Entertainment & Events
History of Cinco de Mayo Celebration in Balboa Park
The Cinco de Mayo Celebration in Balboa Park is emerging as another signature community-driven event, co-produced by the Balboa Park Conservancy and the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, taking its place alongside other popular events like Balboa Park December Nights, Halloween Family Day, Fiesta Botanica, Food Truck Friday, and the Holiday Food Truck Festival.
The all-day Cinco de Mayo Celebration grew out of an annual Cinco de Mayo Concert in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion that began in 2006. The free family-friendly concert showcased the SDSU
School of Music and Dance student musicians and was generously sponsored by Kiwanis Club of San Diego. Over the years, the annual Kiwanis gifts and additional concert sponsorships have generated over $250,000 in scholarships and career grants to help many SDSU School of Music students reach their goals.
For the past three years, SDSU’s breakout Latin band, Jarabe Mexicano, has headlined the Cinco de Mayo Concert. In 2017, the Balboa Park Conservancy and the Kiwanis Club launched a pilot program to create pre-concert Cinco de Mayo festivities in the Plaza de Panama, a short walk from the Organ Pavilion. Due to the incredible response, the Conservancy decided to create an entire day of free Mexican-themed activities and entertainment to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, with the 5 p.m. concert serving as the event’s finale.
Since its founding in 2011, the Balboa Park Conservancy has developed a track record of turning holiday-themed or seasonal events into popular community festivals, bringing in corporate and media sponsors from both sides of the border, a wide range of community partners, and more than a dozen park institutions. The programming is part of the Conservancy’s overarching goal of activating the Plaza de Panama and making it San Diego’s premier hub for family-friendly cultural activities.
Everyone in San Diego should be quite familiar with Balboa Park December Nights. But in recent years, the Conservancy’s annual Halloween Family Day has grown to become the region’s largest free public Halloween celebration. In addition, the summer-long Food Truck Friday program has brought thousands of people into the park each week to transform quiet evenings on the park’s Central Mesa into a bustling date-night destination.
Balboa Park’s history of hosting major cultural festivals and community celebrations of course goes back decades and currently includes, in addition to those named above, the annual Ethnic Food Fair, hosted by the International Cottages, Earth Fair, and the Diwali Festival in October.
With the backing of the Conservancy, the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, Kiwanis Club, and Spanish-language media partners, along with the participation of the Mexican Consulate and the SDSU School of Music and Dance, don’t be surprised if the Cinco de Mayo Celebration in Balboa Park becomes synonymous with the beloved Mexican holiday for all San Diegans.