[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

A perfect Santa Barbara day got thousands of people of all ages to dance, play and learn, all in a drive for a better planet at the annual Earth Day Festival on Saturday at Alameda Park. The festival continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Nearly 35,000 people are expected to attend the festivities organized by the Community Environmental Council.

“It’s been a hard week, considering recent national news,” said CEC assistant director Sigrid Wright, referring to the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon and the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.

“People really needed to connect and capture a positive spirit.”

The grounds were occupied by around 200 vendors, Wright said.

“They gathered to learn and inspire each other,” she said.

People are encouraged to attend the festival in environmentally friendly ways. Free bike valet parking is offered by the northwest park entrance on the corner of East Micheltorena and Anacapa Streets.

“There’s so many things I‘ve learned,” said local Magaly Ortiz, 25, who came with her two daughters, age four and six. “I was recycling things that I didn’t even know weren’t supposed to be recycled.”

Animals are welcome. One exhibitor brought a goat, a calf and chicks for visitors to view and pet. Food vendors offer snacks and cooling beverages, which could be much needed in the heat or after participating in activities. Alcoholic beverages are offered in the Wine & Beer Garden — in front of the main stage — for those of legal age.

With close to 300 volunteers, around 50 production staffers and four Santa Barbara police officers walking the grounds, this year’s festival “has been historically incident-free,” Wright told Noozhawk on Saturday afternoon.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in response to the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Every year one or two environmentalists are recognized and honored with the “Hero Award.” On Saturday, that distinction was bestowed on Van Jones, an environmental and civil rights activist and former White House adviser to President Barack Obama.

“I think we’re all heroes,” Jones told Noozhawk after accepting the award. “I’m happy to get the award and to feel encouraged to keep going forward.”

On Sunday, Bill Nye, TV host and advocate for global-change awareness, will accept his award at 2 p.m. on the main stage.

Click here to download the full guide for the Earth Day Festival.

Noozhawk intern Gabriella Slabiak can be reached at gslabiak@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.