Escondido's historic Grape Day Festival returns this summer after hiatus

Grape Day Festival 2022
Posted at 9:10 AM, Jul 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 12:35:32-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) – Escondido’s oldest and most famous event will return this summer for the first time since 2018.

Grape Day will return Sept. 10, from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm in Grape Day Park.

The festival, which traces its roots to 1908, will feature activities and entertainment steeped in Escondido history and traditions: spinning and weaving, corn shelling and grinding, butter making, grape stomping, early-century vehicles and antique equipment, along with live swing jazz and bluegrass music.

The free, family-friendly event is sponsored by the Escondido History Center. It will take place near the old Santa Fe Depot, a train stop that played a pivotal role in the city’s growth and development.

“It meant everything,” Escondido History Center executive director Robin Fox said of the rail line. “In the horse and buggy days, it took 8 hours to get here from San Diego, one way.”

Now used by the Sprinter, the rail line between Escondido and Oceanside opened in 1888, the same year Escondido was incorporated as a city. Three years earlier, a group of investors called the Escondido Land & Town Company purchased ranch lands and began turning them into a community.

“They knew they needed people here, so they invested in an early newspaper called the Escondido Times,” Fox said. The developers sent newspapers – really propaganda newsletters – all over the Midwest designed to lure farmers. But when those farmers started arriving, they discover a problem.

“The only thing they forgot to mention was there wasn’t a lot of water here,” said Fox.

After all, the name Escondido is Spanish for “hidden.” Fox says it was likely a reference to the local creek periodically running dry.

“That’s why grapes were the first big cash crop. Because grapes could grow here just from natural rainfall,” Fox said.

By 1908, the muscat grapes grown in Escondido started getting recognition for their sweet flavor, and the city council decided to capitalize. They organized a parade and other events to attract visitors from around the state to tout the city.

During the 1920s, the parade’s attendance rivaled that of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Fox said.

“That was the birth of Grape Day,” she said.

Although Escondido was initially incorporated as a dry town, the modern Grape Day event now celebrates the city’s wine industry. There will be a wine and beer garden.