Summer festival season is here, and last Sunday I started it in style.
I rounded up a few friends and went to Sunset Celebration Weekend, an annual event honoring some of our favorite things: West Coast travel, food, gardening, and modern design. The event is organized by Sunset Magazine, a publication devoted to sharing “the Best of the West”.
Sunset Magazine started back in 1898 as a promotional publication for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The first leaflets tried to combat the “Wild West” stereotypes about California and show that the then-rural state was a really nice place to live.
That mission continues today as the magazine shares travel and lifestyle tips for people who love the West Coast. Ask most anyone who grew up in the Western U.S. about the magazine and they’ll share stories of how their parents subscribed when they were a child, how they threw their first dinner party using the magazine’s recipes, and how the travel guides inspired family road trips.
While I didn’t grow up in California, I did become an adult here. When I started my first vegetable garden several years ago, everyone told me to invest in a copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book, a heavy tome inspired by the magazine’s gardening features. The book walks you through how to grow anything that is possible in the diverse Western climates (i.e. everything). While the publication hasn’t colored my brown thumb green, having it on the bookshelf makes me feel like one day I’ll manage to grow the garden of my dreams.
Like my Western Garden book, the festival is aspirational, with the magazine’s own educational garden and culinary demonstrations, wine-tasting booths, and exhibits by home, food, and garden vendors the sell the magazine’s aesthetic. Cathy called it, “Disneyland for stylish California adults”.
The festival takes place at the magazine’s Menlo Park headquarters office, a lovely single-story building built in 1951 to resemble the mid-century modern ranch homes that they were writing about at the time. The highlight, though, was the magazine’s “Western Garden Laboratory”, a series of gardens arranged geographically to feature plants native to all the regions of the west: The Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California/Southwest desert. The complex also includes the magazine’s 3,000 square foot Test Garden where the magazine’s garden designers construct the landscapes featured in the magazine. Half of all the garden photography published in the magazine is grown right on site. The sunset gardens are actually open to the public for free year-round, Monday through Friday. Learn more on their website.
Likewise, the Sunset Test Kitchen was open so we got to see where all the magazine’s reader-submitted recipes are tested, tweaked, and photographed. A few staff recipe testers were handing out samples of one of their featured dishes, a summery pesto and goat cheese pasta salad.
Last (but not least), about 30 Western tourism bureaus were tabling to promote travel to their regions. Cathy and I talked to several from California, Utah, and Alaska, and we decided to plan a road trip together this summer. Destination: TBD.
Near the end of the afternoon, we stopped at the California Farm Bureau’s #CAGrown booth, promoting colorful, fresh fruit grown in the state’s agricultural Central Valley. The produce was labeled “display only”, by local health code as the event was not a licensed food market. Cathy joked with the farmer that she would “steal one of those gorgeous dates” as soon as he turned his back.
Then she did.
I groaned and tried to pull her away fearing we would get in trouble, but she wiggled her way into conversation with another farmer.
“Events like this make me realize how lucky I am to live in California.”
The farmers exchanged a glance, and one of them laughed.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself!”
Mission accomplished, Sunset Magazine!
Thanks to Julie from the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau who gave me two tickets to this event. She helped me plan my recent trip to Yosemite and she thought of me when she was given some free passes to the event.
All photos in this post are from my Instagram feed where I share quirky and beautiful things I see each day. Follow me here.