Let the Garlic Games begin!

First place winner Whitney Pintello from Gilroy entered this acrylic on canvas for the Gilroy Garlic Festival annual art poster contest.

Everything you need to know to make the most of Gilroy’s stinkin’ rose extravaganza

When and where: The 2012 34th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, July 27 through Sunday, July 29, at Christmas Hill Park, located in the center of town where Miller Avenue meets Uvas Creek. Gates close at 6 p.m.

Tickets: General admission is $17. Tickets for senior citizens 60 and older and children 6 to 12 are $8. Children younger than 6 get in free. Discounted admission tickets ($15 for adults; $6 for children and seniors) as well as discounted tickets for a Gourmet Alley Combo Plate ($10 with online admission ticket), can be purchased in advance at www.gilroygarlicfestival.com. Friday, July 27 is Locals Day. Local residents can purchase up to two tickets per person at the gate for $12 with a valid ID. Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Hollister, San Juan Bautista or Aromas residents qualify.

Cocktail conversation: This is the festival’s 34th year. More than 4,000 volunteers power the inner-workings – picking up trash, putting up shade tents and parking cars. All the volunteers are paid an “hourly wage” that goes to the charity they have agreed to work for.

Where am I?: There are two sides to Christmas Hill Park – the Ranch side north of Miller Avenue, which dissects the park, and the Park side. Miller Avenue is closed for the three-day festival. The park is mostly turf and some compact dirt and asphalt walkways. There are natural shade trees and many shade tents with tables, benches and hay bales.

If you’re driving: Follow the large signs directing motorists to the free parking lots located near the park. Shuttle buses will transport guests to and from the festival. Handicapped parking and transportation is available. If you’re local enough to know better, drive city streets to Miller Avenue, park and walk half a mile.

If you’re biking: The beautiful Uvas Levee Trail is a great way to come, though there are many other options. Once at the festival, you can park your bike at the secured bike lot, near the intersection of Miller Avenue and Yorktown Drive – about a one-minute walk from the festival entrance. There will be three people on duty watching the bikes and you will need a ticket or password to retrieve your bike.

Wash down that delicious garlicky grub: Free water is available, and beer gardens and a wine tent are located throughout the grounds. Make sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day to remain hydrated. Heat stroke is fun for no one.

Restrooms: Unisex bathrooms are located around the perimeter of the park. It’s never a bad idea to carry hand sanitizer, as you’ll likely be eating all day.

First aid: Volunteers from the American Red Cross will be on hand to deal with minor injuries. Emergency services are located on the park side between the children’s area and administration. In addition, paramedics on bikes will roam the festival grounds.

Pets: Pets are not allowed. Yes, that goes for the handful of you who pushed your Chihuahua around in a stroller last year. Yeah, we saw you.

For the kids: The Children’s Area under the tree-shaded Mulberry West section of the park provides a fun place for kids and their chaperones.  There are games, crafts, stories and rides. Don’t forget to grab your treasure hunt map and solve clues around the park to find treasures.

Garlic hats! Garlic braids! Garlic bubbles! So much to buy: ATMs will be set up near the Amphitheater, in the middle of the park near Gourmet Alley and on the Ranch side near Garlic Avenue.

Don’t leave home without: Your appetite, enthusiasm, driver’s license for the beer gardens or wine tents, a hat or visor, sunscreen, cash and comfortable shoes. A camera might be a good idea to capture images of Dad making a weird face when he tries “Enchanted Escargot” for the first time. Dress in layers. Mornings can be cool, and afternoons are usually sunny. Shirt and shoes are required.

Leave it at home: Alcohol of any kind is prohibited. You should not bring any bottles, glass or cans, coolers – large or small, Frisbees and water projecting devices, pocket knives and weapons of any kind are all banned too.

Security: Plenty of Gilroy Police officers will roam the grounds. Some officers will be on horseback at peak times. Security personnel will man the gates with electronic wands and parole officers will be on hand.

Shop ‘til you drop: One hundred artisans selling everything from pottery to garlic to art to scented soy candles will offer their wares. Booths will be split between the Ranch and Park sides.

New this year

Teen Zone: A brand-new teen zone outfitted with a 250-foot-long zip line, an Orbitron (a human gyroscope ride), a quad jump (described as a “giant spring hinge”), a mechanical bull, a massive “Titanic” slide and a giant rat race course will give youths in junior high and high school new thrills. The new area inside the 34th annual Garlic Festival will be set up “a little bit out of the way” in the northeast nook of Christmas Hill Park just past the amphitheater.

Combo-less lines: Responding to the overwhelming popularity and wait times of up to 40 minutes for combo plate I or II (whole meals that combine various items from Gourmet Alley), organizers are adding more combo plate windows “so lines won’t be as long,” noted Festival President Hugh Davis.

Quick entrance: A new online ticket company vendor is also supplying festival organizers with handheld scanners, which should alleviate an issue that arose last year when ticket-takers experienced trouble scanning ticket bar codes on smart phones.

Fast fries: The festival also purchased 12 new French fryers and additional bread ovens “so we can really ramp up and give customers what they want,” said President Davis. “We’re doubling our capacity.”

Shade is huge: A 6,500-square-foot shade canopy will grace the Vineyard Stage on the Ranch side of Christmas Hill Park, providing relaxing refuge from the blazing afternoon sun.

How do you like us now?: The festival is riding shotgun on the social media bandwagon, boasting 600 Twitter followers and more than 19,000 “likes” after creating a Facebook page in 2009. The Garlic Festival Association will give a special prize to its 20,000th fan, such as free tickets and a Herbie the Bobblehead figurine.

Returning from last year

So You Think You Can Cook With Garlic: This new Facebook video competition debuted in 2011. The four individuals who garnered the highest number of votes online have been invited to prepare their recipes onstage July 27 at the festival.

Pasta Con Pesto: The recipe was reverted to the original version last year and is now made with spaghetti noodles instead of penne, as well as a true Italian pesto sauce instead of a cream sauce. The recipe’s return was well received, according to the festival’s Executive Director Brian Bowe and President Hugh Davis.

Changes to the festival

• After being introduced in 2003 by local cooking and comedy duo Sam Bozzo and Gene Sakahara (an irrepressible pair of Garlic Festival ambassadors known familiarly onstage as “SakaBozzo”), the Garlic Ginger Chicken Stir Fry has officially been retired.

• Last year’s debutante dish – the newest addition to Gourmet Alley since garlic fries were added in 2007 – will exit as a one-hit wonder. The Surf & Turf festival wrap will not be served this year.

• The iconic white “Garlic Fries” balloon that’s kept airborne for the last three years over the Christmas Hill Park garlic fries booth – guiding foodies like the Star of David to a humble tent where potatoes are sliced, fried, smothered in chopped cloves and served to the hungry thousands – might be grounded this year due to an unusually long nationwide helium shortage.

On target

• In 2011, officials said their goal was to be completely environmentally friendly by 2012. The Garlic Festival is in the third year of its “green initiative,” which is aimed at requiring all food vendors to use compostable containers only. That means “no plastics, no foil,” said President Hugh Davis. Organizers will continue to focus on doing everything they can to make the event sustainable, and to reduce the event’s carbon footprint in the coming years.

In the future

• An app for iPhone and Android cell phones is still in the works. The app will likely include the festival’s official program, in addition to social media updates alerting festival-goers of cool things happening at various times throughout the weekend.

• Festival officials will be looking for new ways to expand marketability beyond the Garlic Festival footprint of Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy, Hollister, Aromas, San Juan Bautista to different groups/companies outside the area. One idea includes offering discount codes for Silicon Valley businesses, in addition to tourism and traveling agencies. This festival is also exploring advertising prospects with Pandora Internet Radio.

A new Herbie: The last one came out in 2008. Bowe says a new edition of the beloved mascot bobblehead will probably come out in 2013 for the festival’s 35th anniversary.

More money for good causes: Officials want to increase the amount of money donated to local nonprofits and charities. Last year surpassed the $9 million mark in revenue earned by local nonprofits during the festival’s 33 years of operation.

Follow @gilroydispatch on Twitter for your chance to win free food at the festival. The Dispatch staff will post contests to @gilroydispatch over the three days – so keep your Twitter refreshed. Don’t forget to ‘Like” us on Facebook, too (facebook.com/gilroydispatch).
Once we reach 1,000 “Likes,” all of our fans will have a chance at a giftcard to a Gilroy restaurant.