More than 10,000 revelers are expected to ring in 2004 tonight in Fullerton with hot-air balloons, painted faces, Hawaiian chicken and Latin, disco and rock music.
The 13th annual First Night music and arts festival is unique in Orange County. Inspired by the 1976 bicentennial celebration in Boston, First Night is an alcohol-free event that stretches several blocks in downtown Fullerton, on Harbor Boulevard between Commonwealth and Chapman avenues. The free event runs from 7 p.m. to midnight. The city of Fullerton picks up the $50,000 party tab.
Although many smaller cities have canceled holiday festivals because of budget cuts, Fullerton's celebration is expanding. Last year's event, which drew about 10,000 people, featured the addition of rides on tethered hot-air balloons, floating 100 feet up.
Dannielle Mauck, the event's organizer, expects a larger crowd tonight, if rain stays away.
"We think it's an important event for families," Mauck said. "A lot of families need something to do that's safe and alcohol-free, so it's a high priority for the city to provide a good environment for them."
Officials with First Night International, the group that licenses and organizes such events, said the number of festivals has declined nationally from a peak of 190 in 2000 to 115 this year. Seven California cities stage First Night celebrations, including San Diego, Escondido and Santa Fe Springs.
Naima Kradjian, CEO of First Night International, said she expects the celebrations to begin surging in popularity again.
"People were not ready to start a new tradition after 9/11, but now I think people are a little calmer," Kradjian said. "They're also traveling less and staying in their communities more."
Rancho Santa Margarita is holding a similar alcohol-free festival, Celebrating Family & Friends, in the city's Central Park, at 30842 La Miranda. The event, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m., includes 15 bands on two stages, rock climbing, interactive art activities, children's bounce rooms and food from area restaurants.
Disneyland is staging its traditional New Year's Eve party with live music, dancing and fireworks until 2 a.m., with normal admission prices. Disneyland officials said additional security measures have been taken.
"We remain vigilant in making sure that our guests are safe," said Sondra Haley, a Disneyland spokeswoman.
For the second year, the Orange County Transportation Authority will offer free bus service on New Year's Eve and in the early hours of New Year's Day. Free rides will be available on all routes from 6 p.m. to midnight, and four Night Owl routes -- 43, 50, 57 and 60 -- will be free from midnight to 4 a.m., serving popular destinations where public events are held -- such as Disneyland, the Block at Orange and downtown Fullerton.
Route 43 runs north-south from Fullerton to Costa Mesa on Harbor Boulevard. Route 50 runs east-west from Long Beach to Orange on Katella Avenue. Route 57 links Brea and Newport Beach along State College Boulevard and Bristol Street. Route 60 runs east-west from Long Beach to Tustin, along 17th Street and Westminster Boulevard. Information on holiday bus schedules: www.octa.net or (714) 636-RIDE.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is offering a free Tipsy Tow service to drinking drivers from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It offers drivers and their vehicle a free one-time, one-way tow up to seven miles to the driver's home.
Information: (800) 400-4222.