How often do you get a chance to soar aloft in a hot air balloon, take a kayak tour of the waterfront or watch Filipino martial arts warriors wielding fighting sticks, all at the same festival on the same weekend?

The answer: Only once a year, at the annual Vallejo Waterfront Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, taking place at 301 Mare Island Way in Vallejo.

Like many street fairs, the eighth annual Waterfront Weekend includes a beer and wine garden, live music and a kids’ zone — all enjoyable pursuits, but what makes it special is its focus on the elements that make the city unique. These include Vallejo’s Filipino community and other communities of color, its waterfront and the fact that the city encompasses its own peninsula, also known as Mare Island.

Speaking of Mare Island, there’s a whole slate of offerings specific to the former naval shipyard, including the chance to see it from a hot air balloon Saturday. While the overall event is free, there’s a fee for the balloon ride and tickets must be bought in advance.

The cover of the program guide for the 8th annual Vallejo Waterfront Weekend. (Image courtesy of Vallejo Waterfront Weekend)

Continuing the local focus, visitors can hop a ferry or ease (carefully) into a kayak for a tour on San Pablo Bay. They can also jump onto a complementary loaner bike to pedal around Mare Island or take a bus tour, and it’s all free.

Just as the Renaissance Faire features jousting knights, the Waterfront Weekend has its own distinctive competitions. Visitors can watch whaleboat races with contestants rowing furiously across the water. There’s also disc golf, and one of the Waterfront Weekend’s most outstanding offerings, the annual Filipino Martial Arts Tournament.

Original Giron Escrima Federation, one of the martial arts organizations taking part, is based in Vallejo. Escrima is the traditional martial arts of the Philippines, and uses both weapons and unarmed techniques, according to the group’s website.

Vallejo was named the most diverse city in the United States in a 2012 study by Brown University, and the musical lineup reflects that diversity. Performers include Los Cochinos, billed as San Francisco’s original Latin rock and soul band, the Joyce Grant Trio, headed up by Grant, the great-great grandniece of Scott Joplin, and Santana tribute band Zebop!

The 2021 event raised $15,000 that was distributed among local nonprofits including Faith Food Fridays, Nature of Sound, Vallejo Senior Citizens Council, Vallejo Project and Watch Me Grow. Other nonprofits raised a total of $15,000 by hosting individual events at the Waterfront Weekend.

“We hope people throughout the Bay Area will come enjoy this two-day diverse event benefiting our local nonprofits. There is something for everyone,” said Jon Riley, event chair for the Waterfront Weekend.