The Best of Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest in the United States calls up images of beer gardens, rich German food, polka bands, and women in dirndl dresses serving large steins of beer.  Rarely do we think of horse racing and royal weddings, but that is how the tradition started. When King Ludwig I of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810, the kingdom’s citizens were invited to a festival held to celebrate the occasion. The horse races that marked the end of the celebration were so popular that they were repeated the following year. As time went on, the festival became more and more elaborate and eventually became the annual celebration we now know as Oktoberfest.

Today, you don’t have to travel to Bavaria to enjoy the food, beer, music and carnival amusements of this popular festival.  Southern California offers plenty of opportunities to raise a glass (or stein) with other enthusiasts.  Here are a few of our favorite local Oktoberfest celebrations:

La Mesa Oktoberfest

Billed as the largest Oktoberfest celebration in San Diego County, much of the village of La Mesa will be taken over by beer gardens, carnival games and rides, and vendors of all kinds. Designed for the whole family, La Mesa’s Oktoberfest hosts family-friendly activities at the German Kinder Karneval including a Ferris wheel, inflatable slides, scavenger hunts, and a weiner dog race! The festival will also feature constant performances by a variety of local and regional bands.

Cost: Free
Dates: Friday, September 28 through Sunday, September 30

Ocean Beach Oktoberfest

If you’re looking for a little more beach in your bier garten, head over to Ocean Beach for two weekends of live music, beer, bites, vendors and fun.  Don’t miss the cornhole tournament or contests including the sausage toss, bratwurst-eating, and stein-holding contests.  This party doesn’t cater as much to the kids so if you’re heading down it’s probably best to get a babysitter.

Cost: Free
$5 Entrance to beer garden
Dates: Friday, October 12 & Saturday, October 13


El Cajon Oktoberfest

The German American Societies of San Diego will host two weekends of celebration in honor of Oktoberfest.  Attractions include dancing to an authentic German band, the Guggenbach-Baum; performances of traditional folk dances; games, contests and craft booths; German beers and liquors; and traditional German food including bratwurst, ox-on-the-spit, potato pancakes, pretzels and German pastries.  This is an Oktoberfest for the entire family!

Cost: Free
Dates: September 28 – 30, October 5 – 7

Carlsbad Oktoberfest & Family Fall Festival

Self-proclaimed as North County’s longest running Oktoberfest, this family-friendly festival is a fundraiser for the Carlsbad Rotary Club.  In addition to live music, and German food and beer, there will also be Oktoberfest-themed costume and yodeling contests!  Attractions for the kids include a pumpkin patch, pumpkin decorating, jump houses, face painting, balloon animals and more.  This celebration will be a day full of fun that benefits some great charitable organizations.  See a complete list of the Rotary Club’s beneficiaries here.

Costs: Meal & Admission – $15 in advance
Admission only – $5
Admission only for children under 10 – Free
Date: Saturday, October 6

Big Bear Oktoberfest

Running every weekend in September and October as well as the first Saturday in November, this is your festival if you just can’t get enough Oktoberfest.  In addition to traditional German festival food and a variety of beers, attendees can look forward to live bands direct from Germany, dance performances and contests.  See the complete entertainment schedule here.

The Kinder Garten keeps the kids happy with great attractions like a bounce house, mechanical bull, carnival games, a balloon artist, face painter, and airbrush tattoos.  There are also free children’s contests every Sunday at 3PM.

Cost: Vary by date – Details and tickets here
Dates: September 8 – 9, 15 – 16, 22 – 23, 29 -30
October 6 – 7, 13 – 14, 20 – 21, 27 – 28
November 3