FREMONT -- One of the city's most popular street fairs returns this weekend, and organizers hope that continuing the annual tradition will help them start a new one: attracting regular visitors to its growing downtown.

The Fremont Festival of the Arts -- called the largest free street festival west of the Mississippi River -- is expected to draw nearly 400,000 revelers to the center of the city Saturday and Sunday.

"It's a Fremont tradition," Mayor Bill Harrison said. "And the festival is a great tool to draw people to downtown Fremont."

The festival offers a combo of music performances, art, beer stands, a wine garden, car show and "Kid City," an area filled with games and entertainment for children. Its diverse food choices will include gourmet meals, as well as pizza, burgers and other guilty pleasures.

Wind Spinners on display along Paseo Padre Parkway during the 2011 Fremont Festival of the Arts. The two day outdoor festival expects big crowds this
Wind Spinners on display along Paseo Padre Parkway during the 2011 Fremont Festival of the Arts. The two day outdoor festival expects big crowds this weekend. (Anda Chu/Staff)

"It's about the arts, the culture, the food," Harrison said. "It's about seeing old friends you haven't seen since last year."

The event, now in its 30th year, is produced by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.

Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, the festival will be held along Paseo Padre Parkway, Capitol and Beacon avenues, as well as parts of State, Liberty and Hastings streets. The site is in the heart of Fremont's downtown, a 110-acre area that officials hope to transform into a pedestrian-friendly retail destination akin to what Pleasanton, Livermore and other East Bay cities enjoy.

Change has already begun in the area, near Fremont BART and Central Park. Sprouts Farmers Market, a health grocery store, opened last year. Whole Foods Market and Paragon at Downtown, a 300-unit apartment building, soon will open.

"Exciting things are happening in downtown Fremont, and each year, the festival's out-of-town visitors are seeing incremental progress," Harrison said.

The first festival was held in 1983 in the Fremont Hub Shopping Center, situated just a few blocks west of the current site. Three decades later, the street fair is much bigger, and officials hope that growth becomes a tradition of its own.

"The city is constantly seeking to show people where our downtown is and to show them what we have planned there in the future," Harrison said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

If you go
WHAT: Fremont Festival of the Arts
WHERE: Downtown Fremont (along Paseo Padre Parkway/Capitol Avenue, nearby streets)
WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
INFO: www.fremontfestival.net