There’s a time of the year where all six blocks of downtown Morgan Hill are closed off, where people can stroll Monterey Road without the worries of traffic while tasting local food, sipping craft beer and wine, and enjoying a variety of creative artwork.
Its no-frills name is straight to the point, and tells attendees exactly what they will experience without the fluff. Tens of thousands attend every year.
And it’s been around for three decades.
These clues can only point to one event: Taste of Morgan Hill.
The 30th annual festival returns Sept. 28-29 on Monterey Road between Dunne and Main avenues, two full days and one night of non-stop entertainment, activities and of course, food and libations.
In addition to the regular restaurants and shops that call downtown home, Taste of Morgan Hill will feature dozens of gourmet food booths, multiple beer and wine gardens, three stages of entertainment, a kids zone and more.
Admission and parking is free.
The festival is put on by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce, which helps support the chamber’s other free events throughout the year such as the Friday Night Music Series.
Brittney Sherman, chief operating officer of the chamber, said Taste of Morgan Hill brings out a diverse group of community members who gather to support their local businesses and each other.
“It’s very much South County community-based,” she said.
Cooks in the food booths will be fixing up countless culinary creations from the Mansmith tri-tip sandwiches, kabobs, Mexican food, deep fried veggies, grilled chicken, Philly Cheesesteaks, burgers, desserts and more.
A variety of arts and crafts vendors will also be displaying their wares. They include The Wine Barrel Guy, a.k.a. Joe Barrett, a carpenter who creates home products out of decommissioned wine barrels.
Be A Gourmet will also be in the lineup, which sells balsamic vinegars and olive oils. Guests at Taste of Morgan Hill will have the chance to sample a variety of different flavors.
The popular car show returns with a different theme each day. A variety of custom, classic and specialty cars will be on display Sept. 28, with hot rods and Harleys showcased the following day. Trophies will be given each day to cars judged in categories such as “People’s Choice,” “Participant’s Choice,” “Participated in the Most Taste Car Shows” and others.
The Kids Zone will feature a number of rides, games and a full schedule of kids’ entertainment at the Kids Stage.
The younger ones will also be showcasing their artwork during the third annual Morgan Hill Youth Art Show. Taking place Sept. 29, the show will display art by local youth ages 5-13. The Youth Art Show is presented by the Morgan Hill Library, Culture and Arts Commission and local artist Lina Velasquez.
The Taste of Morgan Hill’s beginnings date back to 1990, when Greg Sellers helped found the festival as the executive director of the Downtown Revitalization Program.
At the time, it was just a one-day, all-volunteer-run festival modeled after the Taste of Chicago that drew roughly 6,000 people, stretching from First to Third streets in downtown Morgan Hill. The car show saw maybe four vehicles on display.
The attendance doubled expectations, and in a Morgan Hill Times article from Sept. 27, 1991, Sellers said organizers were not sure if there would be a second event at the conclusion of the inaugural festival.
“If we could just do the first one, show people that it can be done, we would be able to do it every year,” Sellers is quoted in the article. “Sure enough, that’s been the case.”
The event extended to two days for its third year, and operations were handed over to the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce on its fifth year.
The festival has done nothing but grow since.
According to Sherman, the Taste of Morgan Hill maxed out on vendors last year with more than 200, and this year’s iteration is following suit. The car show now has more than 200 entries as well.
An even more impressive number? The festival draws over 50,000 attendees every year.
But for any large festival, especially now in South County, the issue of guest safety is at the forefront of planning following the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28.
Sherman said that the chamber met with the Morgan Hill Police Department and outside security consultants to develop a comprehensive security plan for all of its events. As a result, Taste of Morgan Hill will have increased security and police presence throughout the festival.
“We don’t want to not have events,” she said. “We don’t want people to be scared. The community needs that outlet to enjoy each other. It’s so important for us to feel like we are in a community that’s a tight-knit community, that supports each other and loves each other.”
For information on Taste of Morgan Hill, visit morganhill.org/taste-of-morgan-hill.