Roadside California: World’s Largest Artichoke

What else are you going do when you come to the “Artichoke Capital of the World” (as the sign to Castroville, California boasts)?

Two things: take a photo next to the World’s Largest Artichoke and sample all-things-artichoke.

The giant artichoke sculpture is quickly visible once you get off Highway 156, just north of Monterey. Built in 1963, it’s made of concrete and rebar and stands 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It’s definitely popular, as far as vegetables go–on a recent stop there, kids hung from the sculpture’s protruding leaves, and a couple from LA posed for photos in front of it.

Next door at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant, a friend and I shared the giant artichoke platter: large steamed artichoke, fried artichoke hearts, and artichoke bread ($11.41). As someone who grew up enjoying playing with her food–and naturally loving artichokes–I was in heaven. Especially with those fried niblets.
And it turns out, it doesn’t matter what meal you’re there for–artichokes are always on the menu. Breakfast: artichoke eggs benedict ($9.99). Lunch: artichoke salad ($9.49). Dinner: artichoke pasta stir fry ($12.49).

Since 1959, Castroville has hosted an Artichoke Festival every May, but even before that it has crowned an Artichoke Queen. You might recognize the very first Artichoke Queen, crowned in 1947. Her name: Norma Jean, who went on to become Marilyn Monroe.

Appropriately, nearby Gilroy and Salinas have their own salad-inspiring monikers. Gilroy is the “Garlic Capital of the World” (and yes, you can smell it) and Salinas is the “Lettuce Capital of the World.”