Downtowns have long served as cultural and economic centers while reflecting the community’s unique history and identity. Today’s successful urban centers are also vibrant places that attract residents and visitors alike by activating the street fronts through beautification programs, revitalization, and a collection of unique shops, restaurants, theaters, breweries, and signature events.
One Southern California city that is “bringing back Main Street” as the place to be is Vista. The City’s historic and happening Downtown has come back to life over the last few years thanks in part to the myriad of events that take place during the year.
The Rhythm & Brews Festival combines the best of San Diego's craft brews with amazing musical talent each May. And the annual Vista Strawberry Festival follows on Memorial Day commemorating the town's agricultural history.
And those two popular events are just the start!
Vista Rod Run
One such event is the Vista Rod Run, which has become an annual tradition that draws over 5,000 people to Downtown Vista who are eager to check out hundreds of classic and custom hot rods, street rods, muscle cars, and trucks. The famous “Rumblefest,” held on hip and historic Main Street, showcases some of the finest and most unique vintage hand-built cars from all over Southern California.
“We have seen the car registrations and community involvement increase each year,” said Debbie Medrano, owner of Five Star Premier Events, which has been coordinating the Vista Rod Run for the past five years. “In 2019, we had 345 cars, the highest participation to date. We are happy to say cars from all over Southern California joined the event - San Diego County, Riverside County, and Orange County. We also added some new categories for trophies and it was fun to have winners who have never won before express their surprise. The memorabilia museum was a hit this year too. Everyone got to see memorabilia from the very first year to this year.”
Medrano described the sights and sounds of the Rod Run for people who have never been.
“Music from a DJ played throughout the entire event, so no matter where you are you feel a part of the action and entertainment,” she said. “People are very curious about how the owners acquired their car and what they have done to the car. Some cars are even for sale. All day long they share stories of the past and they love it. It’s a fun time of comradery and a little bragging time.”
“One of the things that makes this show unique is that it fills the Downtown area streets,” Medrano added. “It brings people from all around to enjoy the day and all that Vista has to offer. Many car shows are in parking lots or on the grass at parks. There's a lot of history in Downtown Vista and it has many boutique stores and great restaurants. So, the Vista Rod Run is a fun day for the entire family.”
The Vista Rod Run also gives back to its community. Through its raffle, the event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Vista Teen Outreach, which aims to help middle school and high school students by feeding 500 to 800 students per month. Meanwhile, T.J. Crossman, the owner of TJ Crossman’s Auto Repair, gives away a free car to a local family or individual in need.
Local businesses also benefit from the Rod Run.
“The Rod Run draws several thousand people to the area who may have never been,” Medrano said. “It's great exposure for the local businesses and it’s our hope that they will return to Downtown Vista again. There is so much offered - boutiques, restaurants, breweries, etc… We are also seeing new cars and owners each year enter the Rod Run. The lively environment in Downtown Vista may play a part in the new additions of the show’s entries.”
One Downtown business owner who sees a boost in business during the Rod Run is Natalie Trevino, who runs Twice On Main, an upscale resale clothing and accessories shop.
“The Rod Run positively impacts Downtown as a whole,” she said. “It brings in patrons to the restaurants, breweries, and retailers. I personally have a great day during that event. People are relaxed and are just milling around looking at the cars and the local establishments. Next to the Strawberry Festival and Taste of Vista, it’s one of my most financially beneficial days.”
Vista Night Out
Trevino’s most favorite event Downtown is Vista Night Out, a monthly street fair that features local artisans, music, and food.
“It’s still small but it’s growing,” she said. “The vibe is super chill. Seeing families relaxed and smiling while listening to live music and enjoying street vendors is awesome. The third Wednesday of every month is sure to become a night in Vista you won’t want to miss.”
She added that the transformation Downtown Vista is becoming more evident as the streets have become more lively.
“Friday nights are really happening down here now. I have even extended my Friday hours to accommodate the boost in foot traffic. I do credit the City of Vista for this growth. Officials like (Economic Development Director) Kevin Ham have drawn in phenomenal new restaurants that have fast-forwarded major growth in Downtown.”
“The events Downtown are key in aiding this growth,” Trevino added. “People who may not have known of the cool new spots in Vista see them when they come from other areas for the specific events. It's wonderful exposure for our businesses. Even if folks don’t shop, sip, or eat the day of the event, I hear people say all the time that they came Downtown for a certain event and returned later after being surprised with how much Vista has grown and changed. It’s really cool.”
It's all about community
For Kevin Ham, creating an active Downtown creates a strong community.
“Downtowns are iconic and powerful symbols for a city,” he said. “They usually have the most iconic and historic landmarks and can offer insights into a city’s past, present, and future. Unlocking that past and activating the streets Downtown give residents a sense of place and pride while creating a fun and vibrant gathering place for visitors from all over.”
For a list of cool happenings in Downtown Vista, click here.