Remember the old proverb “When in Rome do as the Romans do?” That adage represents a perfect introduction to Villagefest, which is a captivating weekly street fair in Palm Springs that is a major community spectacle for both local residents and out-of-town visitors.
“Villagefest continues to be an immensely popular free attraction because it not only is a lively experience but it consistently offers a safe and friendly environment for families and people of all ages. It’s called Villagefest because many locals still think of Palm Springs as ‘the village,’”said Doug Tercero, a festival aide for four years.
Where do the locals and out-of-towners congregate?
The prime gathering place every Thursday evening year-round is Palm Canyon Drive. That cultural artery pulses through the historic heart of downtown Palm Springs.
And from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday nights from October to May – and 7 to 10 p.m. June through September — the glamorous shopping venue along Palm Canyon Drive is transformed into the town’s wonderfully alluring street fair.
Palm Canyon Drive, closed for the special evening to auto traffic from Amado to Baristo roads, becomes a thriving and pulsating mall with a party-like atmosphere for up to 7,000 locals and visitors. This community love-fest was started in 1991 when the late entertainer Sonny Bono was mayor.
Tercero added, “The city’s balmy evening weather – especially in April and May – adds to the festivities and our certified farmer’s market.”
In response to the idyllic climate many restaurants and bars open their doors wide to extend their music and entertainment into the busy street.
“Our new food court has been a very popular success,” said Jasmine Waits, the Special Events Coordinator for the City of Palm Springs.
The food court has tables and chairs where everyone can relax as they chew, chomp and crunch away on their meals. It’s also an ideal location where visitors can mingle with local residents and get their recommendations for the city’s best golf courses, shopping centers, entertainment and its multiple casinos.
There’s no shortage of food options from the vendors who align themselves beneath the street’s majestic, illuminated palm trees. Among tasty offerings are homemade burritos and tacos, Italian pastas, crepes, barbecue sausages and other meats off freestanding grills. Added choices are warm bakery goods and fresh produce – including fruits from local farms and date gardens.
People casually strolling along Palm Canyon Drive also have a choice of street entertainers who range from individual musicians to live bands. Sidewalk spectators may pause, too, to watch artists create watercolor paintings.
Always popular are still other Villagefest vendors with their enticing array of such handmade arts and crafts as jewelry, pottery, sculptures and clay potholders. Not to be overlooked is an assemblage of outdoor booths with displays of clothing, hats, headbands, antiques and flowers.
Fair-goers also are welcome to wander in and out of the street’s well-established boutiques and gift shops. They remain open during Villagefest because day and night shopping in Palm Springs is a never-ending ritual – especially for visitors from near and far.
The city’s downtown also has an appealing celebrity touch. That is the sidewalks on both sides of Palm Canyon Drive – and adjacent streets – are decorated with the “stars” of many famous entertainers, a number of whom used to call Palm Springs their home. A few names on the “Star Walk” are Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Sonny Bono.
For more information about Palm Springs Villagefest, call 760-323-8272 or visit www.villagefest.org.
Walter Roessing is a widely-published travel writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.