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7 food festival hacks

Photo by Baron Spafford/Santa Barbara Art Museum

How to get the biggest bang for your buck at food festivals.

Food festivals are a great opportunity to sample dishes from a cornucopia of regional restaurants before committing to a Saturday-night reservation. But some culinary festivals can cost a couple hundred dollars. So how do you get the most of the experience? Read on for insider tips on navigating food festivals.  

1. Divide and conquer. Bring a friend or two to help get various dishes in different lines and to nosh in a communal area.

2. Study the festival map. Pinpoint the bathroom, parking, and other key locations.

3. Dress for success. Bring a hat, sunblock, and sunglasses in outdoor settings. Wear a small cross-body bag to keep your hands free for the food and drinks, digital camera, and festival swag.

4. Vino first. Visit your desired vintners before tackling the food pavilion to maximize your wine tasting. That's because spicy, heavily scented foods can affect your ability to fully appreciate a wine.

5. Get the VIP treatment. Splurge on perks that can include preferred parking, a lounge area with cocktail demos and opportunities to meet celebrity chefs, and an earlier festival entrance time to try all the offerings. (Many booths run out of samples before the event ends.)  

6. Do your research. Read up on featured personalities and note the celebrity chefs, winemakers, and other A-listers you'd like to meet (and their likely locations). Also, plot must-visit stops but still leave time for unexpected discoveries. 

7. Be responsible. Use festival conveniences such as taxi stands or rideshare discounts (think Lyft or Uber), or check the availability of discounted tickets for designated drivers.

Check out these 15 Southern California food festivals, where you can test these smart strategies.

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