Houston is flush with great festivals. Our mild winters and open spaces make festivals pretty much a year-round thing. We've decided to look at the top festivals in the area. Now keep in mind, we're not looking at events where music or food are the main attraction; these are family-friendly cultural and arts events. Our list includes everything from the small-ish Japan Festival to the mega-monster iFest, the Christmas holiday celebration Festival of Lights to the fest that defies categorization, The Art Car Parade Weekend. See who tops our list - and who didn't make the cut.
10. The Houston Children's Festival The largest of its kind in the country, the Houston Children's Festival celebrates its 25th year in 2013. Rated "one of the world's 300 unmissable events" by Frommer's Travel Guides, HCF attracks some 50,000 people a year with six stages scheduled with non-stop celebrity appearances and performances, some 300 games, crafts and activities, a petting zoo, food and more. HCF benefits Child Advocates, a group of volunteers that work with abused and neglected kids.
This year's Houston Children's Festival is scheduled for April 6 and 7 at City Hall.
9. Houston Festa Italiana Okay, we admit one of the main draws for the Houston Festa Italiana is the food - come on, who can resist the mountains of spaghetti, lasagna and sweets that get dished up over the course of the weekend? But food's not the only attraction. Along with cooking demos with celebrity chefs, wine tastings, there's plenty of entertainment including live music and folk dancers, a grape stomp, films, puppet shows and family activities.
Houston Festa Italiana occurs in the fall on the campus of St. Thomas University.
8. The Festival of Lights The Christmastime Festival of Lights on Galveston Island features thousands and thousands of twinkling lights. The Moody Gardens grounds are filled with seasonal scenes, each aglow in lights and many with sound and automation. Santa usually drops in - literally, he jumps out of a plane and parachutes down to the festival. Singing carolers stroll the walkways and there's more entertainment inside. Christmas dinner is served all month long at the Gardens' restaurant. Buy a Moody Gardens attraction pass and a Festival admission for the best bargain.
The Festival of Lights is slated for the Christmas season at Moody Gardens.
7. Japan Festival We stumbled onto Japan Festival several years ago. It was a small festival with activities spilling out from the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park to food stalls surrounding the Reflection Pool. The festival has grown every year, and while Japan Festival is still centered on the Reflection Pool, it's spreading out to take over more and more of the park. A bustling crowd gathers around multiple stages that feature jpop music and traditional (the Taiko drummers always attract a big crowd), folk dancing, martial arts demonstrations, karaoke and anime / Cosplay activities and contests. Food and craft stalls have an ever-growing variety of offerings.
2013 Japan Festival is scheduled for April 13 and 14 at Hermann Park.
6. Bayou City Art Festival The Bayou City Art Festival takes over Memorial Park in the spring and downtown in the fall, turning each area into a giant art gallery. At the center of the festival is an abundance of visual art - each festival features one artist, while dozens others exhibit their work. This spring the featured artists are partners Signe and Genna Grushovenko. Performing artists share several stages; Lady Beatrice Ward, Trio Control, Texas Johnny Brown, Rajarajeshwary Bhat and Mariachi Imperial are among the multicultural musical acts set to perform.
The next Bayou City Art Festival is set for March 22 to 24 at Memorial Park.
5. The Houston Greek Festival A long time favorite of festival fans is the Houston Greek Festival. There's plenty of food, live music, folk dancing, family activities and vendors offering imported clothes, jewelry and music.
The next Original Greek Festival Houston is scheduled for the fall at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral complex.
4. Dickens on the Strand The Galveston Historical Foundation already has the next Dickens on the Strand in the planning stage, even though it won't happen for another eight months. Although the festival recalls London during the time of Charles Dickens, it has kept up with the times in that futuristic Steam Punk characters now mingle with the lords and ladies in Victorian dress.
Dickens on the Strand makes a point of having non-stop entertainment. Several stages boast live music acts from around the region, while roving street musicians and entertainers keep visitors happy as they make their way from one stage to another. There are plenty of street peddlers - in costume - hawking jewelry, crafts, gifts and, of course, food. Expect a parade or two and lots of reenactments (though we can't guarantee you won't hear a Texas twang slip in among the English accents every once in a while).
Dickens on the Strand is set for December 7 and 8 in Galveston Island's Strand District.
3. Texas Renaissance Festival The Texas Renaissance Festival snags our number three slot because not only is it huge, but because it's a different festival every weekend. One week it's Octoberfest, the next it's All Hallows Eve. One week, the grounds are filled with swashbuckling pirates or rowdy barbarians, the next it's lads from Scotland or royals from the Celtic court. Go in costume or just ogle all the wenches in their tight, push-up corsets. And please, go hungry. Those giant turkey legs don't eat themselves, you know.
The next Texas Renaissance Festival is scheduled for October and December at the Texas Renaissance Festival fairgrounds near Plantersville.
2. The Houston Art Car Parade The sentimental favorite on our list has to be the Houston Art Car Parade. Weird, wacky, and completely in keeping with its Orange Show beginnings, the Parade is actually just the centerpiece to a weekend-long celebration. There's also a big party at Discovery Green, an Art Car Ball, an awards ceremony and brunch, and countless unofficial smaller events. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Art Car Parade so we expect it to be a complete blow-out. (There were 300+ entries last year.) Of course, it's more than just art cars, there are also art bikes, tricked out lowriders and what are best described as contraptions in the mix as well.
The next Houston Art Car Weekend is set for early May at various downtown locations.
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1. iFest Topping our list at number one is the super-festival iFest. Each year the festival celebrates the culture of a different country. For 2013, it's going to be Brazil. Entertainment with a Brazilian accent includes Capoeira Kalunga N'Golo and Morena Soul. Other musical acts include the very non-Brazilian Bootsy Collins, Los Lobos and Aaron Neville. Besides the live music, dance and cultural performances, there's a big art market with vendors from around the world and yes, tons of food. We've voted iFest the best place to people watch back in 2007. One of our 2012 slideshows shows you why.
iFest 2013 is set for April 20 to 28 at City Hall.