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One of Orange’s biggest events is its annual Orange International Street Fair. Held the first three days of Labor Day weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), this hugely attended (and free!) international festival draws thousands from Orange County, Los Angeles, and even San Diego and Riverside Counties.

With the Orange Plaza Park at its center, adjacent streets are internationally named, i.e., Switzerland Street or Greek Street, and feature fare from around the globe. Booths selling food and drink are run 100% by volunteers – a good thing to remember when you’re patiently waiting in a long line.

Arts and crafts booths surround the Plaza Park, and there are eight stages performing all genres of music, from Irish bands and mariachi music to classic rock and bluegrass.

A few considerations for first-time attendees:

It’s Fun But It’s HOT

Not sure why, but it always seems like the street fair coincides with the hottest weekend all year. Is it Hades-level hot? Well, if you live in Phoenix or maybe the Sahara Desert, it’s sweater weather by comparison, but for California, it’s sweltering.

Wear light clothing and consider bringing a hat; for the extra sensitive—a portable fan might handy.

Alternatively, visit after dusk…or (even better) when it first opens (on Saturday or Sunday at 10 a.m.) to avoid the midday heat. (Be advised, however, while it cools off in the evening, with the number of people and steamy food stalls, it’s still pretty warm.)

Come HUNGRY (but bring $$$)

There are plenty of booths offering a variety of tasty dishes. One thing to consider (and feel good about) – the food and drink booths are raising funds for local non-profits and charities…so when you fork over more than you normally would for an ear of corn, at least you know it’s for a good cause. Fan favorites are the teriyaki beef on Japan Street, the gyros on Greek Street and the bratwursts on German Street.

If street food isn’t appealing, there are plenty of restaurants in the area – some of our favorites include Byblos (you’ll need reservations), Finney’s, Wazabi Sushi, and Smoqued California Barbecue.

Also, if you plan to have an adult beverage, you’ll have to buy a wristband ($5 each, cash) to enjoy the privilege (Please note — the money raised from wrist bands helps to keep this non-profit event running. It helps to pay for all the services required to put on such a large event.)

Credit or CASH?

If you’re wondering whether you need to bring cash—bring it. We didn’t and we went to the ATM. There are portable ATM stations, as well as a Wells Fargo and Chase Bank.

This said, many of the food stalls will accept Venmo or credit, but not all. (And the ID wrist band stations appear to be cash ($5).)

Arrive EARLY

If crowds aren’t your thing, I’d advise going when it first opens (at 10 a.m.) on Saturday or Sunday. It will be easier to find parking, it’s less crowded, and, bonus – it tends to be cooler.

…and speaking of PARKING

Because the main streets will be blocked off for the fair, parking is even more limited than usual. That said, there are still several lots, as well as a multi-story parking structure on Lemon Street (you can check its availability here). For the International Street Fair, many of these lots are operated by local non-profits and will charge a fee to park (averaging $10). You’ll see signs that say there is a 3-hour time limit, but this is lifted for the duration of the street fair.

In the immediate Old Towne area, if you arrive early enough, you may be lucky and find street parking in the surrounding neighborhoods. These streets are typically permit-parking only, but during the Orange street fair you won’t be ticketed. (I have this on good authority from the OPD.)

Being mindful these are residential streets, local folks are grateful if visitors are polite and refrain from littering. 🙂

Riding on the METRO

Want to skip parking altogether? Park in a lot in a city nearby and hop on the Metro! On Friday, you can get a $15 Summer Day Pass and on Saturday or Sunday, Metro Day Passes are just $10. The only thing you’ll want to bear in mind if you take the Metro is that trains stop running fairly early. (E.g., the last train on Orange County line usually departs Orange at 7:20 PM on Fridays and 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Check the Metrolink schedule for details and holiday updates.)

Bring WATER

It’s advisable to bring a bottle of water or two, particularly if you’re planning to visit during the heat of the day.

Seeing a Band? Plan To STAND

If you’re coming to see the music, just beware that you’ll likely be standing. Portable chairs aren’t allowed – and it’s generally too crowded to sit even if you wanted to.

Here are the different line-ups for all three days:

Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Wear COMFORTABLE SHOES

It’s not a huge area – so there isn’t that much walking – and if you arrive during peak times, it will be more like shuffling rather than actual walking, but wear comfortable shoes anyway. You may have a distance to walk from where you park, and it’s pretty much all cement and asphalt.

Many of the Local Boutiques and Shops CLOSE EARLY or are Closed Altogether

While there are a variety of booths selling crafts and other items, this isn’t the ideal weekend to shop the local boutiques or antique stores — many are closed. Rest assured, when you see all of the cute shops, however, you’ll want to come back!

Leave Your DOG AT HOME

No pets are allowed, unless they are service animals. And, again, it’s usually a super hot weekend – with sizzling cement and asphalt – it’s not paw-friendly anyway.

Be SAFE

With extra Orange Police Department patrols on hand, and officers stationed at every entrance, safety is a priority for the Orange International Street Fair. This includes a task force dedicated to patrolling for possible drunk drivers in the vicinity. As Public Information Officer Sgt. Phil McMullin advises, “Have fun, be safe, and stay hydrated!” (And he’s talking about water here, friends!) 😉