Want to try or see something you’ve never done before? Looking to explore more of the rich culture of the United States? There are amazing events all over the U.S. throughout the calendar year. Some events are geographically independent, while others are deeply connected to their location, rooted in history. Here are 10 of the most unique and exciting nationwide activities to add to your calendar.
1. Games Done Quick — January and June or July
Games Done Quick is a bi-annual speedrunning charity event for the twitchiest of gamers. Here you can watch top-level speedrunners compete to complete video games, both old and new, in record time. The competition is intense, spanning an entire week. Gamers quite literally push the limits of what is possible within a game, finishing them at breakneck speeds. If you’ve never seen speedrunning before, your favorite game might look unrecognizable compared to how it’s usually played.
The best part? Since it began in 2010, GDQ has raised millions of dollars for charities like the Prevent Cancer Foundation and Doctors Without Borders. So while GDQ won’t be held in person this year, you can still catch it on Twitch from the comfort of your home. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover your new favorite kind of esport.
2. Sundance Film Festival — January
Do you like movies but feel tired of seeing the same old stories in theaters every year? If you’re looking for fresh, new ideas, then check out the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It’s the largest independent annual film festival in the United States. Here you’ll see original works by some of the world’s most promising upcoming directors. You’ll find everything from full-length feature films and documentaries to short films and pilots.
If you consider yourself a true artiste, you might even consider entering the competition yourself. Since it began in 1978, Sundance has been the breakout opportunity many aspiring directors hunt for. Famous films such as Saw, Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite, Reservoir Dogs, and Whiplash garnered attention and traction at Sundance. Three films received eight Oscar nominations in 2016 alone. So if you want to see new and inspired ideas in motion, this is the perfect event to attend.
3. Super Bowl Sunday — February
Speaking of small indie projects, have you ever heard of this one called the Super Bowl? A small group called the National Football League has been hosting it every year since 1967. Super Bowl Sunday is the culmination championship game of the 18-week American Football season. And you’ll never guess what day of the week it’s on.
All jokes aside, whether you like sports or not, the Super Bowl is truly a spectacle to behold. Not only do you get to watch the best football teams of the year duke it out. You also get to see the famous Half-Time Show, where celebrity entertainers go all out with incredible performances. Often considered an unofficial national holiday, Super Bowl Sunday is a fantastic event you won’t forget. (Unless you drink too much.)
4. Mardi Gras — February
French for “Fat Tuesday,” Mardis Gras is an event as unique and colorful as New Orleans. While Mardis Gras is celebrated worldwide, New Orleans is the city it’s most known for in America. Mardi Gras is named so as, historically, it’s the last night to enjoy eating rich, fatty foods before Lent. The first instance of a Mardis Gras celebration was as early as 1699 in what was then French Louisiana. The first modern celebration with parades in New Orleans was in 1837, making Mardis Gras one of the oldest events on the list.
The New Orleans’ Mardis Gras is a massive, colorful event full of parades, costumes, music, and great food. Incredibly unique, it’s a bucket list item for many people. Just be careful if you’re thinking about bringing your family or have an aversion to bare breasts. There might be a few flying free amidst the beads.
5. Sugar Sand Festival — April
On the other hand, what could be more family-friendly than building sand castles? Hosted on the beautiful Clearwater Beach, the Sugar Sand Festival invites the best sand sculptors in America to give it their all. More than 14 sculptors use over 1000 tons of sand to create incredible but temporary works of art across 17 days. The event also raises money for the local community, generating upward of $32 million in economic impact.
While spots for the competition itself are limited, the sand is not. So bring your family to build your own little castles and sculptures while enjoying music, food, and the ocean breeze. It’s the perfect place and time for a visit to Florida if you just need to get away from it all.
6. Chicago Blues Fest — June
If you want to hear some of the best music in the world, look no further than the Chicago Blues Fest. While Chicago has incredible music shows and festivals throughout the year, the Blues Fest is the biggest and best. Why? It features some of the most prominent and upcoming blues artists in the industry. Simply put, it’s the most extensive free concert of its kind.
That’s right, besides amenities and all the usual travel expenses, the Chicago Blues Fest is completely free. Where else can you hear some of the best music in the world for free? The festival is held in beautiful Grant Park in downtown Chicago, right on the coast of Lake Michigan. It’s an event that’s hard to beat for the value and sheer fun you can have dancing in the sun.
7. Pride — June
The United States of America is a young country. As such, it is constantly evolving. One such area of transformation constantly fluctuating is the social tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. The annual Pride Parade is a celebration, demonstration of, and demand for further social acceptance and integration, culturally and legally. Whether you agree or disagree with what Pride represents, it’s nevertheless an essential tradition within American culture.
Pride was originally a march in response to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. It still serves as a reminder to this day, but it’s also a celebration of love between people. No matter how you identify, Pride is an entirely unique and largely welcoming event. The largest parades happen annually in NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco, though they occur nationwide and worldwide. It’s an incredible demonstration of the freedom of speech and expression possible in America.
8. San Diego Comic-Con — July
Nerds, geeks, and media lovers of all kinds rejoice! Dust off your capes and polish your glasses because Comic-Con is one of the best places to celebrate your enthusiasm. The San Diego Comic-Con, also just known as Comic-Con, is the largest convention of its kind in the world. People from all over come dressed up or dressed down as appropriate to celebrate everything sci-fi and fantasy.
At Comic-Con, you can cosplay, meet your favorite voice actor, get signed art, and preview the next big thing. It’s a fantastic hub of content creators, fans, and collectors where those who usually share online can finally meet in person. And, of course, there’s always incredible merch every year. As media culture becomes more and more mainstream, events like Comic-Con continue to grow. So if you are interested in sci-fi, fantasy, or self-made art, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket.
9. Burning Man — August
You wake up to the sound of a man chanting to the slow rhythm of a drum and the rising sun. You take a deep drink of water, go outside, and see a city of colorful tents surrounding your own. Somehow both fuzzy and clear, memories come back to you of last night in still-frames. Masked faces and dancing legs swirl colorful rings around a massive effigy engulfed in flames. As the sun grows taller and the heat rises, a smile spreads across your face: you can’t wait to do it again tonight.
If you embrace the weirder, artsier side of life, there’s no better place to celebrate it than in the desert with thousands of others like you. Burning Man is a massive week-long festival that takes place every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Artists, laypeople, and psychonauts from all over congregate to let their souls sing free. A place of pure expression, excellent music, and dust, Burning Man is a counter-cultural hub unlike any other.
10. New Year’s Eve, Times Square — December
It’s the end of the year, and it’s time to reign it all in — the good and the bad. Thousands of people gather to watch “the ball” drop from the top of the One Times Square building every year. This ball, 12 ft. in diameter and consisting of over 32,000 LEDs, drops down a specially designed flagpole. The drop begins at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31st and ends at midnight Jan.1st to the thunderous applause of all below.
The air is freezing, and the crowd is dense, but that doesn’t stop people from coming to celebrate the New Year. Couples kiss, and champagne is popped to inaugurate new beginnings. It’s an excellent and unique way to reign in the New Year. It’s one of the biggest celebrations anywhere in the United States.
The United States of America is a culturally diverse and exciting nation with many different traditions. These traditions are located all over the States, making them great incentives to explore new parts of the country. No matter what kind of person you are, there’s an annual event somewhere in America that will ring true for you. All it takes to get there is some research and a plane ticket.
Featured Image Credit: Anete Lusina; Pexels; Thank you!