SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off Returns To Thorn St. To Raise Funds For Local School This Holiday Season

What began as a humble community potluck hosted by the San Diego Ceramic Connection has grown into one of the most anticipated holiday events of the year – the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off, which returns Sunday, December 5th to the intersection of Thorn and 32nd Street to raise funds for McKinley Elementary School’s Spanish, art, and music program.

This all-volunteer event has become one of the neighborhood’s largest festivals, with nearly 20,000 hungry patrons hitting the block to taste, sip, shop, and play their way through the best that San Diego has to offer. Since its
inception in 2010, the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off has raised over $565,000 for the school.

SoNo Fest is Back!

After converting a large-scale in-person event to an online ceramic bowl and shirt sale in 2020 due to the pandemic, SoNo Fest is excited to be back on the street this year. Last year’s profits of just over $15,000 were split among the long-time participating restaurants who were hard hit by lockdowns in 2020. Checks were delivered to restaurant owners and chefs, in appreciation for being the reason SoNo Fest can remain a unique and beloved annual event. It illustrated SoNo Fest’s gratitude to these generous chili makers.

Drawing top restaurants and breweries from the bordering communities, the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off features over 35 local chefs, 22 breweries, and back by popular demand this year, a cider bar helmed by Bivouac Ciderworks. A holiday artisan market, two music stages featuring local bands, and a food truck court round-out the all-ages affair.

Participating Restaurants

The Wise Ox
Original 40
The Big Front Door
Mujeres Brew House
Bivouac Ciderworks
Shank & Bone


Ceramic bowl or festival mug: $25, includes 5 chili tastings | Beer, Wine, & Spirits: $7 | Tickets sale started October 25th here.


Battling it out for bragging rights to the best pot of chili in the city, the festival features dozens of chefs from prominent restaurants in the neighborhood, each offering up a special chili inspired by their locale. Not limited to the traditional bean-and-beef chili recipes, participating chefs pull out all the stops with their creative concoctions – past entries have included a Japanese Curry Chili from Underbelly, a Duck and Pork Verde Chili from Blind Lady Alehouse, and an Island Style Rice and White Bean Chili with Smoked Local Fish + Fried Croquette from Bivouac Ciderworks.

Vegetarian and vegan creations ensure there’s something for everyone, with standout tastings from such notable establishments as Kindred, Kensington Cafe, Fernside in South Park and more. Commemorative festival mugs and unique hand-made-by-the-community ceramic bowls from San Diego Ceramic Connection will be sold for $25, and will include five chili tastings. Additional 5 tastings can be purchased for $20.


Drawing on North Park’s reputation as a craft beer mecca, SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off’s beer garden features 22 breweries from the surrounding areas. Hop heads will be able to purchase pours ($7 each) from Great American Beer Festival gold medal winners, North Park Brewing, Societe, Hess Brewing, Pizza Port, and more. Non-beer options include Bivouac Ciderworks and Boochcraft, JuneShine Hard Kombucha and Cutwater Canned Cocktails.

Italian pizzeria Buona Forchetta’s vintage pizza truck will be slinging out their award-winning Neapolitan slices straight from their portable imported pizza-oven from inside the garden for those looking for a lite bite in-between sips.


Patrons looking to partake in some holiday shopping can browse the Holiday Marketplace, where nearly 30 local makers and artisans will be offering their unique, homemade wares to eager shoppers. A curated mix of locally-made goods, including kid’s clothes, stationary, jewelry, and home décor, the holiday market features brands such as Heart Soul Printing, Butcher Press, Wild Cloud, and The Library Shop.


Truly an all-ages event, the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off features two live music stages, offering all-day entertainment long past the initial chili samplings, by hometown favorites and local legends. The Main Bancroft Stage is once again sponsored by long-time SoNo Fest supporter, The Casbah. Over on 32nd Street, kids can find activities provided by local kid-centric businesses from arts to academics, and so much more.

McKinley Elementary

Looking to build a sustainable future and offer expanded opportunities for the neighborhood children, 100% of proceeds from the festival go directly to McKinley Elementary School, a public school for kids in North and South Park. To date, the all-volunteer committee has managed to raise nearly $565,000. Funding the International Baccalaureate program, the SoNo Fest is directly responsible for the school’s ceramic, music, dance, garden, art, and Spanish programs, offering hundreds of students the opportunity to expand their educational horizons and ready themselves for middle school and beyond.

Without the funds raised, these programs would not be available for the students as these creative learning opportunities are no longer funded by the San Diego School District. Funds are also used to celebrate hardworking teachers with appreciation luncheons, classroom item purchases, and more. This is more important than ever this year, as teachers navigate Covid protocols in public schools and keep our kids learning in a safe environment.

About the SoNo Chili Fest & Cook-Off

With an all-volunteer staff of parents, teachers, and local businesses working to raise funds for arts programming at McKinley Elementary School, the twelfth annual SoNo Chili Fest & Cook-Off has evolved from a neighborhood chili exchange to one of San Diego’s most celebrated holiday traditions. Put on in conjunction with the San Diego Ceramic Connection, who provides a generous donation and supplies the keepsake bowls for the event, the festival has raised nearly $565,000 since its inception in 2010, with 100% of proceeds guaranteeing yearly funding for the Spanish, art, and music to hundreds of McKinley school children. Dominating the border boulevards of Thorn Street and 32nd, the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook Off invites top chefs and local restaurants from North Park, South Park, and the greater San Diego Area to compete in a classic chili cook-off, feeding crowds of nearly 20,000. While nearly 40 restaurants compete for a place in the Chili Hall of Fame, an expansive beer and wine garden offers refreshing pints to thirsty patrons looking to refuel. Two stages play live music throughout the day, and a food truck court allows for a respite from the chili tastings. Hosting a holiday market alongside the chili samplings, local artisans offer homemade goods and unique gifts for hungry shoppers. For more information, please visit their website here, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

See you there, San Diego!

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