Come mid-march, thousands will pounce upon Tumbleweed Park for three rampaging days of long-necked frolicking and a flock of family-oriented thrills. Celebrating nature’s most irascible flightless bird, the Ostrich Festival showcases a smorgasbord of food, music, and events to entertain every abounding lil’ critter and bigfoot.
Luminous chandeliers float like paper lanterns above the lobby of Chandler Center for the Arts, welcoming guests entering through the towering glass facade. Inside, they find three halls—one larger auditorium, and two more intimate performance spaces—hosting a variety of musical and theatrical performances. Each theater is designed for optimal acoustics, ensuring audiences can hear every tuneful note, stage-whispered line, and breaking of the fourth wall. And the center showcases non-performing arts as well—the Exhibition Hall displays regularly rotating collections of sculptures and paintings.
It begins with a flurry of activity. Balloon operators prepare for lift-off, checking equipment and tossing ropes as spectators wander the grounds, observing the action. And then it reaches a new level: dozens of balloons take flight at once, filling the crisp December dawn sky with brilliant blues, purples, oranges, and reds that rival the colors around them. The Arizona Balloon Classic's orbs then set off on an aerial hare-and-hound race, drawing cheers from below as onlookers snap pictures.
For one weekend each year, visitors gather on the grounds to snap pictures and watch the balloons inflate and lift-off outside the Gilbert Civic Center for the Classic––a three-day festival celebrating hot-air balloon flight and culture. But the fun doesn't end with the descent to earth. After sunset the tethered balloons begin to glow, lighting up for the DESERT GLOWS portion of the festivities. Attendees browse exhibits and feast on treats from a variety of vendors, and children play in the Family Fun Zone. Last, on Saturday evening, sparks give balloons a run for their money, springing through the sky in a stunning fireworks display.
At the 12k's of Christmas, a peloton of Santas and seasonally-dressed runners race through the Gilbert's Freestone District Park. All participants receive a Santa hat to wear, and are encouraged to dress up further with colorful socks, an elf costume, or felt reindeer horns. Both 6K and 12K races feature a flat, mainly packed-gravel trail with carolers set up at every kilometer. Chronotrack chips track progress, and race organizers issue awards for the top finishers in each age bracket as well as best costumes. The race also offers a 1.2 K Santa "Sled" run, where racers are encouraged to walk a stroller or enter a souped-up wagon pulled by their pets. By partnering with adoption groups and shelters, the event operates Santa's Pet Village, which helps connects stray pets with new families.