California Festivals


Monterey La Merienda Birthday Party

June 3, 2023, 11:15 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Monterey History & Art Association
Memory Garden
20 Custom House Plaza
Monterey, CA

Monterey History and Art's La Merienda event celebrates the City of Monterey's birthday with a very special barbecue, mariachis, pinatas and a festive "Californio" party in the historic Memory Garden on Custom House Plaza. La Merienda (Spanish word for picnic) includes great food and entertainment, a procession, and much, much more. This community event celebrates the founding of the City of Monterey in June 1770 when Father Junipero Serra (Pope Francis has recently proclaimed that Father Serra will canonized as a Saint) and Captain Gaspar de Portola celebrated with a picnic overlooking the Monterey Bay.

La Merienda celebrates the City of Monterey's 253rd birthday with a very special BARBECUE BUFFET EXTRAVAGANZA, a five-star culinary experience created by the OLD FISHERMAN’S GROTTO CHEFS and the VIP Merienda Barbecue Committee, with entertainment by Mike Marotta, Jr. & special guests, mariachis, folklorico dancers, and a festive "Californio" party in the historic Memory Garden on Custom House Plaza.

Monterey's birthday celebration

The OLD FISHERMAN'S GROTTO CHEFS and the VIP Merienda Barbeque Committee will once again create La Merienda's BBQ BUFFET EXTRAVAGANZA, a five-star culinary experience that includes Certified Angus Beef New York Steak, BBQ chicken breast, mild Italian sausage, salmon, sautéed shrimp scamp, Paella and more delicious accompaniments and a few culinary surprises. This mouthwatering feast will be followed by the La Merienda traditional dessert, a beautiful multi-layered birthday cake decorated with roses, from Layers Bakery, cut ceremoniously with the historic sword of Colonel Fitch.

La Merienda also features Master of Ceremonies David Marzetti and outstanding entertainment by local legend and accordion player extraordinaire Mike Marotta Jr. and his special guests, mariachis and folkorico dancers. Gallant dons, donas and senoritas in 18th century costumes will be the order of the day at this festive "Californio" party. For more details for this not-to-be-missed event, go

A Very Unique Barbecue!

La Merienda features a festive barbecue prepared and served by community leaders and local chefs. It includes a choice of tri tip steak or chicken, salad, beans, garlic bread, followed by dessert, a festively rose-adorned cake.

Hosting a Party Within the Party!

La Merienda can be described as a party within a party” with uniquely decorated hosted tables. Attendees invite friends, don a costume, decorate a table, and have fun at this festive event! Or… just come for the celebration, join a table and make some new friends. This outstanding event attracts over 500 people.

Join elected officials, military leaders, and local dignitaries at this not-to-be-missed event! Children and grandchildren of attendees 4 to 11 years old may celebrate with their very own "La Merienda para los Ninos " held concurrently at the MHAA/Stanton Center, featuring a full program of activities including participation in the cake ceremony.

At a Glance:

What: Annual La Merienda Celebration - City of Monterey's birthday party, is a colorful fiesta barbecue of delicious foods, wine, beer, soft drinks, gallant dons and donas, lovely senoritas, lively music and festive dance.

For more information about Monterey History and Art Association and the Museum of Monterey at Stanton Center, go to

About La Merienda

La Merienda, Monterey's birthday party, is a colorful fiesta barbecue of delicious foods, wine, beer, soft drinks, gallant dons and donas, lovely senoritas, lively music and festive dance. La Merienda (the Spanish term for afternoon picnic or mid-day meal) re-enacts an elegant 18th century fiesta. It celebrates the founding of the town of Monterey on June 3, 1770 when Padre Junípero Serra, father of the California missions, and Captain Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish military leader, joined forces to establish the pueblo of Monterey, California's first Capital.

Their meeting also honored the founding of the Royal Presidio Chapel, which today is known as San Carlos Cathedral. After the ceremonies that day, everyone sat down for a picnic under a large oak tree near their ship, the San Antonio, which rested in the harbor.

The first modern Merienda was celebrated in 1929, two years before the formation of the Monterey History and Art Association. A ceremony at Colton Hall and a small luncheon at the Memory Garden marked the occasion. It was presided over by Carmel Martin and Harry Greene. The next year, 350 people joined Carmel Martin, who again acted as Master of Ceremonies, in the Memory Garden and once again celebrated Monterey's birthday. The Monterey History and Art Association has celebrated this important early California historic event every year since the Association was established in 1931 (except one year during World War II).

La Favorita/Doncellas/La Duena

Each year since La Merienda was founded, a local young woman with historic connections to Monterey is chosen as La Favorita, and with her lovely court, reigns over this unique celebration of Monterey's history. Two other young women are selected to serve as her attendants (Doncellas). The women who are chosen for these roles, accompanied by a chaperone (La Duena) can trace their ancestry back through Monterey history many generations. These attractive young women dress in traditional white Spanish gowns and mantillas (scarfs) and greet guests, cut the birthday cake and hold court at the celebration. A past La Merienda Court included Kaitlyn Williams- La Favorita; Lauren Allen- Doncella; Rosemary "Rose" Russo-Doncella and Edith (Edie) Adams McDonald- Duena. The Cake Bearers were Nicholas Williams, Brother of Kaitlyn Williams, and David Brown. A new court is selected annually.

About the event

The event includes a delicious barbecue and lively entertainment, as well as a huge 75-pound birthday cake beautifully decorated with fresh roses. The cake is carried in by local young men (cake-bearers”), and is sliced with the sword of Colonel Roger S. Fitch, the first President of the Monterey History and Art Association. This event has been sponsored annually by the Monterey History and Art Association for more than 80 years. Members of Monterey History and Art Association serve as voluntary hosts and hostesses in period costumes at colorfully decorated tables. All guests are also welcome to dress in 18th century costume.

The recipient of Monterey History and Art Association's most prestigious award, the Laura Bride Powers Award, is announced at La Merienda. This award is named after the woman who is credited with conceiving both the idea of the Association and the Merienda celebration, which antedated MHAA's founding. Mrs. Powers was the Curator of the Custom House and First Theater and an ardent student of California history.

The colorful celebration is held in the Memory Gardens, located near the Custom House Plaza in historic downtown Monterey behind the Portola Plaza Hotel. Festivities begin at 11:15 A. M. with dancing. The doors open to Memory Gardens where the aromas of the delicious barbeque greet the guests. Day-long entertainment includes music by Mariachis and a procession of local and international dignitaries and costumed ladies and gentlemen, reenacting an old tradition. The gaily-decorated tables are hosted by more than 50 MHAA volunteers, who provide hospitality to the guests. After the steak, chicken and bean barbeque (served by another 25 well-known local volunteers) the traditional Merienda birthday cake is paraded around the Garden and then cut and served with much ceremony. There is also a new 50-50 drawing this year!

The La Merienda Barbecue is always served by well-known community members. In past years, La Merienda Barbecue servers have included Peter Coniglio, who coordinates this part of the event in the past with Chris Shake taking over to coordinate it in 2015. Leon Panetta, Dan Albert, Dan Baldwin, Ted Balestreri, Sr., Teddy Balestreri, Bill Curtis, Marc and Eric DelPiero, Jay Hudson, George Kodama, Nino Palma, Dave Potter, Carmelo Tringali, Russ Harris, Bert Cutino, Tony Leyva, Bob Masarro, Sal Ferrante, Dino Ferrante and John Lotz compose some of the barbecue team in the recent past.

La Merienda sponsorships, donations and other services help to defray the cost of this unique not-to-be-missed Monterey celebration. All proceeds above the cost of the Merienda itself go to Monterey History and Art Association's support and maintenance of the Museum of Monterey at Stanton Center, Casa Serrano, the Doud House and the Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library.

(Provided by the Monterey Public Library from the book, Early California Hospitality by Ana Packman)

Ana Packman describes Spanish colonists as typically carrying with them dried meats, beans, corn, and a short while later, the native people introduced them to wild herbs, roots, seeds. She was unable to find mention of the food served at this early event in 1770 but in The March of Portola by Zoeth Eldredge, she mentions that native people had a few days earlier left meat, fish, and shell fish skewered on downturned arrows near Pt. Pinos. It's probable that other provisions included tortillas and beans.

Within a decade, the Spanish colonists would have had more variety in the menu. Packman describes La Merienda (The Afternoon Collation) as such, "After the siesta, in mid-afternoon, rested and refreshed, and just before starting out to finish the day's labor, the Californian partook of la merienda, which was a light luncheon of sweets, sweet curd cheese, ripe black olives, wafers, and pastries with cha) the native herb tea), chocolate, or coffee..."

"Any of the following combinations was served as refreshments: Cha y puchas (Wild herb tea and short cakes), Agua-fresca (Wine, orange blossom or chia and sweetened water), Tostadas (crisp corn wafers), Dulce de membrillo (Quince conserve).

Packman also describes a Comida de Campo, or picnic dinner, which is a little more akin to the foods that might be had at today's Merienda: Carne asada (fresh meat broiled over embers); Sarsa de tomate y chile verde (Tomato and green chile relish); Frijoles (beans); Dulce de calabaza (candied pumpkins); Emanadas de calabaza, de frijoles, y de carne (pumpkin-filled turnovers, spiced beans, and minced-meat); Tortillas de harina (Wheat-flour tortillas; Vino tinto (red wine).

About Monterey History and Art Association:

From its founding in 1931, the Monterey History and Art Association's primary mission has been to help preserve the irreplaceable reminders of Monterey's colorful heritage. Over the past eight decades, the Association has worked closely with the City of Monterey, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other agencies. As a result, more old adobes have been preserved and restored in Monterey than anywhere else in California.

The Association instituted Monterey's historic landmark program and created the Path of History which guides visitors to historic sites in old Monterey. It possesses extensive collections of furnishings, paintings, photographs, costumes, books, manuscripts, and other artifacts, and is the parent organization of the following Monterey institutions: Museum of Monterey at Stanton Center, Casa Serrano, and the Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library.

The Monterey History and Art Association has been a guiding force in Monterey's vital historic stewardship. The guarding of Monterey's precious community assets and the preservation and presentation of its historical heritage for future enjoyment has been made possible by citizens who care and give generously of their time and resources.

The Monterey History and Art Association, is the oldest cultural institution on the Monterey Peninsula.

The Museum of Monterey at Stanton Center is dedicated to being a leader in models of history and social studies education and a regional leader in educational programming. The Museum implements an array of education-centered programs including outreach and special events. Programs engage the community in innovative and dynamic ways while providing opportunities for life-long learning. To support these goals, the Museum is committed to the creation of a strong educational program with an infrastructure that supports effective services. They are dedicated to increasing the potential for visual and historic literacy, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Topically, the Museum of Monterey at Stanton Center focuses on the Monterey Region as a community tied to the land and inspires the appreciation for the beauty and complexity of its rich history.

Events are not guaranteed. It is your responsibility to confirm before going.

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