SANTA MARIA, Calif. -

The 26th annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival kicks off Friday. Organizers expect this year to be bigger and better than ever before.

“We’re expecting good weather and a good crowd. We have, on Friday, senior day, and of course, this year we have a special feature for the seniors. They get to come into the festival for free,” said Yvonne Biely, spokesperson for the Santa Maria Fairpark.

In 2012, more than 160,000 people went to the festival, breaking the previous year’s record. “We’re expecting another record year. We think that with the weather holding out on us and just, you know, staying nice,” said Biely.

That foot traffic also rolls over to local hotels and restaurants. “We’re expected to be full this weekend. We didn’t expect that and inquiries are up tremendously,” said Santa Maria Inn General Manager John Reinacher.

The festival is also a great opportunity for strawberry growers to showcase the county’s top crop.