Fall in love with Ocean Beach all over again: 38th annual Street Fair and Chili Cook Off a summer tradition
More than 70,000 people attended the Ocean Beach Street Fair last year. / Photo by Jim Grant
One of San Diego’s most beloved annual traditions, the Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cook Off, returns for the 38th year on June 24, along Newport Avenue. Themed this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” the free, all ages, street fair kicks off at 10 a.m., with more than 70,000 people expected to attend and plenty of music, art, food and fun for everyone. Beyond the usual enjoyment of walking around the event and taking things in, the street fair offers a myriad of opportunities to get involved, from making music to painting murals.
Fairgoers will find five stages featuring a wide range of San Diego’s top talent, carnival rides and games for all ages, a chili cook off, a beachside beer garden, a community mural, an artist’s alley with unique creations, a musical petting zoo giving young fair goers an opportunity to try an instrument and much more.
“It’s amazing to see how the street transforms into the street fair,” said Ocean Beach Main Street Association executive director, Denny Knox. “There’s so much to see and do, it’s hard to pick a favorite thing, but the food and especially the music are big draws.”
The music at the street fair this year includes such names as groove band DJ Williams with members of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, singer-songwriter Jeff Berkeley, award-winning indie rockers The Verigolds and home town heroes, rockers Bad Science Fiction.
According to Ted Wigler, who books the main stage in addition to Winston’s, he and co-booker music producer Michael Head, who also books the weekly Farmer’s Market, are open to all types of music, but there are some guidelines. “We want quality of course, someone with a name that means something outside, but not too big where it might cause problems from a crowd standpoint,” he said. “We’re very cognizant that this is an all-ages event.” Wigler is happy to be involved with the event
“It gives me the opportunity to give back to my community, which has given me so much,” he said. “It’s a way to be involved and not just picking up trash, this is something I like to do.” He also likes the collaborative nature of the event. “It’s great to have a chance to work with Michael Head and everyone at the OBMA, there is such a strong sense of collaboration.”
Head, for his part, considers music to be vital to the event. “It kind of dictates your day,” he said. “Where you're gonna be and when. I think it's a major part of the draw. I mean music, with the ocean and chili? What could be better?”
Beyond appealing to new audiences, artists involved are happy with the overall positive nature of the event. “I'd start by saying that anything going on its 38th consecutive year was a good idea to begin with,” said Chuck Schiele, who will be performing at the street fair with his band Bad Science Fiction.
“The Street Fair is emblematic of the best features of San Diego,” he said. “There is a strong sense of community in OB, more than most neighborhoods, so I cite that as the number one attraction. Everything about the event comes from a positive place, and therefore exudes a profound positive vibe.”
One of the street fair’s unique attractions is music center, Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego, which will host an area on Newport Avenue, complete with a KISS tribute band in residence, a musical petting zoo and a live band made up of the school’s instructors, who will also be giving free 15 minute lessons to fairgoers.
“We want to show that music is something anybody can do and have fun with. We can have you onstage with one of our bands in minutes, playing a classic rock song,” said Langford. “We don’t just get young folks for this,” he continued. “We get some adults all the way up to grandpas, all ages are welcomed and encouraged.”
Select lucky fans will also get a chance to play with the KISS tribute band, who will be decked out in their traditional make up and costumes, but also be sporting some ’60s gear to fit in with the street fair’s theme. “We’ve done the event for several years now and it’s so much fun meeting people and seeing the neighborhood come together like this. I enjoy the celebration of life. Everyone coming here is doing so to have a good time, enjoy the sunshine, music and food.”
While music is a big part of the street fair, for many, the food is also a major draw. “There is an amazing array of vendors this year, all sorts of fun stuff,” said OBMA office assistant Claudia Jack.
Amongst the culinary treats this year will be Barrett's Lemonade, which uses the whole lemon in their drinks, Say Cheese, which will offer cheese curds and poppers, Ledesma Concessions, which will have non-alcoholic pina coladas, served in a pineapple, and Mighty Foods, which will offer such treat as sushi burritos and Thailand Ice Cream rolls.
“You can stop in at any of the booths or restaurants along the way, but we also have contests that are a lot of fun,” Jack said. In addition to the chili contest, eaters with a competitive nature can also enter the “Hodad’s Burger Eating” contest and the “Best Bloody Mary in OB” contest, the latter featuring samples from 15 different area bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile, if you are more artistically inclined, you can also take part in creating a community mural. Children and adults of all ages are welcome to purchase a $15 square at mural area on Bacon Street just south of Newport. After the street fair, the murals are sealed and installed in the community. “That’s a favorite activity, every year,” Jack said. “It’s wonderful to see youngsters creating their art.”
Despite all the hard work putting on the Ocean Beach Street Fair, Knox considers the efforts well worth it, though she doesn’t have time to enjoy the fruits of their labor on the day. “We have 150 or more volunteers and we don’t catch our breath until after 10 p.m. when it’s over,” she laughed. “We’re all still in awe,” she said. “We worry if anybody will come and then when we see the crowds and people having fun, it’s exhilarating.”
Anyone wanting to avoid the parking and traffic mayhem near the fair itself has several options. For bicyclists, the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition will provide a free bike valet area on Bacon Street at Newport Avenue. Meanwhile those with cars can drop off their vehicles and grab a trolley, running from 9:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., to the fair from either the Sunrunner lot at the corner of Pacific Highway and SeaWorld Drive or the lot near Robb Field at 2244 Bacon St. The trolley drops passengers off in the artist’s alley section of the street fair.