SAN DIEGO – Hillcrest’s annual community celebration, CityFest, will return for the 28th year this Sunday starting at noon.
On the outside, this street festival may look like one of the many other similar events that take place across the city year round – vendor booths, entertainment, fair food and beverages. But once at the event, one will see that CityFest has a character, spirit, flair and fabulousness that only Hillcrest can provide.
Organizers expect more than 150,000 people to descend upon Fifth and University avenues on the west end of Hillcrest for what many consider to be “the biggest Sunday Funday of the year.”
It all started with a sign. In the 1940s, a group of female shopkeepers in Hillcrest pooled their money and had a sign installed over University Avenue proclaiming to passing motorists and pedestrians that they were indeed in Hillcrest. That original sign, which was located a few feet west of where the iconic Hillcrest sign hangs today, shined brightly over the neighborhood for many decades before going into disrepair and burning out.
Tired of seeing the dilapidated sign serve as the neighborhood’s showpiece, volunteers in the early 1980s worked to raised more than $4,000 to restore the sign, with the first fundraiser being held at The Brass Rail raising $670, according to HillQuest.com.
On Aug. 18, 1984 the restored sign was hung, with the official lighting held on a week later. This special event – which drew a crowd of nearly 3,000 people - turned into a big party with vendors setting up shop on the closed streets near Fifth and University, and revelers danced in the street until after 10 pm.
In May 1985, the Hillcrest Association sponsored the first “CityFest,” which drew a crowd of nearly 5,000 people. After the first event, the organization then decided to continue organizing CityFest – but in August to celebrate the anniversary of the relighting of the sign.
The event has continued year after year, and has continued to grow, reaching an estimated crowd of 150,000 in 2003.
Last year, excitement was in the air around the community as CityFest approached where the brand new Hillcrest sign was debuted. The 1984 sign had become too costly to repair and maintain, so the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), which serves as the steward of the sign, paid to replace the iconic community symbol with a new, state-of-the-art LED sign that looks nearly identical to the original.
CityFest revelers partied underneath the covered new sign all day long and gathered in the evening for its unveiling, which was met with excited cheers and celebration.
HillQuest.com has compiled a more extensive history of the event HERE.
What happens at CityFest?
Hillcrest CityFest transforms the west end of the neighborhood into a large festival party experience for an entire day. The event takes place on University Avenue and Fifth avenues, spanning from Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue along University, and from University Avenue down to Brookes Avenue on Fifth.
Free admission includes the chance to browse and shop at hundreds of arts and craft vendor booths, watch live entertainment, eat, drink and check out the numerous other attractions.
Special features this year include the “Dunk a Drag” dunk tank, which will raise money for Mama’s Kitchen; a health and wellness station sponsored by Scripps; the SDPIX water slide; Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Bathtub; a children’s area; and carnival rides.
The “Spirits Garden,” located on University Avenue between Fourth and Fifth, is open to those 21 years and older, and will include a number of beers and cocktails available for purchase.
Discounted drink tickets can be purchased online through Saturday night.
A full day’s lineup of entertainment is planned for CityFest, including the first ever “CityFest Night” party. The “CityFest Day” entertainment schedule includes a number of bands, dance groups, and other community performers.
Scheduled daytime performers include:
Noon-12:40 pm Run Honey
1-1:40 pm Bitter Sober
1:45 -1:50 pm Urban Kickers will be performing “Born this way”
2-2:40 pm The Young Rapscallions
3-3:40 pm The Black Sands
4-4:40 pm Mimi Zulu and The Revenge
5-5:40 Mad Traffic
6-6:40 Hott Thing
Hillcresters like a good dance party and the HBA, which organizes CityFest, understands that. For the first time ever, the CityFest fun will be extended into the late night hours, with a dance party of Hillcrest proportions to take place under the sign until 10:30 pm.
Popular nightclub Rich’s is the sponsor of CityFest Night, so one can be assured that it will be a party like no other. The DJ lineup includes:
7:30-8:30 pm DJ Will Z
8:30-9:30 pm DJ John Joseph
9:30-10:30 pm DJ Dirty Kurty
Those who have not yet had enough Sunday Funday fun are encouraged to head over to Rich’s after the event for the official CityFest after party, which goes on until 2 am.
Rich’s is located at 1051 University Ave.
CityFest buzz is in the air
As HBA staff and volunteers continue to promote CityFest throughout the neighborhood, including at Gossip Grill and Bourbon Street tonight, community members are talking.
Melania Cabardo, who works at a local bar, has to work during the day when most of CityFest is happening, but is still very excited about the event.
“I attended CityFest last year for the first time and met so many great people. It was awesome to be exposed to such a large event in Hillcrest,” Cabardo said. “I’m excited that a lot of people will be coming to [the bar I work at] after CityFest and will share all of the stories about who they met, what they did, how they contributed to the event, and how it affected them. CityFest is another chance, just like Pride weekend, for everyone to come out and celebrate together.”
On Facebook, Michael Lee said that CityFest is “always a fun event to help out a good cause” and Paul Apostol Ancho noted that him and his friends, who “can’t wait for CityFest,” call the event “DrinkyFest.”
The addition of “CityFest Night” has also re-energized the 28-year-old event with many looking forward to the opportunity to dance in the streets into the night.
Celebrations alongside CityFest
While there is plenty to do at the street fair, many of the bars, restaurants, businesses and even private homes throw their own celebrations to compliment CityFest.
In his weekly column, SDGLN’s Nightlife Columnist Jim Winsor shares some of the special events taking place at neighboring bars, including hotspots The Brass Rail and Babycakes, which host their biggest parties of the year on CityFest Sunday.
Walking the streets of Hillcrest’s west end during CityFest one is sure to find something fun, while exploring the many businesses that make the neighborhood unique.
Those who live in Hillcrest or neighboring communities are in luck: CityFest is most likely within walking distance.
With over 150,000 expected to descend u[on a few neighborhood blocks, parking and traffic tend to get a bit snarled.
While parking meters are not enforced on Sundays, those who arrive later in the day will be lucky to find an open street spot nearby. Attendees who drive to the event ware encouraged to park at the headquarters of the San Diego Unified School District, located at 4100 Normal St. on the east end of Hillcrest.
A free shuttle will take attendees to and from the festival site between noon and 8 pm. The shuttle pick-up and drop-off point at CityFest will be near the Rite-Aid parking lot on the Sixth Avenue side.
There are also a number of privately-owned pay parking lots throughout the neighborhood that will be open, although those who utilize these lots are encouraged to carefully read the posted signs which will include payment and time limit information.
The weather is expected to be hot, so participants are encouraged to take standard precautions such as wearing sunscreen and a hat, and drinking lots of water.
To learn more about the HBA, click HERE.
Information about other community celebrations, such as October’s Hillcrest Hoedown, Taste ‘n’ Tinis and the Pride of Hillcrest Block Party, is also available online.