SOLANA BEACH — At noon on a Saturday, under overcast skies, Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach was busier than it’s ever been in that kind of weather. The smell of sausage on the grill wafted through the air, combining with gyro, Thai BBQ and other street food delicacies to create a scent unique to food vendors of a bustling block party.
That’s where Keili and Bane Ogan, ages 6 and 4, sat at a white plastic folding table, enjoying a bite to eat with their mom, Carolyn Nelson. They were visiting their aunt, Kelly Nelson, a newer Solana Beach resident, who sat alongside them. The group had just hopped off the bouncy frog ride at the festival — an experience that wasn’t for everyone.
“I took Aunt Kelly on two rides,” Keili proudly explained. “Especially the frog one, and Aunt Kelly screamed on all of them.” Music from the main stage buzzed in the background. Walking closer to the bands — coordinated by The Belly Up Tavern — and the bass from nearly 15 different groups vibrated through the pavement and into the hearts of the crowd, which came in from San Diego County and the entire United States. The cloudy weather brought the attendance rate for the May 19 and May 20 event down about 5 to 6 percent from 2017. Still, the event had about 50,000 people walk through its streets.
Down from the rides, vendors and artisans lined up over three stretches of road, raising awareness for a cause, or selling clothing, candles, coffee, paintings and treats, among other items. It’s a large event, but it never feels out of hand — a move that was intentional, said Mac Williamson, marketing director for the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“This is San Diego’s official kick-off to summer,” Williamson said.
Now in its 39th year, Fiesta Del Sol is a two-day grassroots festival featuring music, food, drinks, rides and shopping. Organized by the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce, this serves as its only annual fundraiser.
“We try to build on it every year without getting it commercially insane,” Williamson said. “It still has that real kind of grassroots feeling, but it’s the real deal.”
Over its tenure, the festival has become a staple part of the community. Michael Hogan, who grew up in Solana Beach, has attended all 39 years.
“It’s a tradition to come here,” Hogan said. “Now the grandkids come.”
A small, one-day event at the start, Fiesta Del Sol grew into a larger weekend bash, expanding every year. For the first-timers at the festival, the sense of community is the strongest part. Kelly Nelson, the aunt who braved the bouncy rides with Keili and Bane, described the feeling as serene.
“People are very friendly and very open,” Nelson said. “It’s a good sense of community. People are out here for the right reasons.”
Williamson explained that those “vibes” are the most notable takeaway from Fiesta Del Sol.
“Solana Beach has been voted the friendliest beach city in Southern California,”
Williamson said. “We like to extend that feeling to everyone who attends Fiesta Del Sol.”
According to Williamson, much of the festival’s recent growth is attributed to social media.
“Before it was word-of-mouth and posters,” Williamson said. “But now it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in Missouri with your feet up, on the Visit Solana Beach website, or over here. You’re looking at the same thing.”
While these visitors wander around Fiesta Del Sol, some veer off into the shops of Cedros Avenue and Highway 101. For some shops, events like the County Fair and Fiesta Del Sol are seen as detracting from business, since attendees have one destination in mind. Other businesses find that these events draw in a new crowd. Jean Radakovich, a salesperson at David Allan Designs on Cedros, said it’s a fun to shake up the routine.
“We’re not worried about business going down,” Radakovich said. “We’re happy to have a different crowd.”
Michelle Moran, store manager for Bacio, a new clothing boutique on the 101, said foot traffic from the event has been great for exposure.
“We’re getting people familiar with us being here, because we’re kind of hidden,” Moran said.
Just one block behind Moran’s shop on South Sierra Avenue, there was another party going on — one that involved an inflatable gorilla, a 1940s trailer-turned-bar and a DJ.
This was fifth annual Fiesta Del Sol party, an invite-only bash thrown by Kevin and Lauren Mosteller, and Spencer Gobar, the property manager, whose father, Brett Gobar, is the landlord. Since the Solana Beach noise ordinance is temporarily paused for the festival, this group gets together and transforms their complex parking lot into a dance floor, reminiscent of a college daytime party. They set ground rules — like ending promptly at 8 p.m. to respect the neighbors — and the locals come to expect it.
“It’s funny just watching the reactions of locals walking up the street,” Kevin Mosteller said. “They look in and they’re like, it looks like an awesome place to live. It’s a really fun environment.”
Whether you’re a friend of the Mostellers attending their party or wandering Fiesta Del Sol itself, festival weekend gives the sleepy city of Solana Beach a chance to transform for two days. At the end of the day, Williamson said Fiesta Del Sol is about the community — they decide how it will evolve, and what it will look like 40 more years down the line.
“The only way we can top it every year is by making it more unique and more community friendly,” Williamson said. “How we do that, we listen to what people say.”