Jug Handle State Natural Reserve Rhododendron

Brand-new Van Damme State Park was the venue for the First Annual Mendocino County Rhododendron Festival, May 1-2, 1937.

The festival organizing committee promoted it as “Something New and Different to Help Advertise and Develop the Entire Mendocino Coast.”

The Rhododendron Queen, who was crowned by Miss America 1925, presided over the weekend event. She was dressed in white and served by a court of attendants in assorted pastels, and was transported into the festival each day in a float covered in the festival flower. 

Festival activities included a relay race (won by the Mendocino High team), dances each evening, many speeches by local notables, and a kids' scramble for coins hidden in a pile of sand.

The organizers declared the event a success, though the crowd (over 3,000 on Sunday) at the first festival was mainly locals.

After weeks of breathless reporting on the various aspects of preparation, especially the selection of the festival queen, the weekly Mendocino Beacon contained extensive festival coverage in its next issue.

The Mendocino Rhododendron Festival was succeeded by a Rhododendron Show and Plant Sale, held in Fort Bragg each May since the early 1960s. The town of Eureka, in Humboldt County, has a Rhododendron Parade and Festival in late April each year. For more information on either of these events, see the visitor information links at right.

The peak time for rhododendron blooms on the north coast is late April through May. Though the Van Damme festival is a thing of the past, area visitors can still see many beautiful wild rhododendron blooms at Van Damme, Russian Gulch, Jug Handle State Natural Reserve (where the photograph above was taken) and other north coast state parks.