Learn about the history of the city you live in by participating in the Grape Day festival, which includes the city’s five Rotary clubs, a 5K walk/run, and an old-fashioned downtown parade straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
The celebration happens on Saturday, September 12 in downtown Escondido and Grape Day Park. You can expect to see several thousand people at the event.
If you stop by the Escondido History
Center (which is worth doing anyway) you will see many photos from past Grape Days. Grape Day started in 1908 as a way to celebrate Escondido’s grape harvest and promote the city. Before Prohibition shut down legal alcohol production in the United States for 13 years, Escondido was one of the centers of grape and wine production in California.
Escondido’s grape history dates to the early 1880s, when a group of landowners planted a large vineyard of Muscat grapes. By the 1920s, thousands of acres of grapes were being grown in Escondido. Tourists frequently stop by the museum that is located on the park, the Escondido History Center, and ask how the park got its name. So now you know.
The Grape Day festival continued until 1950, with several years missed due to World War II. In the intervening years there were several abortive attempts to revive it until the Escondido History Center revived the event in 1996.
Grape Day is put on by the History
Center. It is NOT put on by the city, so funding is somewhat limited to what the center can raise through donations.
According to Robin Fox interim executive director of the History Center, “We think it’s an important community event, a neat connection with our history, which is really what we’re all about. Grape Day was huge in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, with trains bringing people north from San Diego for the event.” It was second in size only to Pasadena’s Rose Parade, she said.
The Grape Day celebration can be traced to Sept. 9, 1908, when merchant and civic leader Sig Steiner presented a state agricultural report that deemed Escondido Muscat grapes the sweetest in California. The community festival wasn’t complete without crowning a queen, and in Grape Day’s heyday the honor was given to silent film star Agnes Ayres in 1923.
Schedule of Events
Escondido Sunrise Rotary Grape Day 5K
Time: 7:30 a.m.
This 5K fun run is for everyone from elite runners to casual walkers. For more information and to register go towww.sandyfeetevents.com/ grape-day-5k/
Grape Day Parade Along Grand Avenue in Downtown Escondido
Time: 9:30 a.m. The parade features marching bands, walking groups, equestrians and historic automobiles. Besides the city’s five Rotary clubs. The parade route follows Grand Avenue from Escondido Boulevard to Juniper and then returns in the opposite direction. “It’s a real down home parade,” Fox said. “You’ve got Boy Scouts, twirlers, bands from all of the high schools, equestrian entries and Old Betsy, the old fire truck, and the reigning Miss Escondido.” Allow about 45 minutes for the parade.
“We are a local non-profit. We are not the city,” said Fox. “I’m proud that we put on this festival and that it’s free to the public. It celebrates something that originally put Escondido on the map.”
Grape Day Festival, Grape Day Park
Time: 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
The Grape Day Festival includes live entertainment, kids’ activities, grape stomping, and fun for the whole family. There will be arts and crafts vendors, commercial and non-profit activities, and don’t forget to drop by the barn to see some blacksmithing. You will also be able to view the 1917 truck once owned by Rube Nelson, who owned Nelson’s Country Corner for many years.,
The food court will include gourmet dogs, Mexican cuisine, barbecue and Chinese. In keeping with a longstanding tradition, there will be free grapes, donated by Major Market, beginning at 11 a.m.
Another longtime tradition is the grape stomp, with a vat borrowed from Bernardo Winery. Nothing says getting down and getting primal like jumping into a vat of grapes and getting the juice and pulp between your toes.
There will also be rides for the kids (elementary school age), including round-up and elephants (not real ones!). There will also be contests with prizes such as gunnysack races and hoola hoop contests. All of the prizes will be grape-related.
Live entertainment will be provided by a jazz ensemble from 10:30 a.m.—11:30 a.m., with announcements from 11:30 a.m.–noon.
Beginning at noon ethnic dancers performing routines from around the world will entertain, including hula, folkloric and belly dancers. The dancers of Georgia School of Dance will be featured.
Each year a queen or king is chosen for the festival. This is an honor that dates back to the origins of the festival. The first queen was chosen in 1913. In keeping with that tradition, Jack Owens, longtime business owner, and volunteer will be the King this year.
Vendor’s spaces are available for $75 for a 10X10 space.
Most of the history center will be open, except for the office. The barn, which is only open a few days out of the year, will be open, and will be the location for the blacksmith demonstrations.