Time Is Ripe for Festival : Visitors Get Pick of Fun, Food at Garden Grove's Salute to Strawberries

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After winning three large inflatable crayons Saturday afternoon at the 34th Annual Strawberry Festival, Robert Holthaus, 6, waited with his parents and 10-month-old brother to enter the innards of a giant strawberry.

"We are having a great time," Robert said from near the end of the line leading to the Berry-Go-Round, in which metallic strawberries that can hold up to five children spin for several minutes.

"You know, he is a big kid now and he likes the big kid rides," said David Holthaus, Robert's father. "We have been waiting all year for this, and the only disappointment was that he couldn't ride the roller coaster because they said he is too short."

For thousands of residents of Garden Grove and neighboring cities, the Memorial Day weekend is synonymous with the Strawberry Festival, which organizers say is the biggest community festival in the western United States.

Although Garden Grove's strawberry industry has shrunk dramatically since 1958--when the festival made its debut--the celebration is as popular as ever. Organizers said they expect more than 300,000 for the weekend event and hope to raise about $70,000 for local charities.

Held at the Village Green, the opening day of the four-day event included a ceremony Friday night in which "the world's largest strawberry shortcake" was sliced into pieces and distributed free to fair-goers.

And strawberries were hardly in short supply. The red berries were sold at several stands that dotted the festival grounds.

The biggest event was the Strawberry Festival Parade on Saturday morning, which began at the corner of Chapman Avenue and 9th Street and ended on festival grounds at the Village Green. Marching bands, high school cheerleaders, and a strawberry-shaped balloon led the parade through the streets.

Saturday afternoon under the hot sun, thousands of people visited the dozens of carnival rides and games and more than 200 exhibit booths and food stands.

The festival also boasts several celebrity guests. Actor Billy Barty was the parade's grand marshal, and others who attended this weekend included John Ratzenberger of the television program "Cheers," Ernest Harden Jr. from the movie "White Men Can't Jump," and Christopher Castile from the movie "Beethoven."

This year's events included a special preview on Thursday, when the carnival grounds were opened a day early to about 1,800 disabled children from the area for a "Special Kid's Day" of free rides and food.

Admission to the festival is free and the event will be open today from noon to about midnight. The final day is Monday, when the festival will operate from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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