The 38 Best Healthy and Happy Festivals
Motivation comes in many forms. Maybe it’s the inspirational poster on the kitchen wall, that weekly date with a running buddy, or simply an internal drive to succeed. Or maybe it’s people running around city streets spraying each other with water guns, downward-dogging with 20,000 fellow yogis, watching lumberjacks saw through trees as wide as a bathroom, or nomming down on vegetarian eats and learning how to cook them at home. In honor of people’s boats being floated in different ways, we’ve decided to highlight festivals that motivate people all over the world to get outside, get active, be healthy, and be happy. Use this list to get psyched for becoming fitter, healthier, and happier in 2013.
Location: Columbus, Ohio and various locations in Europe Size: 175,000 attendees; 18,000 athletes
Founded in 1989, the Arnold Sports Festival (yes, that Ah-nold) heralds itself as the largest multi-sport event in the US with thousands of athletes competing in more than 45 events. For those attendees not looking to break a sweat, a 700-booth expo offers the latest in fitness apparel, supplements, and training equipment. And yes, the festival’s namesake attends each year.
Location: Washington, D.C. Size: 500 +
This year, the DMV Dance Fitness Festival broke onto the festival stage with the goal of promoting health and fitness in the nation’s capital. Featuring live music, food, health and fitness vendors, and — of course — dancing (from Zumba to Dhoonya Dance), the festival encourages participants to come together as a community and get active for the fun of it. The festival’s organizers also give back to the community by donating some proceeds to wellness organizations like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Location: San Francisco, California
Size: 18,000 + spectators; 2,000 race participants
The Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon draws would-be escapees from all 50 states and more than 40 countries. Featuring a 1.5-mile frigid swim from Alcatraz Island to shore, a hilly 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Recreational Area, the triathlon is actually just the beginning: Its finish line is the site of a Fitness Festival and Expo featuring cutting-edge products and services from the health and fitness industry that are sure to engage its thousands of attendees well after the triathletes have collapsed into bed.
Location: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Size: 4,000 +
Launched in 2008, the Festival Foods Granddad Half Marathon (formerly the La Crosse Fitness Festival) celebrates La Crosse’s efforts to become America’s healthiest city. The Festival includes a variety of aerobic events — including a half marathon, 5K run/walk, youth races, running and cycling time trials, yoga, and bike tours — designed for residents to showcase their fitness abilities and get active as a community. All proceeds are donated to various nonprofits dedicated to improving the community’s health and recreation opportunities.
Location: Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Size: 1,700 +
Spanning one weekend in Illinois, the Fitness for America Sports Festival draws participants from 35 states and five countries. Events (ranging from a kids’ 250 meter dash, to a 10K and Half Marathon, to professional inline skating) are dedicated to health, fitness, and family and community involvement. The hope is to bring together folks of all ages, walks of life, and fitness levels to encourage camaraderie, fitness, and the feeling of accomplishment.
Location: Del Mar, California
Size: 5,000 +
With 200 exhibitors offering the latest in healthy living products and services, cooking demos, medical testing, free workshops and seminars, a rock wall, yoga and Zumba classes, and belly dancing demonstrations, the Healthy Living Festival inspires its participants to celebrate the healthy life. If attendees need a break from all the healthy action, they can get their happy on by “walking on water” in giant plastic bubbles.
Location: Alice Springs, Australia
At first, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta sounds normal enough: It’s modeled after the famous Henley Royal Regatta, an annual rowing race in England. But here’s the difference: Alice Springs, the town where the event is held, is more than 900 miles away from any large body of water. That hasn’t stopped the event’s organizers, who somehow manage to inspire thousands of participants to don boats and “paddle” across the sand (a cardio workout, indeed!). The event is run entirely by volunteers all proceeds — more than one million dollars over the years — are donated to humanitarian projects.
Location: Julia Creek, Australia Size: 2,000 The festival’s organizers stipulate that the event “is quickly becoming more than bulls, bikes and butts.” Honestly, we’re not sure what’s wrong with any of those things, but regardless, the festival is differentiating itself as a legit triathlon in one of Queensland’s hottest and harshest climates. For those not looking to suffer through a swim-bike-run in that weather, the event provides live music, magicians, amateur boxing competitions, dance groups, local ironman and ironwoman contests, and — thank goodness! — bull rides.
Location: Hayward, Wisconsin Size: 13,000
Anybody who’s ever carved their way through a four-by-four knows that lumberjacking is one heck of a workout. Competitors in the Lumberjack World Championships take it up a notch (or six billion), sawing their way through giant logs, logrolling across bodies of water, and climbing 60- to 90- foot poles with frighteningly scant safety gear in front of an audience of tens of thousands of lumber aficionados.
Location: Asheville, North Carolina Size: 20,000 +
MSF features a weekend of music and sports designed to celebrate athletics, community, and Asheville’s local businesses. Featuring rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running, kids’ races, yoga, paddling, and even ultimate Frisbee and dodgeball tournaments, the festival showcases the fact that fitness can be universal — and universally fun.
Location: Various Size: 11 million + spectators; 10,000 + athletes
We’d never heard of them, but apparently the Olympic Games are kind of a big deal. Perhaps the “original” fitness festival, the Olympics date back to the time of ancient Greeks, who duked it out in the nude in the name of Gods and personal victory. Nowadays, the Olympic Games bring nations together for some good old-fashioned sporting in what is perhaps one of the grandest celebrations of the human body and the wild things it can do.
Location: Springfield, Missouri Size: 1,600 +
It’s a wellness conference! It’s a marathon! It’s committed to environmental conservation! It’s all of the above! The Outdoor Fitness Festival celebrates the outdoors, getting active, and coming together as a community over the course of several days filled with runs, bike rides, and healthy living presentations.
Location: Various Size: 200,000 + spectators; 500 – 4,000 athletes
Close cousin to the Olympics, the Paralympic Games originated in 1948 as a sporting competition for World War II veterans with spinal injuries — and thus the Paralympic Movement was born. Now held the same year as the Olympic Games, the Paralympics bring together disabled athletes from across the world to compete in events ranging from Biathlons to Nordic Skiing and Ice Sledge Hockey, proving that “disabled” and “athlete” are not mutually exclusive terms.
Location: Various locations and dates
Size: 20,000 +
Wanderlust’s primary mission is to “create community around mindful living.” For the lustful wanderers behind these festivals, practicing yoga, eating well, being green, and being aware of health and wellness issues of people and the planet lead to this mindfulness. The Wanderlust festivals round up renowned yoga teachers, top chefs and winemakers, big-name speakers and musical acts, and thousands of participants in gorgeous outdoor settings for “choose-your-own-adventure” days that sound almost too idyllic, packed with meditation hikes, yoga, kayaking, local and organic foods, live music, and poolside conversations over locally made biodynamic wine.
Location: Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada Size: 50,000
It originated in 1967, with 200 intrepid “tubbers” trying to navigate a 36-mile course from Nanaimo Bay to Vancouver’s Fisherman’s Cove (47 of them made it). The event has since evolved into a World Championships Bathtub Race coupled with a four-day long Marine Festival dedicated to all water sports. Luckily for the racers, they’re allowed to attach their tubs to motorized boats (we can’t imagine how much energy it would take to “row” a tub…) — but old bathtubs are still an integral part of race day.
Location: Vienna, Austria Size: 2,500 +
One of Europe’s largest sports festivals for young athletes, the World Sports Festival brings together competitors from more than 25 countries all over the world. Amateur athletes, sports clubs, and school teams ranging in age from 11 to 21 can compete in 13 sporting events in an Olympic-style atmosphere. The idea is cultivate global enthusiasm for sports and provide healthy opportunities for the world’s youth.
Healthy Food Festivals
Location: Berkeley Springs, West Virginia Size: 100 + water entries; number of spectators not disclosed Water is its own kind of “health food,” and apparently there’s pretty stiff competition over whose water is best: Since it started 22 years ago the International Water Tasting has judged entrants from 46 states and 43 countries representing every continent but Africa. The largest and longest running water tasting competition in the world, Berkeley Springs’ judges taste-test municipal waters, purified drinking water, and bottled waters before announcing winners in all categories (including a “People’s Choice” award that lets attendees get in on the action). The event also features seminar speakers to address issues affecting global water systems. Check out 2012’s list of winners here.
Location: Carpinteria, California Size: 100,000
“Three days of peace, love, and guacamole!” Main features include recipe contests to drool for, live music, non-profit vendors, a commitment to going green, and (of course) our dear, delicious, super avocado. AvoFest is held in California’s prime avocado-producing region, where a single avocado tree can produce up to 200 pounds of fruit each year (approximately 500 avocados). We’ll take six trees, please!
Location: Orlando, Florida Size: 250 vendors; number of attendees not disclosed
Now in its seventh year, VegFest is a rapidly growing vegetarian festival that’s received attention from folks across the country. Featuring healthy-living speakers, massage, yoga classes, and vegetarian vendors, the festival seeks to educate participants about how to improve their health, the lives of animals, and the health of the planet.
Location: Orange, Virginia Size: 5,000 + The tagline of Virginia’s Edible Food Fest is “celebrating food from farm to table”, and it does so through chef demos, presentations by big-name chefs and sustainability experts, food samples, and the participations of dozens of leading vendors from the local and sustainable food movement.
Location: Pullman, Washington Size: 26,000
The Palouse Region is responsible for growing a quarter of the lentils produced in the United States — so in 1989 area residents started hosting a festival to celebrate, as the event’s organizers so poetically phrase it, “this wonderful little legume.” Turns out lentils are pretty wonderful: they’re a superfood that’s high in protein and nutrients like iron and potassium, and studies have found consuming these unassuming little plants can reduce inflammation. Thus, any celebration of lentils qualifies as a “healthy festival” in our book!
Location: Portland, Oregon Size: 6,300
Featuring more than 120 “veg-savvy” exhibitors, healthy cooking demos from celebrity chefs, inspiring talks from pro-veggie doctors, and hundreds of healthy, veg-friendly food samples, Northwest VegFest brings people together to celebrate the health benefits of plant-based foods. The festival teaches anyone (even the omnivores in the group) how to incorporate veggies into their daily lives.
Location: Portland, Oregon Size: Not disclosed
We’ve awarded berries “superfood” status before, but this award is paltry compared to the festival Portland holds in berries’ honor. Featuring healthy cooking demonstrations and workshops, local and health-conscious vendors wholly dedicated to Oregon berries, and booths jam-packed (pun intended) with doctors, nutritionists, chefs, and herbalists sharing the good news about berries.
Location: Santa Barbara, California Size: 7,000
Created by local community members, the Sol Food Festival is dedicated to raising awareness for the principles of sustainable, organic, and local food systems and for members of these food systems in Santa Barbara. The event is packed with real live local farmers, workshops and discussions, and local food, wine, and beer.
Location: Naperville, Illinois Size: 25,000
This veg-centric celebration brings together hundreds of vendors and contributors for a day packed with health and wellness talks (on topics such as “Meditation and Emotional Wellness” and “Plant Based Foods for an Athletic Lifestyle”), healthy food prep demos, how-to home gardening tips, a massive vegetarian food court (of course), and even an art show.
Location: Bridgeville, Delaware Size: 110,000 attendees; 3,000 contestants
This festival has cornered the market on both health and fitness. Not only does it center around the illustrious pumpkin — a superfood if there ever was one — but it also encourages some strength training and cardio… in the form of chucking said pumpkins as far as humanly possible. The record? More than 3,000 feet into the wind — though that was with the help of a catapult (for some reason, “catapulting” doesn’t show up in our workout tracker…).
Happy Festivals and Other Health-Related Festivals
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico Size: 800,000 +
The world’s largest hot air balloon festival fills the sky over Albuquerque’s gorgeous landforms with hundreds of balloons at a time. Participants can delight in the sights with feet firmly planted on the ground or (if feeling adventurous) pay for a ride up. Either way, the sight of all these colors in a gorgeous sky is making us feel pretty happy.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Dedicated to the sports-centric screenwriting and filmmaking, the All Sports Film Festival is in its fourth year. It aims to give filmmakers a platform to share stories about the world of competitive sports — both mental and physical, from badminton to chess. This year’s festival screened 56 films from ten countries. After the screenings, a respected panel of judges from the film and sporting industries select their favorites —making this competition a “sport” all its own.
Location: Coral Gables, FL Size: Not disclosed
Featuring healthy-living conferences, seminars, and workshops (on topics ranging from Qi Gong and Spiritual Acupuncture, to Yoga Jams and organic food and wine), the Biltmore Health and Wellness Festival spans three days dedicated to holistic healthy living. Part of this event is the Acufest, a day-long celebration of healthy living featuring 150 exhibits, lectures, workshops, and classes dedicated to health and wellness.
Location: Boryeong, South Korea Size: 3 million
There might be nothing more fun than throwing caution, social convention, and basic hygiene to the wind and diving into a giant mud pit with a bunch of strangers. People attending the Boryeong Mud Festival (one of Korea’s biggest) can participate in events like mud wrestling, the “Mud King Contest”, mud sliding, an “extreme training experience” on a mud course (similar to army boot camp), and something called a “mud fireworks fantasy” (we’re not sure exactly what that consists of, so use your imagination). Folks can rinse off at the nearby beach, or take a calmer approach to the whole thing by getting a mud massage.
Location: across the U.S. (L.A., San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.)
Size: 20,000 + at each festival
A project of Green America and Global Exchange, Green Festival is the largest sustainability event in the world. The festivals celebrate sustainable developments for communities, business, and the environment and provide people with information they need to make their lives healthier socially, economically, and environmentally. The festivals feature community discussions, program and product showcases, expert presentations, how-to workshops, films, a variety of vegetarian foods, and organic beer and wine. Every exhibitor is screened for their commitment to the environment and social justice, and the festival itself is striving to become a zero-waste event.
Location: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Size: 2,000 +
The goal of the Lifestyle Festival is to promote healthy (you guessed it) lifestyles in a music festival setting. The weekend-long event includes a Health Awareness Day dedicated to providing health information, products, and services to the people of the Virgin Islands. With a large focus on diabetes, the fair includes free health screenings, a lecture series, and general health and nutrition information. Then it’s time to work in some cardio at a rip-roarin’ beach party.
Location: throughout India (as well as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and other areas with large Hindu populations)
Size: 80,000 +
Talk about a happy-making event: Each year, thousands of people come together for a celebration dedicated to color, contentment, and community building. After an energetic round of color powder throwing (similar in practice to the Color Run), participants are invited to shrug off what’s bad in their lives, embrace what’s good, and embrace each other (literally) in this festival dedicated to reenergizing communities and promoting joy.
Location: Kawasaki, Japan Size: 30,000 +
At first glance — well, at first glance, you might be shocked, so let’s say “at second glance” — the Kanamara Festival in Japan might seem like a shrine to large phallic statues. But in actuality, this celebration is for a very good, very “healthy,” cause: It’s dedicated to fertility and awareness of Sexually Transmitted Infections, particularly AIDS. Their methods may be unusual, but we’ve gotta say they’re also highly effective — who isn’t going to look twice at these statues (or the photos of them), and try to find out what they’re all about? If a couple of giant penis statues is what it takes to get people talking about AIDS, then we say go for it.
Location: Valencia, Spain
Tomatoes are a useful and much-beloved fruit — but that doesn’t stop participants in Spain’s La Tomatina Festival from hurling them at each other. The festival dates back to 1945, when a non-tomato-related festival devolved into a (tomato) “bloodbath” at a nearby vegetable stall. The next year, teenagers tried to reenact the tomato fight, only to be stopped by authorities. The tomato flinging was banned throughout the 1950s, but a few brave souls persisted in trying to keep the event alive. Thanks to these tomato activists’ commitment, the ceremony of flinging tomatoes at each other was eventually granted sovereign status — and it’s grown every year since.
Location: throughout Thailand
Size: Number undisclosed
A multi-day public water fight? It’s either your idea of heaven or your idea of hell, but nobody on the street is spared as the “fight” breaks out across big cities and tiny villages, making it (temporarily) socially acceptable for strangers from all walks of life to dump buckets of cold water on each other and wander down streets with giant super soakers cocked and loaded. In addition to being a blast, the holiday is dedicated to (literally) washing away the old and welcoming in the new year.
Location: New York, NY
Size: 300,000 +
Most people have heard of the Tribeca Film Festival, but it was news to us that the event includes an entire day dedicated to Sports. Local athletes, mascots, and sports personalities shoot hoops, fence, practice pitching, and participate in other sporting events with fans and festival participants, while professional BMXers and soccer “tricksters” put on exciting displays of the human body’s athletic abilities. The ultimate goal? Bring sports to the streets!
Location: Camden, Maine Size: 5,000 + spectators; 1,300 + racers
Tobagganing might not get much attention for its caloric burn, but we’re willing to bet these intrepid sledders are working hard. But fitness isn’t necessarily the focus of this wintertime event, which seems to be more about gettin’ happy and having a good time out on the slopes. (With toboggan team names like “Nothing to Luge,” “Moose Droppings,” and “Naughty Nurses on Wood,” we’re guessing contestants don’t take this event too seriously —and that’s fine by us, because it looks totally awesome as is).
Disclaimer: The festivals on this list were selected based on their clear commitment to fitness, health, or happiness (or some combination of the three). Our choices were also based on community participation: With few exceptions, the events featured here draw thousands of people, and we also valued events that give back. Whenever possible, we looked for festivals on the zanier side (because who doesn’t get happy at the sight of people paddling a canoe on land?). And — let’s be honest — some of this was also determined by festivals’ internet presence: We can’t write about something if we can’t find out about it. If you know of a fit, healthy, and/or happy festival that wasn’t included here, share it with us in the comments and we’ll take a closer look for next year!
Got any festivals to add? Been to any of the sweet ones listed here? Share in comments below!