The festival featured a strawberry shortcake station, offering unlimited toppings. Pihu Jain / Daily Nexus

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the California Strawberry Festival, located in the Ventura County Fairgrounds not more than 45 minutes from UCSB. The festival’s roots can be traced back to 1983, when Tsujio Kato, a councilman from Oxnard, proposed the festival as a way of celebrating his favorite crop, the festival’s namesake strawberry. The $15 ticket certainly felt worth its weight in gold, or should I say, strawberries?

From strawberry tamales to beignets, the fruity flavor was incorporated creatively into many different cuisines. Pihu Jain / Daily Nexus

Walking into the festival was like falling down the rabbit hole with Alice, my sight swirling with colors, passersby transforming from gray and dark denimed forms to brighter pinks and reds, strawberry crocheted hats and cardigans, dresses, the looming gray sky no match for the cheery spirit below. Walking into the festival, I was immediately greeted by the sight of an incredibly large red crowd, dozens upon dozens of food vendors and strawberry snacks of all kinds. Stalls heralded remarkable goods not necessarily related to the fruit but just as enchanting: a man selling porcelain hand crafted night lights, a couple selling their glazed pottery, all the local craftsmen reminding us of the talented artists that Santa Barbara breeds with its dreamy Mediterranean climate and inspirational views of grandeur.

While I did not purchase any of the beautiful artworks due to the hole in my wallet, I certainly could not discount the palatable goods that the day had in store. I first found myself gravitating to the strawberry shortcake station, where for just $5 you can assemble the strawberry shortcake tower of your dreams. At least, that’s what I did. In a herculean feat, I managed to get several pieces of shortcake, heaps of strawberry syrup, a Mount Everest of strawberries all topped with some delicious whipped cream, in the base of a well-to-do but certainly not large enough plastic bowl. The strawberries, grown locally of course, were some of the most delicious ones I’ve had this season.

A novelty strawberry cup is just an example of the adorable collectibles sported by many a visitor at the festival. Pihu Jain / Daily Nexus

While parsing the grounds, people watching and snapping photos with the cute props placed around the grounds, I noticed an adorable plastic strawberry-shaped beverage cup with a small strawberry keychain hanging on the outside in the hands of every few people. Inquiry led me to a familiar booth, one I recognized from the Goleta Lemon Festival in September: Sweet Treats, based in Ventura County, specializing in strawberry-flavored delights. They featured strawberry tamales, cupcakes and the aforementioned souvenir cup. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the cups were all sold out, but this did not deter me from trying their lemonade, which I found perfectly sweetened and strawberry flavored with all the freshness a natural strawberry lemonade would contain. A bit pricey, for the cost of $7, but let’s just say I’ve seen worse pricing for worse flavor. 

The strawberry lemonade packed a powerful, refreshing punch. Pihu Jain / Daily Nexus

Just before leaving, I decided to indulge in some more desserts, in the form of strawberry kebabs. The kebabs, for the price of $11 each, featured 4-5 strawberries stacked with brownies in between, all lightly drizzled with chocolate. There’s a reason this is a tried but true combination, and with the large size and freshness of the strawberries, I was more than happy to pay the price. 

With a perfect combination of crisp chocolate and juicy strawberries, the strawberry kebobs drew in a large crowd. Pihu Jain / Daily Nexus

In my personal opinion, no fruit is more commonplace yet refreshingly unique than the strawberry. This festival reminded me of that, and I’m certain many people will agree with me on this. It was nice to see such cheer when the weather has been so disheartening lately, and I left with a sweeter taste in my mouth and certainly a happier state of mind.

A version of this article appeared on p. 16 of the May 23, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.