May 21, 2003 -- We invested too much time and money on yet another festival this past weekend, and we reached a moment of truth: No more festivals.

After the Calabasas Pumpkin Festival, the Festival of Books and now the California Strawberry Festival, we feel confident that it would not behoove us to attend another festival in the near future.

Therefore, we will not be attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival, The Oakley Almond Festival, The Oakdale Chocolate Festival, and the California Avocado Festival.

And I'll bet they won't miss us either.

Last Saturday, we decided rather spontaneously to drive to Oxnard, and visit the 20th Annual California Strawberry Festival. Get out of the city, drive up to Ventura County, easy going, nibble on a few berries. Yeah, right.

Apparently, we had the same notion as about 33,000 other festival lovers - it was packed as tight as a mason jar of preserves.

Twice bitten, once shy, three times a lady or however the expression goes, we were sorry we went.

[Notice the line of about 75 cars on this one-lane street in Oxnard - holy traffic jam!]



Last Fall, we went to the Calabasas Pumpkin Festival, which was relatively awful. It was plenty popular - with cars stacked up at the Kanan Road exit and into the access road to get to the old Paramount Ranch.

$5.00 for the privilege of parking in a dusty, dirt field, plus $9.00 for adults, and $5.00 for children. $28.00 and we hadn't even walked in the door.


Normally very rustic and cool looking, for the pumpkin festival, Paramount Ranch was jam packed with ugly makeshift booths, temporary tents, stages and port-a-potties. Games, crafts, pumpkin painting, face painting, pony rides, music, food, and stuff to buy. Sounds great right? It really wasn't.

It was crowded, hot, and expensive. It also had nothing to do with pumpkins, the City of Calabasas, or any sort of local interest. One vendor was selling beautifully made Native American dream catchers. You from Calabasas? No, Burbank. The tie-dye t-shirt seller was from Santa Barbara.

This same mix of entertainment, merchandise booths, and food, could have been shipped up north and called the Oakley Almond Festival. Just add almonds.

Pumpkins. What an unusual, peculiar, and yet, incredibly unique festival theme. According to the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce website, it is generally accepted that the city got its name from Spanish "calabaza" or Chumash 'calahoosa' both of which mean pumpkin, squash, or gourd.

That's kind of cool. Were I the Czar of the Pumpkin Festival, I would have encouraged David's seeds to provide free pumpkin seeds, handed out by friendly David's employees. Coors brews a pumpkin beer. What about an old-fashioned bake-off with the most unusual pumpkin recipe? How about a horse-drawn pumpkin carriage? What about this Chumash connection? Anyone who dresses up like a pumpkin, gets a $2.00 discount.

Unfortunately, Calabasas Pumpkin Festival has officially gone corporate-generic, with an event that is like hundreds of others around the country.

The strawberry festival in Oxnard seems to have fallen into the same trap. Aside from the gruesome traffic to get in, long lines to buy tickets, expensive-for-what-you-get-admission prices, and absolute bumper-to-bumper-cheek-to-cheek crowds once inside, what the heck did it have to do with strawberries? Or Oxnard? Or us?

And so, here are my Top 5 solutions for Festival Planners. Feel free to take notes.

5. More room to breathe

Once the booths, and various stages and sections have been penciled in, spread it out even more. If visitors can move around without bumping into their fellow festival-goers, they can get to the booths to buy stuff. Merchants sell more. A classic win-win situation.

4. More shade and sitting areas please

It seems that at festivals it's always hot, dry, and crowded. Once you've planned for chairs and tables and umbrellas, add 25% more. The more seats and shade available, the more people can buy their $5.00 strawberry parfait and $2.75 beverage and sit down. Consider having staff members walking around with those spray fans to cool people off.

3. Make Your Festival Unique

Avoid the temptation of going to 'Festival Planners, Inc.' companies who seem to go to a catalog and pick 'Festival B' - which features, merchandise booths, food court, music stage, theatre stage, stuff for the kids and carnival rides. Look for unusual, fun things to make your festival different from the one in Gilroy.

2. Stick To Your Specific Theme

If it's a pumpkin festival, bring us pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin recipes, and Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater. At the Strawberry Festival, Smuckers was a sponsor, and Kellogg's was giving away samples of cereal with strawberries in it, but beyond that, not much else. And the strawberries available to buy were hard to find.

1. Whenever Possible, Keep it local

In Oxnard, it would have been fun to see local artists, local musicians, local dance teams and local restaurants doing their thing. Better to see an Oxnardian craftsman, than someone from Arkansas who just follows the 'Festival circuit' from city to city. Think unique, one-of-a-kind, and local.


While this type of planning requires more thought and creative juices, the result, in my mind, would be a festival that in more unique, and would entice visitors to come back.

After our latest Museum Madness series, we had considered creating a 2Adults1Child "Summer of the Festivals" series, with trip reports, pictures and feedback. After our visit to the Strawberry Festival, that won't be happening.

Stay tuned.

Update - June 6th -- I wrote to the Strawberry Festival Manager and received this response
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