The Goleta Lemon Festival celebrated its 30th year of citrus-themed festivities this past weekend. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, Goleta locals and lemon enthusiasts from across California convened at Girsh Park to celebrate. The agricultural festival has grown to become the largest community event of the year, attracting over 40,000 visitors each year! This year’s festival was the largest yet, with more than 100 booths hosted by local businesses, nonprofits, craftsmen and restaurants.
Despite family attractions such as live music, bungee jumping, bouncy houses, a mini train and Saturday’s classic car show, the food court remained the weekend’s main squeeze. In addition to county fair favorites, many booths put lemony twists on traditional fare. After a day of lemony treats, here is what we deemed worth the try.
Lemon lavender shaved ice from Kona Ice
Kona Ice of Santa Barbara served shaved ice cups throughout the day to help festival-goers beat the unexpected early October heat. The truck featured a self-service syrup station where customers could dispense their desired amount of syrup atop their mounds of shaved ice. We opted for lemon lavender, the truck’s flavor of the day and one of their several lemony creations offered specifically for the festival. The icy treat was definitely refreshing and while the notes of lavender were quite strong, the lemon flavors in the syrup just weren’t as present, leading us to rate Kona Ice’s lemony offerings an 8/10.
Lemon bars and lemon cotton candy from the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce
This year, I came to the lemon festival on a mission: to devour a lemon bar. I’ve been dreaming about the one I ate last year at the festival since the moment I threw away the empty container. Sourced from Anna’s Bakery, the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce resells large-portion lemon bars and lemon meringue pie slices for just $5. The year-long wait was worth it — the lemon bar was three square inches of edible happiness. The lemon curd filling provided strong notes of tart lemon flavor, but the buttery crust perfectly balanced it out so neither was too overpowering. Needless to say, I’m already thinking about next year’s lemon bar. Unsurprisingly, we rated the lemon bar a perfect 10/10.
Along with baked goods, the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce also served up lemon cotton candy for the same price. The nostalgic treat came in large portions and was tinted pastel yellow. Despite its color, the cotton candy failed to deliver much lemony flavor. Even though it wasn’t very tart, we agreed that it was a quality cotton candy regardless, earning a 7/10 rating.
Lemon Flavored Churro from Tacos Before Vatos
Out of all the lemony treats we tried, our group was the most skeptical about this one — after all, cinnamon and lemon are hardly an intuitive combination. But Tacos Before Vatos’ sign proudly proclaimed their lemon churros as award-winning; we would be the judge of that. To the naked eye, the churro was obviously covered in yellow-tinted sugar, but upon tasting it, we struggled to discern much lemon flavor. Tacos Before Vatos also chose to forgo cinnamon, a smart choice in my opinion, but that left the dessert a little under-seasoned. However, the sweet fried dough redeemed some points in other categories: it was chewy, quite large and still warm — everything I look for in a good churro. But it was just that, a churro, not a lemon flavored one. Due to its underwhelming flavor, we rated the lemon churro a 5/10.
Lemon Strawberry Tamales from strwEATs
strwEATs, a Ventura-based dessert business specializing in all things strawberry-flavored, immediately caught our attention among the overwhelming number of food vendors in Girsh Park. Their tent offered strawberry lemonade, strawberry cupcakes, fresas con crema and the item that we were both nervous and extremely excited to try: lemon-strawberry tamales. This special variation of strwEATs’ strawberry dessert tamales featured soft and lightly sweetened, lemon-infused masa (tamale dough) and the perfect ratio of strawberry jam filling. While a sweet tamale is common in various Latine communities, it was an unexpected and unfamiliar dessert for us. We appreciated strwEATs’ ability to put a twist on one of their pre-existing menu items and feature strong citrus flavors for this special occasion, awarding the lemon-strawberry tamales a 10/10 rating.
A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the October 5, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.