Castroville – The Artichoke Capital of the World

Castroville, the Artichoke Capital of the World, is located nine miles northwest of the city of Salinas.  It is called this because this small city, that only has a population of 6,742, supplies seventy-five percent of the artichokes sold in the United States.


One of the most notable events held every year in this pleasant rural town is the Castroville Artichoke Festival, which takes place on Memorial Day. Every year, the Festival crowns a King and a Queen.  In February of 1948, Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen and William Hung (the American Idol contestant) was  crowned  Artichoke King in 2006.


The Castroville Artichoke festival also features a parade and an art competition in which competitors make sculptures from artichokes and other vegetables.  Foodies also flock from miles around to sample the treats produced by the produce and wine vendors in the area. There are usually cooking demonstration, arts, crafts, theatrical and musical performances and visits by celebrities.  There is also an antique car show that takes place as a component of the festival as well.


This old town was founded by Juan Bautista Castro in 1863. Aside from artichokes it is known for it’s wonderful mix of Victorian and Spanish architecture. The original old school house and post office, both built in the 1860s, are still there.


A wonderful, eccentric landmark is The World’s Largest Artichoke which was a sculpture commissioned in 1963 for a road-side stand. The artichoke is twenty feet tall and twelve feet across and stands on Merrit Street in downtown Castroville.

Culinary-wise this town is known for its dishes and street food based on artichokes.


A specialty of restaurants in the area are deep-fried artichoke hearts. These are artichokes dipped in batter, fried in a vat and then served up with all kinds of delicious sauces.   Hot and cheesy artichoke dip is also a specialty of many local restaurants, especially when the artichoke is in season.  These types of treats go well with the wines that are grown in nearby vineyards along Highway 101 and just south of the hills of the city of Salinas.


As the town is so small there are not many hotels to stay in during the Artichoke Festival. However the towns of Salinas, Seaside, Marina, Watsonville and Monterey are not that far away and are home to many beautiful hotels that often run shuttle buses to and from the Artichoke festival.   This spares you the problem of driving along California highways inebriated from enjoying the many California wines that are often offered with the artichoke delights offered at the festival.

Wine Expos for Lovers of the Grape

Some people eat to live and then there are those who “live to eat.”   These are the foodies of the world who will travel wherever they can to sample the best that can be offered by the gourmet goods industries.


Wine Expos are popular among people who love to sample liquor and food.  They also attract restaurant owners and caterers who want to serve the latest popular vintages and snacks to impress their clients. In general, anyone who loves cooking can be found at a wine expo.


These expositions which can be small and simple and feature a couple of local wine-growers who want to feature wines made from a certain region such as the Niagara region in Canada. Sometimes a group of small brewers will get together and hold an outdoors event where wines can be sampled at a wine expo that is like a county fair.

However usually wine fairs are gigantic like the annual Toronto Food and Wine Show which can feature over 500 vendors featuring wines, beers, hard liquors, cocktail treats, cheeses, meats and glass ware.


Vendors selling condiments and exotic garnishes for cocktails are also very common at these types of expositions as are vendors selling home wine-brewing kits, wine stoppers, wine decanters, wine racks and coolers for keeping wine at the right temperature.


There are usually a couple of booths selling cookbooks or the newest cooking gadgets on hand and many demonstrators on the floor offering you free samples of food and alcohol or discount coupons.


Depending on the laws where you live you can buy bottles of alcohol right at the wine expo or you can visit a licensed vendor to buy bottles of the wine you sampled during the show. Usually tickets are sold at the door and must be presented to each vendor, instead of cash, to trade for tasting various wines and products.


The fun part for many is all of the free samples. Depending on the laws in the country or state where you are enjoying the expo you might be offered free alcoholic drinks sponsored by a liquor company.  Most expos also have bars where you can independently sample the wine and liquor that you are interested in at a discount price.


It is also not unusual for travel agencies offering to sell you vacations that include wine tasting tours at wine expos or opportunities to go on cruises that feature wine tastings.