Do a survey of cities, towns, and other settled communities in the western hemisphere. It should be no surprise that many of these take on emblems and identity symbols inspired by local natural flora and fauna. The chosen species are usually those that are graceful, strong, majestic, or otherwise inspiring. But citizens of one town in the San Francisco Bay Area of California have chosen to buck this trend.
Gilroy, a town with a population of about 50,000, is located in Santa Clara County just south of San Jose, plumb in the middle of California’s world-famous Wine Country. Yet, neither the lolling vineyards nor their vintage boutique wines have inspired the city’s identity. The other agricultural product of this area (and one that many would consider inauspicious if not outright nefarious) is garlic. Yes, Gilroy, California, is the undisputed garlic capital of the world.
Gilroy: Where the Garlic is All But Deified
It has been said that Gilroy’s embrace of garlic is more than an obsession. A first-time visitor and chronicler famously noted that the town had deified the garlic in all but name. There may not be an explicit temple dedicated to the garlic in Gilroy. Still, at every turn, very bold symbols and monuments are dedicated to and inspired by the bulbous vegetable.
The Garlic City Brand
You do not have to go too far into or around Gilroy to witness the residents’ obsession with their iconic vegetable. Almost every business of consequence in the town has a “Garlic City” prefix. There is nothing subtle about it: the Garlic City brand is boldly overt and all-pervading at every turn. Right off Highway 101, which virtually cuts the town into two, you will encounter bold signage and billboards announcing establishments such as Garlic City Cafe, Garlic City Barbers, Garlic City Casino, and many others of the same ilk. Here, garlic is not only the king of all vegetables but the muse inspiring the city’s beat and rhythm. Building after building in downtown Gilroy also features the iconic white bulbs in a branding style that is both bold and eclectic.
An All-Pervading Smell
When the garlic harvest season kicks into gear from June to September, the town and surrounding farmlands take on a different aura. The distinctive smell of garlic is omnipresent around the town. Those transiting through Gilroy by car to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other Californian cities are treated to the odoriferous wafts. Returning indoors for some respite is the only way to escape the smell. However, residents of Gilroy are immune to the scourge. To them, the smell is a good thing and one they take enormous pride in. As usual, they go about their business, even reveling in the vile atmosphere.
The “garlic.com” Top Level Domain
Perhaps there is no better proof that Gilroy is the undisputed garlic capital of the world than the fact that a local internet service provider has offered town residents a unique email top-level domain. That domain, you guessed right, is “garlic.com. The offer has been taken on by local businesses and individuals keen to showcase Gilroy’s unique heritage.
What Makes Gilroy City Special
If you are looking to visit a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable and eccentric place, you could not go wrong with a quixotic trip to Gilroy. Here is a look at what makes Gilroy such a special place for those interested in enjoying a memorable trip and gastronomic adventure.
A Case Study in Turning Adversity to an Advantage
Since its incorporation as a city, Gilroy has always attracted attention. Dozens of books, films, and documentaries have been made to celebrate Gilroy and its garlic obsession. These works range from the congratulatory to the satirical and on to those which outright ridicule the town’s unconventional identity image.
Perhaps no other literary work showcases the tale of Gilroy and its garlic obsession more than “Garlic Capital of the World: Gilroy, Garlic, and the Making of a Festive Foodscape” by Pauline Adema. The author, a self-styled culinary anthropologist and folklorist, offers an in-depth look at the history and contemporary identity of this unique northern California city. She recounts how an urban community used reverse psychology to turn a nefarious reputation into a wildly successful tourism attraction. The book illustrates how a collective community effort can transform adversity into a decisive advantage. For this alone, your visit to Gilroy is worth your time and money.
Stunning Outdoor Scenery
As farming towns go, Gilroy offers one of northern California’s most outstanding outdoor vistas. Since the weather is mild throughout the year, options for outdoor activities such as camping or RV family adventures are endless. Dozens of local enterprises offer adventure seekers exquisite packages in outdoor settings. These include horse riding, bird watching, and hiking. You can get even more offers by checking the classified sections of local dairies, especially the region’s oldest weekly publication: Gilroy Dispatch.
The Best of Both Worlds
Rarely do you find a place that combines the old and the new, as does Gilroy. Take a walk along the main thoroughfares, and you’ll be spoilt for choice as a consumer with all the plush strip malls, fashion outlets, and gourmet restaurants. Take a turn to downtown Gilroy, and you are immediately in a bygone era.
Top 5 Must Do’s in Gilroy and Santa Clara County
Here is a list of the top 5 must do’s on your first visit to Gilroy, California:
1. Visit the Christopher Ranch Facility
The city of Gilroy, like many other cities and towns in California whose mainstay has been agriculture for eons, is experiencing a rapid transformation of its demographics and economy. Indeed much of the agricultural land where garlic used to be grown has now been transformed into part of the San Jose urban sprawl incorporating malls, gated suburban housing, and outlet stores, with most of Gilroy’s population being made of Silicon Valley commuters rather than farmers.
The changing economy of Gilroy and the entire San Jose metropolitan area means very little garlic is grown in or around the town. Indeed, much of the putrid smell which engulfs the streets, especially on hot afternoons in July to September, come not from garlic fields but from Christopher Ranch: a gargantuan garlic peeling, roasting, and grating factory. The garlic processing plant was founded in 1965 by Don Christopher as a family business.
Christopher Ranch’s garlic production operations in Gilroy all take place between the months of June and September. Over the three-month period, the factory prepares and packages a year’s worth of American-grown garlic. At present, that amounts to well over 100 million tons of garlic. Over half of this production is stored in cold storage, effectively putting the garlic in stasis. Christopher ranch has invested a lot of money to put up cold storage facilities, building a series of white buildings whose interior temperatures are lowered to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and all oxygen is pumped out.
While visiting Christopher Ranch at the height of their production season is a great treat, all is not lost if you are in Gilroy at another time of year. During the off-season, you can still get a guided tour of the facility. The Christopher family still runs the operation. If you are lucky, you may be in time to enjoy a guided tour by Ken Christopher, a grandson of the ranch’s founder.
2. Attend the Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival
The Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival is the major reason many people know about Gilroy at all. A large percentage of them are those for whom the festival is the only thing they know about this northern California town.
The Gilroy garlic festival takes place annually over the last complete weekend of July. Since it was first held in 1979, the festival has become one of the largest and best known food festivals in America. The only exception was 2020, when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on large gatherings.
3. Sample Garlic Delights at Garlic World
Garlic World is a Gilroy garlic specialty store just off Highway 101 from San Francisco. The facility combines a gourmet food section, a fruit stand, and a mementos gift shop. Their specials include garlic ice cream, garlic braids, and pickled garlic. In particular, their garlic ice cream is a must-have delight, especially if your stopover happens in one of those swirling hot California afternoons. But Garlic World is a lot more than just about garlic. You can buy plenty of locally grown fresh produce, honey, dried fruit, and even the best gourmet wines from the best Santa Clara county vineyards.
Founded by Don Christopher and Carolyn Tognetti in 1986, Garlic World is yet another reminder of how much the Christopher family has influenced the identity of Gilroy. While a substantial proportion of Garlic World’s customers come from the local community, tourists and adventure seekers keen to sample the eccentricity of Gilroy feel compelled to make a stop at the family store and
As you would expect, a visit to Garlic World is most fulfilling at the height of the Gilroy garlic festival. You will get all the garlic treats at their freshest. Moreover, the festive atmosphere adds an extra sense of occasion to your experience.
4. Enjoy Roaring Fun at the Gilroy Gardens Amusement Park
Gilroy Gardens is a family-themed amusement park. Its major attractions are Gill and Roy, the bulbous-shaped garlic mascots. The park’s rides include agriculture-inspired swings, twirls, and coasters. There are also water features and gardens aplenty to inspire loads of family fun activities.
5. Take a Trip Down Historic Downtown Gilroy
Downtown Gilroy is a pristinely preserved historic district. Marvel at architectural masterpieces that have weathered over a century of California’s sunny climate and earthquakes. The best representative of this character is the Old City Hall, a Greystone and terra cotta building in the distinctive Californian Mission Revival architectural style. There are also plenty of antique stores and specialty boutiques to whet your appetite for novelties and curios.
People also ask
What city grows the most garlic?
Did you know that Gilroy, California is commonly referred to as the “Garlic Capital of the World” due to its role in producing most of the garlic supply in the United States? In fact, around 80% of fresh garlic sold in America comes from Gilroy.
Why is Gilroy the garlic capital of the world?
Gilroy, California, has a reputation for being the “Garlic Capital of the World” because of its history of garlic production. The town is responsible for around 80% of all fresh garlic sales in the United States because of its excellent climate and fertile soil for growing garlic. Additionally, the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, which celebrates all things garlic, has helped cement its status as the World’s Garlic Capital.
Gilroy is known for its skill in agriculture and its cuisine that features garlic in many creative ways. These range from garlic ice cream to pickled garlic cloves, making the ingredient versatile and limitless.
How much garlic comes from Gilroy?
Gilroy, California, provides approximately 80% of fresh garlic sold in the US. The city has optimal climate and soil conditions for garlic production. The annual Gilroy Garlic Festival also plays a role in boosting its reputation as an agricultural hub. In addition to fresh garlic, Gilroy is known for producing dried fruit, honey, and gourmet wine.