too.
Festival Town: Who doesn’t like a festival with a margarita shake off? The Prickly Pear Festival, which started out as a series of classes at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, celebrates the fruit in August with food demos, guest speakers, vendors selling all things prickly pear, prickly pear libations, and more.
WHERE: Florida Keys
Key limes are of course the choice ingredient in the Keys’ celebrated Key lime pie. But those wacky Floridians haven’t stopped there. A bounty of Key-lime-inspired treats abound, from Key-lime chocolate to BBQ sauces to marinades to conditioning shampoo. The first Key lime trees probably arrived in the Keys in the 1500s with the Spanish, though here’s a sad fact: Thanks to the devastation of the Key lime plantations in a 1926 hurricane, today’s Key limes mostly come from other regions of Florida or Mexico. Though given the celebration of all things Key lime in the Keys, you’d never know it.
Festival Town: Not every fruit festival has a pie drop from a lighthouse. Or a fruit-infused rum tasting. Or a cocktail sip and stroll. But that’s Key West for you, and their Key Lime Festival of the Florida Keys, which takes place in early July, has all this and more.
WHERE: Patterson, California
In 1971, Patterson put down the stake and declared itself the Apricot Capital of the World. Apricot production there has dropped off somewhat since then to make it totally legit, but this small rural town in the heart of the Central Valley hasn’t given up its apricot sass. Apricot orchards still grace its surrounds, exploding with sweet golden fruit between mid-June and mid-July and plenty of farm stands, markets, and pick-your-own orchards to get your fill of the pure essence of summer.
Festival Town: The Patterson Apricot Fiesta began in 1870 when 40 percent of the nation’s apricots were grown here. Taking place at the beginning of June, it’s the place to go for apricot ice cream, ribs with apricot BBQ sauce, and popovers.
WHERE: Cordele, Georgia
Cordele bestowed upon itself the title of Watermelon Capital of the World, but unlike some fruit-capital braggarts, the designation is spot on. For this vintage little town located amid a countryside of sandy loam soil ideal for growing watermelons rates number 1 in a state famous for its watermelons. But that would mean nothing if the melons weren’t crisp, sweet, and juicy. Which they divinely are.
Festival Town: The entire month of June is devoted to Cordele’s favorite fruit with Watermelon Days Festival. You’ll enjoy a gospel sing, a horseshoe tournament, a hot-air balloon event—plus the annual watermelon parade, watermelon dance, watermelon-throwing and -eating contests.