If you pop on down to sunny California this summer, you’ll be in for a treat with the 34th annual San Francisco Carnaval at the end of May. And no, that’s not a typo- it is carnaval, not carnival.

With the summer months now synonymous with festivals and parties, events like these are a melting pot of sounds, smells and smiles. The idea was conceived in 1978 by a group of local musicians, artists and residents that wanted to bring the spirit of Latin America and the culture of the Caribbean to San Francisco. Now, the carnival is organised by the San Francisco Cultural Arts Traditions (SFCAT) and uses music, dance, artistry and food to bring multiculturalism to the streets. After three successful decades, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the sloping streets of San Fran for two days of salsa, samba, hip-hop and reggae. Giant stages are the platform for day-long entertainment and sparkle with colours and costumes. Visitors can learn how to drum with professional players at the Drum Grove, and a wealth of global cuisines are to be tried at the Food Pavilion. The Ninolandia area is a special children’s zone, where kids get to have fun with inflatable bounce houses, face painting and music camps.

For those that fancy themselves a royal attribute to the Carnaval, the King and Queen Competition allows people to enter themselves to become official ambassadors of the Grand Parade. Winners receive a $500 prize and are given Carnaval reign for a whole year, but first have to impress a judging panel with a performance that displays “Carnaval spirit” and cultural authenticity. Professionals only need apply.

After two days of entertainment, the Carnaval climaxes in a spectacular parade that boasts brightly dressed performers and musicians as they make their way through the city’s Mission district on lavish floats. The King and Queen winners are also paraded along the way, soaking up their ambassador fame from thousands of viewers. With an extravagant weekend of cultural fun, this promises to be the best carnival in San Francisco 2012 could hope to see.

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