GARDEN GROVE — Clad in white overalls decorated with strawberries, 3-year-old Jennifer Moody sat in her stroller at Chapman Avenue and Euclid Street Saturday morning, waving shyly to a woman dressed as the day's most celebrated fruit.
Jennifer wouldn't have missed the annual Strawberry Festival and Parade for anything, said her father, 33-year-old John Moody of Ontario.
"She's been looking forward to this all year," Moody said.
Berrymania struck the city Saturday as thousands turned out in the sunshine for the 36th annual event, a four-day carnival that transformed downtown into a giant block party--replete with carnival rides, crafts booths, country-Western dancing, and a tempting array of strawberry desserts.
Organizers of this year's festival said they expect about 200,000 visitors before the festivities conclude Monday night.
"It's a good family thing," parade organizer Jerry Margolin said. "The weather's beautiful for us--too cold to go swimming and too warm to stay home."
Thousands of Orange County residents also found Saturday's temperatures, which were in the mid-70s, ideal for basking at the seashore.
Newport Beach lifeguards estimated that about 85,000 beach-goers flocked there Saturday. Another 30,000 hit the sand at Laguna Beach, 30,000 more were at Huntington Beach and 15,000 were at San Clemente.
Warm weather is expected throughout the weekend, with temperatures probably reaching the mid-80s by Monday, according to WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times.
Shorts and tank tops were popular apparel at the strawberry festival, where long lines formed for slices of fluffy shortcake and smooth ice cream sundaes loaded with fresh strawberries. Billed as the largest strawberry shortcake ever baked, the treat disappeared quickly Friday evening, with the fruit's fans standing in line as much as 1 1/2 hours for a free piece.
Garden Grove was one of the largest producers of strawberries in the western United States when the festival began in 1958, Margolin said. Today, there is just one strawberry field remaining in the city. If that one is paved over, the festival will be one of the few reminders of this area's agricultural past, he said.
Many of those at the festival said strawberries weren't their reason for coming. They came to be with friends, snack on corn-on-the-cob and Polish sausages and take a whirl on the miniature roller coaster and the carousel.
Garden Grove teen-agers Sherri and Jennifer Litwa, and their friend Dawn Quillen, favored the Kamikaze, a bullet-shaped ride that swings its screaming passengers back and forth, traveling progressively skyward until it comes to rest with its occupants almost completely upside down.
There were also slower-paced rides for younger children, including the Berry-go-round and a traditional Ferris wheel that offered a great view of the city.
That's where Jennifer Moody and her 1-year-old brother, Shawn, were headed after the 1-hour, 40-minute parade of marching bands, equestrians and civic groups.
"All we've been hearing from Jennifer is, 'We have to go to the festival and ride the Ferris wheel,' " said the toddlers' grandmother, Donna Fiedler.
Fiedler said the family of festival veterans will be back next year, for Shawn's third festival. He probably won't remember his first one last year when he's a grown-up, she said.
After all, he was only 1 week old.