Every spring, the city of Chandler (located about 20 miles from downtown Phoenix) plays host to one of the quirkiest festivals in the southwest: the Chandler Ostrich Festival. The three-day event is held every March at Tumbleweed Park, attracting about 100,000 visitors every year.
The main draw at the festival is the ostrich racing event, featuring a handful of riders who attempt to race the large, flightless birds to the finish line. The results are an unpredictable spectator event that is both funny and full of nail-biting suspense, as the crowd cheers on the fearless riders struggling to stay atop the seven-foot-tall birds.
Ostrich races are scheduled throughout each day of the festival, which also includes exotic foods, carnival games and more.
The Chandler Ostrich Festival, featuring the popular ostrich races, is held every March — Photo courtesy of Chandler Ostrich Festival
Ostriches, which have been raised on Arizona farms for decades, are not only the star attraction at the festival, but they are also on the menu. Food stands at the festival sell ostrich burgers, ostrich jerky and even ostrich steaks. Festival organizers say that ostrich meat – which tastes like a cross between turkey and beef – is both low in fat and cholesterol.
If ostrich isn't your thing, stacks of smoked turkey legs and exotic snacks like deep-fried Cajun frog legs are also available for consumption. Other foods include fried catfish, Rocky Mountain oysters, smoked trout, salmon, emu jerky, deep-fried brownies and alligator po' boys. Beef burgers, pizza and other more traditional fair foods are also on hand to feed hungry festival-goers.
Vendors at the festival sell unique arts and crafts items, including ostrich-related souvenirs like ostrich feather dusters and ostrich eggs. Other popular items for sale include emu-related beauty products like emu lotions and soaps. Did you know emu oil is known for its naturally moisturizing and skin rejuvenating properties?
The family-friendly festival also offers carnival rides and games and live music throughout the day on two stages. Past festival performers have included Three Dog Night, A Flock of Seagulls and Edwin McCain.
Other big attractions include a petting zoo; a "shark encounter" exhibition with live sharks; a bungee trampoline; pony and camel rides; a flight simulator; and Free Drop USA, a free-fall attraction where brave jumpers leap from a 30-foot platform onto a giant airbag.
Adult tickets to the Chandler Ostrich Festival are $10, with discounts available for seniors and children. There are additional fees for rides, attractions, food and parking. The laughs and ostrich photo ops are always free, though.
The stands fill up quickly, so be sure to grab a seat at least 30 minutes before the races for the best views of the ostrich action.