Tulips on Pearl Street
Spring tulips on Pearl Street Mall. Photo by Ann Duncan

The Kids’ Guide to Boulder’s Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival


As many as 5,000 tiny fairies, elves and other curious creatures will flood the Pearl Street Mall early April to welcome the spring. They will celebrate amid the backdrop of more than 15,000 colorful tulips flown to Colorado straight from Holland.

Springtime in Boulder is marked by the annual Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival.

This family-friendly event draws a huge crowd of costumed kiddos and their families to see the official Tulip Fairy, who is said to prance along the streets and “awaken” the flowers.

This year’s festival runs 1-5 p.m. Sunday, April 2. The rain date (because springtime) is the following Sunday, April 9.

Most kids dress up — wings encouraged — making it feel a bit like a cheerful, warm-weather Halloween party.

Boulder Tulip Fairy Festival
A mini fairy at the Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival. Photo courtesy Downtown Boulder Partnership

“To see hundreds of girls and boys of all ages with fairy wings or re-purposing their Halloween costumes is nothing short of adorable. This is a one-of-a-kind, only-in-Boulder event,” says Terri Takata-Smith, spokesperson for the Downtown Boulder Partnership.

Naturally, fairy costumes are the most popular, but that’s not to say you won’t spot a Peter Pan or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle walking around, Takata-Smith says.

“It seems like the plan is that if a fairy costume isn’t readily available, whatever was worn last October will work just fine,” she says.

The event includes a parade, entertainment, booths, face painting and free activities, such as foam sword battles, cookie decorating, art projects, a dinosaur dig, educational wildlife and nature games and more.

This year, the festival has even more activities than in the past, including a performance of “The Tale of Cinderella” by Boulder Performing Arts Company Star Performers.

The Tulip Fairy and Elf Parade begins mid-event, at 3:30 p.m. It departs from the stage in front of the Boulder County Courthouse (on the 1300 block of Pearl Street) and weaves down the mall. All little elves and fairies are welcome to join (most are between ages 3 and 6). This is a parade your kids get to be in, not just watch.

The parade is short, only lasting about 10 minutes and it doesn’t cross any streets.

The stage features live entertainment all afternoon, including Waking the Bear this year. This popular band (back by demand), a duo of Jeff Kagan and Paige Doughty of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, centers its tunes around the outdoors and ecology. Songs educate kids about issues such as insects and energy conservation, but in a playful, fun way.

The Tulip Fairy herself is actually a business leader in the Boulder community. Debra Ordway is the owner of one of Boulder’s best costume shops, Theatrical Costumes, Etc. She has been the official Tulip Fairy since 2011, and she rotates her wonderfully bright and decorative costume every year. You never know what she’ll be wearing.

Tulips on Pearl Street
Tulips on Pearl Street Mall. Photo by Ann Duncan

History of the Tulip Festival

The festival began in 2002 and ran for two years, before it was halted. Back then, it was called Boulder in Bloom and it was more of a celebration of spring and the flowers. It was a way to get people out of their houses and into downtown as the weather warmed up, Takata-Smith says.

After 2004, the event was forgotten for about seven years, until theDowntown Boulder Partnership revamped it again in 2011. Its new incarnation was the Tulip Fairy Parade, geared toward families.

“The event became kid-centric, as we found that parents were looking for events to get their little ones out of the house after wintertime,” Takata-Smith says.

Shortly thereafter, event organizers decided to make it more inclusive and include elves, too. (Not every kid wants to be a fairy.)

During the early years, the parade was small and just marched up and down the bricks, but as the event has grown in popularity and size, it became too big for just a parade. That’s when it morphed into a festival.

Then, event organizers invited businesses and community partners to set up booths, which allowed the event to last longer, Takata-Smith says.

The tulip festival is the only tulip event in Boulder that Takata-Smith knows of, which is what makes it so special, she says.

“The tulips on the mall seem to grow twice as big as they do elsewhere, so this event is a perfect way to kick off the spring season,” she says.

The city’s parks and rec department also has held an annual tulip bulb giveaway for about a decade. The giveaway is every August, first come, first served, on the courthouse lawn. More than 50,000 tulips have been given away since the event started.

The department asks for donations, although tulips are free. The goal is to raise money to support the mall’s tulip display, and also help beautify Boulder’s homes and public spaces.

Local tip: “Spend the day. The event kicks off at 1 p.m. but the tulips are on display 24/7. It’s a perfect day to stroll in and out of downtown shops and enjoy a nice breakfast, brunch or lunch before the event kids off,” Takata-Smith says. Plus, parking garages are free Saturdays and Sundays.

Boulder tulips
Tulips on the mall in 2016. Photo by Flickr user Aperture Armadillo (https://flic.kr/p/GCVKk6)

Boulder’s Tulips

Pearl Street in Boulder is well-known for its extravagant tulip display. It’s been an annual tradition since the mid-1980s.

The City of Boulder’s parks staff works directly with a flower expert in the Netherlands to plan a unique flower bulb display each year, which they plant on the mall every spring and summer. They also bring in more than 6,000 annuals to provide a varied display throughout the season.

The flowers fill the 58 brick, ground flower beds, many that run along the middle of the historic walking mall. Plus seven raised beds, 98 hanging pots and 52 additional containers.

The end result is spectacular and draws visitors to Boulder just to witness it.

Boulder Tulip Fairy Festival
Kids at the Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival. Photo courtesy Downtown Boulder Partnership

[x_custom_headline type=”left” level=”h3″ looks_like=”h2″ accent=”true”]The Numbers[/x_custom_headline]

More than 6,000 annuals
More than 15,000 tulip bulbs from Holland

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