The Watsonville Strawberry Festival is returning to a three-day event for the first time since 2019.
The popular event runs this Friday through Sunday. It will include food booths, many featuring strawberry-themed treats, a beer garden, live entertainment, pie-eating contests, artisan and commercial vendors, nonprofit booths, a carnival and more.
“We are very excited to be able to bring this festival back to its full glory,” says Jessica Beebe, recreation supervisor for the city’s Parks & Community Services department. “Last year, it was wonderful to pull together a modified, scaled-down version of the event after the Covid hiatus. But it’s wonderful to bring it back to what the community has come to expect of it.”
The festival, which highlights the region’s most famous crop while raising money and awareness for local nonprofits, was first held in 1994. Initially called the Watsonville Strawberry Dessert Festival, it was meant to raise funds to help the city recover from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
After two years of pandemic-related struggles, organizers hope the festival can once again act as a healing experience.
“We hope people will come together and feel that sense of really moving forward after what we’ve all been through,” Beebe says. “It’s great, just watching the people’s smiling faces, doing whatever they enjoy at the festival.”
The event kicks off on Friday, Aug. 5, with carnival rides 5-10pm and a performance by the Chicano All-Stars in Watsonville Plaza. The entire festival, with booths, pie eating contests and events, happens Saturday 11am-8pm and Sunday 11am-7pm.
Every year, the festival features a new event poster with strawberry-themed artwork. This year, local artist Priscilla Martinez was chosen to create the piece, which depicts a heart-shaped basket of strawberries with sunflowers and monarch butterflies, and a background showing an agriculture field in the Pajaro Valley.
“I was trying to go for ‘the heart of Watsonville,’” Martinez says. “I wanted to make that the main focus—our agriculture, the landscape. And with the sunflowers, I was going for a summer-like theme.”
It is the eighth year Martinez has been selected to create the Strawberry Festival poster. She says she loves how the event brings people together every year.
“It’s something I’ve gone to every year since I was a kid,” she says. “It’s a family-friendly event, where everyone can come and enjoy themselves.”
Though the event does tend to attract out-of-town visitors to Watsonville Plaza each year, it is also a time for locals to celebrate their hometown, Beebe says.
“Watsonville takes a lot of pride in their community,” she says. “With the festival, we highlight our history and culture.”
Martinez adds, “I hope it’s a good turnout, especially after Covid. I’m just glad things are once again starting to pick up.”
Watsonville Strawberry Festival, Friday, Aug. 5, 5-10pm, Saturday, Aug. 6, 11am-8pm and Sunday, Aug. 7, 11am-7pm. Watsonville Plaza, 358 Main St., Watsonville. cityofwatsonville.org/1117/Watsonville-Strawberry-Festival.