Ventura County Celebrates Strawberries with Two-Day Festival

collage of four photos from the 2024 California Strawberry Festival in Ventura
(Photos by California News Press)

Festival-goers feasted on an estimated 1.5 million strawberries during the 2024 California Strawberry Festival last weekend. It was the event’s 38th anniversary.

The 2024 California Strawberry Festival took place last weekend, Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The event celebrated its 38th anniversary along with paying homage to the beloved local crop of strawberries, at its sweet, juicy peak from April through August. 

A crowd at the California Strawberry Festival in Ventura with a Ferris wheel and food stalls
(Photo courtesy of California Strawberry Festival)

Combining the family-friendly fun of rides, live entertainment and indulgent foods with a theme that embraces the pleasures of summer, the California Strawberry Festival always draws an enthusiastic crowd. This year continued the festival’s trend of growing ever larger. The event launched at Channel Islands Harbor in 1984, moved to Strawberry Meadows at College Park in Oxnard in 1992, and in 2023 to the expansive Ventura County Fairgrounds (following three years of Covid-related cancellations). This year, the festival welcomed more than 50 food vendors, 150 arts and crafts vendors and 22 bands performing live across two stages. An estimated 1.5 million strawberries were consumed during the two-day festival! 

A smiling baby in a strawberry costume at the California Strawberry Festival in Ventura County
(Photo courtesy of California Strawberry Festival)

Strawberry-themed food and fun

Befitting an event celebrating the delicious fruit, festival-goers were invited to enjoy just-picked, local strawberries grown on the Oxnard Plain in countless creative preparations. Packages of perfectly fresh berries from three-packs to full trays were available from local farmers. Always a big hit, some of the biggest lines at the fairgrounds were for the Strawberry Shortcake Experience. Here, you could purchase a bowl for $5 and fill it to the brim with any custom combination of pound cake slices, sweet strawberry sauce, fresh strawberries and a crown of whipped cream. 

Vendors put their own carnival-fare spin on the strawberry theme. Wholesome strawberry fare included smoothies, berry kabobs, strawberry popcorn and chocolate-covered strawberries. Options were plentiful for decadent indulgences such as strawberry-topped funnel cakes – a festival essential – as well as unexpected sweet and savory creations like strawberry nachos, deep-fried strawberries, strawberry beer and fried chicken wings with a smoky strawberry sauce. 

A super slide ride at the California Strawberry Festival in Ventura
(Photo courtesy of California Strawberry Festival)

Live music from a series of top-notch bands entertained the crowds all day and into the evening on Saturday and Sunday. The Dr. Kato Stage and Festival Stage welcomed tribute acts to Fleetwood Mac, Santana, the Beach Boys, Tom Petty and others. Artists represented a diverse range of genres from Bonnie Boy’s New Orleans-style rock and Togen Daiko Drums to country music from Hot Southern Nights, Latin music from Tabu, and the reggae and Caribbean sounds of Upstream. 

Strawberryland for Kids offered seven kid-sized carnival rides plus magic, puppet and comedy shows at the little theater. Older children and adults had plenty of fun and high-thrill options elsewhere in the festival grounds, among them a roller coaster, bounce house, climbing walls, giant slide, Tilt-a-Whirl and bumper cars. The Ninja Nation obstacle course challenged aspiring action stars. Another highlight was the adorable signature event of the California Strawberry Festival – the Berry Best Baby Parade for under 4s dressed in their sweetest berry getups. 

Arts and crafts exhibits filled two large halls at the California Strawberry Festival, many with the artisans on hand to answer questions and talk about their work. Among the offerings, some with a fitting strawberry theme, were paintings, sculptures, ceramics, toys, home goods, photography, paper crafts, jewelry and so much more. 

Boxes of fresh strawberries on sale at the California Strawberry Festival
(Photo courtesy of California Strawberry Festival)

Why celebrate strawberries?

California farmers produce 90% of all the fresh strawberries grown in the United States. The industry is valued at just over $3 billion and is the state’s third highest-grossing crop, according to the California Strawberry Commission. The Oxnard Plain is one of the major strawberry growing regions in the state and one of only two regions in California to grow strawberries year-round. Thanks to its ideal coastal climate conditions and fertile soils, the Oxnard Plain produced over $662 million worth of strawberries in 2022. 

In 1984, then Oxnard Mayor, Dr. Tsujio Kato, along with local officials and strawberry growers, had the idea of hosting a festival to celebrate the industry. The first festival was sponsored by J.M. Smucker’s Company and the proceeds benefited 30 nonprofits. Since that inaugural event, the California Strawberry Festival transitioned to a nonprofit organization run by an all-volunteer board. The festival has raised over $5 million and its community programs benefiting education, arts and youth have been recognized by the Library of Congress and the International Festival and Events Association. The economic impact on the local community of the two-day event is estimated at $7.5 million. 

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Also in Ventura County: “Zachari Dunes Embraces the Beauty and Bounty of the Oxnard Coast

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