As autumn leaves explode into vibrant hues, nature starts to resemble the yellow and red of the German flag. Heed this call to celebrate one of the world’s most famous fall festivals: Oktoberfest.
For the more than forty million American citizens who claim German lineage, joining in the celebration is a tribute to their bloodline and a taste for certain old-world libations. Yet even without such ancestry, participants can don some lederhosen or a dirndl and raise a stein to the occasion—welcoming the return of Oktober.
The origins of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is inherently German in name and history, as it originated in the Bavarian city of Munich—or München, if you want to be truly authentic—in the year 1810. The first celebration was not, in fact, an ode to foamy drinks but a citywide wedding reception for Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria and his new bride, Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The festivities were so revered that the city held them again the following year, creating a tradition that continues to this day.
Modern Munich sees annual events running for more than two weeks from mid-September to early October. But even if you can’t board a flight to this host city, there are a whopping 150-plus North American locales that celebrate this beloved jamboree abounding with flavors, dances, and decorative themes handed down through ancestry. These are some of the finest American takes on Oktoberfest that are not to be missed.
Oktoberfests in America
Cincinnati, Ohio (September 14–17, 2023)
This industrial Rust Belt city hosts the United States’ largest Oktoberfest celebration. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival each year to enjoy bratwurst, beverages, vendors, and a variety of notable entertainers. The region is so dedicated to the event that the town temporarily takes on the more Germanic name “Zinzinnati” and dresses up its downtown in authentic Bavarian decor like colorful flags and tents to mark the occasion. Be sure not to miss the annual dog race featuring dachshunds dressed as German sausages.
Denver, Colorado (September 22–October 1, 2023)
It’s no wonder that the Mile High City, which boasts more than 150 breweries, would align its interests with this Bavarian tradition. Dating back to 1969, the annual Denver Oktoberfest is a local and tourist favorite that features events such as a brawny keg bowling contest and stein hoisting along with generous eats courtesy of vendors like Polidori Sausage. Live music offerings, meanwhile, are as traditional as polka and as contemporary as a silent disco. Embrace the celebration’s theme with impressive garb, especially if you plan on entering the costume contest, and book a VIP package to access exclusive venues like the Premium Beer Hall.
Puyallup, Washington (October 6–8, 2023)
This small Seattle suburb becomes a regional attraction every year when it kicks off Oktoberfest Northwest, a taste of home for German descendants located far away from their homeland. This particular celebration schedules an array of fascinating cultural events, including the Hammerschlagen (competitive nail hammering), keg rolling (a party game centered on a popular German drink), and the Stein Dash (a 5K run). Visitors can also partake in a large selection of beverages served in gorgeous German glass steins—and you can even keep the stein. Puyallup’s Oktoberfest officially opens with the Tapping of the Firkin, when the crowd gathers around the opening of the first keg and declares “Prost!”
Washington, DC (October 16, 2023)
In 2022, our nation’s capital welcomed the Bavarian festival with its inaugural Taste of Oktoberfest thanks to a collaboration between the German-American Heritage Foundation and the German embassy. Located in DC’s historic Franklin Park, the celebration includes a Bavarian market rife with authentic foods, including provisions by culinary experts, a variety of German beverages, and charming goods like antiques from local vendors. Though this downtown park is strewn with famous American landmarks, the German dance performances, music, and decor will practically transfer you straight to Munich.
New Braunfels, Texas (November 3–12, 2023)
If you feel like your appetite isn’t quite whet at the end of the Oktoberfest season, get a second helping of bratwurst and foamy beverages in the central Texas town of New Braunfels, which was named after the hometown of its German immigrant founder. Some traditionalists may turn their nose at the fact that this celebration, cheekily titled Wurstfest, takes place in early November, but its dedication to German culture and flavors makes clear references to Oktoberfest, even if it runs a bit behind schedule. If you plan to spend the “wurst” week of your life in this town, set aside time to board vintage carnival rides in the Kinderhalle, and add a customized brick to the Wurstfest Marketplatz to become a part of this celebration’s history.