Sunday, May 29, 2011

Garden Grove Strawberry Festival: Your Mileage May Berry

Last weekend, The Militant headed up Highway 1 to Ventura County and had a berry good time at the California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard. In short, it was a celebration of all things strawberry, with everything from strawberry beer to strawberry nachos, plus an arts and crafts bazaar, rides for the kids, a neato shuttle bus service and the exotic sight of rural farmland just a couple miles away.

The Militant soon caught wind of another Strawberry Festival, this time somewhat closer to home, in Orange County - the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, going on this Memorial Day weekend.

As good as the Oxnard festival was, the Garden Grove has a lot going for it: 53 years of tradition, four days of fest (Friday-Monday) going as late as 10 p.m., and the best admission price of all: FREE. The Militant never had a chance to check this one out before, so on Saturday, he got his ass down the 5 (Well, more like down the 5, the 605, the 405 and the 22) to check it out.

Unlike the Oxnard fest, this isn't sequestered in a relatively inaccessible part of town: This is the heart of Garden Grove, in its Civic Center, at the triangle-shaped Euclid Park, surrounded by its city hall, library, community center, high school, a community college and a few churches - meaning parking is near and free.

Unfortunately for The Militant, that's where its advantages end.

Upon first glance, the crowd looked the same, though replace the Dodger gear in Oxnard with Angels apparel and switch the VC baby boomers with OC teenagers.

The Militant was so looking forward to eclectic strawberry-themed foods, but pretty much all they really had were strawberry shortcakes, funnel cake and smoothies (which was more of a watery, pink drink than the awesome thick red slush at Oxnard). There was a lot of action though, but more in the way of carnival rides and the usual crafts and marketing items booths.

In general, the "Garden Grove Strawberry Festival" is just a regular carnival that happens to have a strawberry theme.

The Militant did have, in addition to the smoothie, a "Strawberry Royale" (Is that a strawberry quarter pounder in France?) - pictured right, which is more or less a strawberry shortcake, albeit with strawberry bread. And that pretty much was it.

Sorry, no strawberry beer or strawberry margaritas here. Remember, this is Orange County.

Actually there were slightly more: One booth had strawberry crepes (though it was nothing more than a standard nutella crepe with two berries added), another had strawberry cheesecake (again, regular cheesecake with a couple strawberrys put on top). Still, it lacked the strawber-riety the Oxnard festival had.

The food prices were higher ($4 for the watery smoothie vs. $2.50 for the awesome Oxnard smoothie) but to be fair, the Garden Grove festival was free and all proceeds (over $100,000 worth) go to various charities, nonprofits, scholarships, school and youth organizations in the area. Nothing here was unreasonably overpriced (except for the one booth that sold baskets and flats of strawberries -- at twice the Oxnard price). Worst of all, The Militant didn't see any off-site (or even on-site) strawberry stands. Boooo!

As for the entertainment, for some reason the Garden Grove fest's organizers placed the main band stage several hundred feet away from the rest of the action. The Oxnard fest's stages were much more closer and actually felt like a part of the festival. And furthermore, though both strawberry festivals had old school R&B-ish cover bands, the quality of music was much better in Oxnard (Guess it really is true that Ventura County is the 4th biggest music area in the US).

Now don't get The Militant wrong -- if you're looking for something fun to do with the family on Memorial Day weekend, by all means come to the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. The kids will have fun on the rides, but don't expect to get all "Berry'd Out."

The Militant will stop short of saying this event is a fail. It is, after all, a community-run, community-sustaining event with over a half-century of tradition. Admission and parking are free so, it's no ripoff by any means. But who ever knew that semi-rural Ventura County would be a much more happening place than the suburban (and thus relatively more dense) Orange County?

The Garden Grove Strawberry Festival continues Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Memorial Day Monday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is free.

In honor of the 2011 Garden Grove Strawberry Festival's theme, "Celebrates The Sweet Sounds Of Comedy" (What is that, Engrish or something?), here's some more pics The Militant took:

Parents, think twice about a festival that allows your kids to "ride Michael Jackson."
(Actually this ride was so-named because it was one of the original rides
from MJ's Neverland Ranch)

Unlike the real thing, you can't search for the "Double Rainbow" here.

The one redeeming quality of having all these carnival rides was that
The Militant can just wave around his Militant Cam and take pictures like this...

...and this.

1 comment:

OrangeCurtain said...

Garden Grove's "Strawberry" Festival compares very badly with the authenticity of Oxnard's event. Granted, Oxnard still has vast strawberry fields nearby. Garden Grove's have been bulldozed over for decades. I am genuinely mystified at how they manage to keep drawing crowds year after year, so who am I to say it's not working. Still, while the causes it supports are great, it should just do away with the having the token strawberry dishes and serve out some great Mexican, Korean and Vietnamese food. And they could get the classic car clubs to go all out during that weekend.

As far as music goes, OC was/is the home to many punk acts (Offspring guitarist Noodles worked at a Garden Grove school), but you know that genre is never going to show up at this carnival. Like you say, "This is Orange County".

Two good sources of strawberries down here behind the Orange Curtain: Tanaka Farms in Irvine and Kayano Farms in Westminster.

ps: Militant, you have a lot of links on this post. spam, maybe?