This past Saturday I attended the first ever Vegan Oktoberfest, held right on the beach in Santa Monica, California. Oktoberfest is such a quintessential October celebration, I was so, so excited that we finally had an all-vegan option for this celebration of drink and food! I had grabbed early-bird VIP tickets (cost: $50 each, though after the early bird sale they went up to $65 each) pretty much the day they announced the event many months back, so I had been eagerly anticipating attending this vegan event.
This was around noon when we first got there...I wish I had an
"after" picture to show what it looked like later!
Of course, a Southern Californian heat wave just had to occur on the weekend of the event, so that was a major bummer. It was in the high 90s, even right on the beach. That also meant that droves turned out for a beach day, making parking at the event a nightmare. With VIP tickets, I had early entry and showed up early, but the lot the event organizers said there would be parking in was already full (half of it taken up by the event itself), so we wasted a good 1/2 hour - 45 minutes driving around looking for alternate parking. We finally found a lot, but we could only park there for 4 hours, definitely putting a damper on the event before we even got there. Event organizers (this goes for all events, not just this one) - PLEASE figure out the parking situation and let your patrons know ahead of time. We would have arrived a lot earlier if we knew parking was going to be such a pain in the ass.
Lots and lots of tables, but these filled up ridiculously fast! I also
wish the canopy made it shadier instead of just providing
light cover from the awful heat.
Food I tried, clockwise from top left: grilled cheese sauerkraut
sausage sammie from The Grilled Cheese Truck, pretzels with
dipping sauces from Sage, fish and chips from Sage, beer brat
from Southern Fried Vegan.
Beer cupcakes from Life is Sweet!
I also got to try KindKreme's vegan ice cream for the first time. I got their Cookies and Cream flavor and it was a welcome respite from the heat! I thought the consistency was a bit grainy, and the aftertaste was funky, but overall it was okay. I also tried their berry flavor, and I thought that tasted way better than the Cookies and Cream one I got. One scoop ran me $4.38 (yes, I remember the stupid .38 because I had to dig through change to find it...can't they just make it $4 as advertised??).
Kind Kreme's Cookies n Cream ice cream.
Picked up three Nary Dairy cheeses - their special Bavarian Beer flavor,
Chia Cheddar and Hickory Smoked! All so delicious!
So, after getting all the food I could and drinking as many brews possible in an hour, the general admission people started to be let in and that's when it clearly got clusterfucked. It got over-crowded really fast, and we had to leave at 3:30 anyway because the lot where we parked had a 4 hour maximum. It was probably for the best that we left early, because it got so overcrowded you could barely walk. Plus, you couldn't really talk to anyone you ran into because the music was so freaking loud. Seriously, I don't need to hear "The Chicken Dance" for the 1,000th time at full blast, thanks. I go to concerts all the time, but for a festival the music was just too loud and annoying. And when it got overcrowded, you couldn't even sit down...the special VIP section was always full with no place to sit and the regular area was full as well. I really appreciate they had actual places to sit, but the VIP area was tiny and needed to be bigger to accommodate everyone who bought a ticket.
Traditional apple strudel from Life is Sweet Bakeshop!
Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate that there is a Vegan Oktoberfest and I am lucky to have such an event in my area, however, I hope they make improvements if they ever have this again, because there was some serious issues that need to be addressed and I am not sure if I would ever attend this event again. You'll find my pros and cons below.
- VIP entry was quick and easy.
- VIP was worth it ONLY to take advantage of the short lines for 1 hour before general admission - protip: buy all the food you want during this hour, because you DO NOT want to wait in the long lines after GA is let in.
- It was 21 and over. If they had let kids or people with strollers in I probably would have murdered somebody. So glad it was 21 and over!
- There was a good selection of breweries on-hand.
- There was a decent selection of food available, a big enough selection where I didn't get to try everything I wanted.
- I liked that they had a big section of tables and chairs where you could eat your food and rest (though these filled up fast and later you couldn't find a place to sit).
- The Porta Potties were set up in two locations and there was never a line. They were pretty clean, too.
- Bottled water was only $1.
- Parking was awful. Next time they should more clearly anticipate the large crowds and tell people exact locations of alternate options to park at (and not just the crappy 4 hour lots!!!).
- The location itself was meh. I didn't like that it was just in the parking lot...it would have been better if it was in the adjacent park (though I'm not sure if this would have been possible due to city regulations). And can they pick a location that is not smack-dab in the one of the most popular beach spots? Maybe somewhere off-the-beaten path where traffic isn't hell? Maybe they could consider hosting the event inside a building as well - I don't get the appeal of outside festivals.
- The VIP section was too small - I didn't even get to utilize it since it was always full. It felt like a rip-off that we didn't get access to what we paid for.
- Some of the selections for food vendors was iffy - the Green Truck was there, even though they have lied about stuff being vegan when it really wasn't before. It seems like the organizers could have selected more honest and dedicated vegan food trucks or better vegan vendors.
- It was nice they had lots of tables and chairs, but these still filled up fast! They definitely needed more room for the 1,000s of people that attended.
- The music was too loud and I couldn't even hear what friends were saying. Seriously, no reason for it to be so loud except to annoy patrons. Not to mention the band played the same two songs over and over again. Spend more money on a bigger, better venue and just ditch the band next time.
- Not enough shade, especially since we were all walking around a hot parking lot. Definitely needed more shade and maybe a "cool-off" station with misters.
- They had Bavarian maidens, but why not Bavarian dudes for the ladies??
- The crowds. By far the biggest complaint of everyone there! There was barely any room to walk inside the event and when we left there were still people waiting to get IN (I guess the event reached its capacity early on and they couldn't let anyone in unless people left due to fire and city codes). I know people that just ended up leaving before they got in because the entry line was so long. Even if they had gotten in, they would have faced daunting lines for food or missed out on food/beer since many places were selling out. TONS of people are complaining about the event being oversold. Vegan Oktoberfest needs to consider either getting a bigger (and better) venue, or releasing less tickets so their event isn't so crowded. Soooo many people are asking for refunds because they couldn't get in, or they got in and couldn't do anything because the lines were long and it was too crowded to move. Poor planning, Oktoberfest, and I hope you are refunding people!
I feel like such a grumpy vegan ragging on this event, but I honestly didn't have that great of a time. I felt like they could have planned the event a lot better and overall was let-down and disappointed. I know this is their first year, so I have to give them a bit of slack due to that, but they need to make serious improvements in coming years. I love that a vegan event completely sold out, but if it's poorly planned and ill-executed, people won't be back next year.
I had really hoped Oktoberfest would be a fun kick-off to my October, but it was more disappointing than anything else.