Florence Events Center, 715 Quince Street
Third weekend in May
Launched in 1908, the same year as the inaugural Portland Rose Festival, the Florence Rhododendron Festival is the oldest floral festival in Oregon, and the second oldest on the West Coast. Each year, this multifaceted citywide celebration draws throngs of visitors to this otherwise quiet and charming central-coast community of nearly 9,000 residents. Laura Johnson reigned as the first festival queen and decades later explained that key local citizens started the event to draw tourists and their dollars to the town, and the peak of the rhododendron bloom seemed the ideal time—the showy shrubs abound in the coastal woodlands. That first year, the widely known itinerant frontiersman and poet Joaquin Miller, uncle of Johnson’s future husband, Melvin Miller, was chosen as Grand Marshall, a shrewd ploy to lend credibility to the event.
Florence Rhododendron Festival – Top USA Festivals Photo Gallery
Since those early years, the Rhododendron Festival has grown into one of the coast’s most anticipated annual festivals, each year sporting a different theme. People come from all over the state and beyond, transforming Florence into a lively, bustling, vibrant little city that rolls out the welcome mat for all the visitors and treats them to a host of interesting and entertaining events and activities. Throughout the weekend, one of the big draws is the spectacular rhododendron display in which hundreds of the beautiful flowers garnish the Florence Events Center. The festival officially begins with the Thursday night Rhododendron Court coronation, and the crowning of the year’s Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast, naturally held amid the blossoms at the Event Center. On Friday, the festival’s carnival proves a big hit with kids (and lasts late into the night for older kids), continuing through the weekend; the annual arts festival sponsored by the Florence Regional Arts Alliance begins at the Events Center and continues through the weekend. At the local Three Rivers Casino Resort, the Let it Ride vendor fair begins on Friday, and through the weekend, the casino hosts a variety of Let it Ride events focused on the motorcycle culture that has become a big part of the Florence Rhododendron Festival.
On Saturday morning, runners converge at the Events Center for the Rhody Run, which has been part of the festival for more than forty years, and the Maple Street Vendor Fair takes over Old Town from 10 am until 6 pm. At the casino, Saturday brings the Let it Ride Motorcycle Show, and not to be outdone by the two-wheelers, the Beachkomer’s Car Club sponsors a popular, colorful Show ’n’ Shine featuring beautifully restored vintage automobiles. The Rhody Festival Junior Parade is a huge draw on Sunday. Throughout the festival, many other events, varying somewhat annually, make this vibrant coastal community a great place to visit.
In addition to the Rhododendron Festival and its myriad activities, Florence—Oregon’s Coastal Playground, as the local chamber accurately proclaims—offers ready access to outstanding sand beaches and coastal recreation activities. Florence boasts a variety of excellent restaurants, along with numerous lodging options (my blog well in advance for Rhody Fest weekend).