The old flash-mob-style Valentine’s Day pillow fight is back this year, but on a down note, some group is trying to hawk paid registrations for this event that remains absolutely free.
It was an upstart, renegade San Francisco tradition from 2006 up until the pandemic that there would be a Valentine’s Day pillow fight every year at Embarcadero Plaza. We do have historical record of a Feb. 14, 2006 Chronicle article saying that year's event was “San Francisco's first ‘organized’ public pillow fight,” and that “Roughly 1,000 people drawn by internet postings and word-of-mouth converged near San Francisco's Ferry Building on Tuesday night for a half-hour pillow fight.”
This was the flip-phone era when word traveled via Craigslist and MySpace. The first SFist coverage of the pillow fight was in 2008, and it quickly became an annual darling that this website would cover every year. Just look at the joy that the Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight elicited in its heyday!
But the number of pillow fight participants dwindled from the thousands down to the hundreds around 2015, either because the event’s reputation was worsening, or the idea just wasn’t that funny anymore. The “Great San Francisco Pillow Fight” also became known for the enormous mess it left behind, and its participants’ lack of attention to the volumes of feathers they left clogging storm drains and the plaza in general. SF Public Works was grudgingly left with the clean-up job each year.
Then the pandemic brought the Great San Francisco Pillow Fight tradition to a halt.
But the Valentine’s Day pillow fight appears to be pounding back. A Facebook event invite for a February 14, 2023 “SF Valentine's Day PILLOW FIGHT” currently shows “1.1k people responded.”
Yet the RSVP link goes to a site that asks you to “View Events & Pricing” and “Join the Club,” And joining the club costs anywhere from $19 a month to $59 a month.
People, it is free to attend the SF Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight! You do not have to pay for registration, it is an informal, flash-mob meetup. But just as we’ve seen with fake SantaCon tickets and fake 4/20 tickets, some event producers are trying to charge money for free events that they didn’t create and don’t even produce.
The Facebook invite shows the organizer as something called Club Urban Diversion Adventures, which does seem like a legitimate social meetup group that organizes campouts, hiking trips, poker games, and meetups, as well as some international travel trips. Nothing wrong with any of that. Some of these events are listed as “FREE” for members, others cost various amounts of money.
But membership to this club is not free. As seen above, there are tiered memberships of $19 a month, $39 a month, or $59 a month. Sure, this might be a great way to meet people if, say, you’re new in town. But with the Facebook invite linking to a paid registration page, people who are new in town might get the mistaken impression they need to pay and register for an event that has always been free, grassroots, unsanctioned, unpermitted, and without any leadership or formal organizers.
Club Urban Diversion disputes this characterization. "We are a paid social club providing members access to events that we design, host, and coordinate for our members and their guests," a marketing manager for the group tells SFist. "Sometimes this includes group meetups to public events like the pillow fight and other public festivals."
"I want to clarify that we did NOT charge for this event," that marketing manager adds. "We do charge a membership fee for members to join our community and gain access to attend events that we put together - this particular event included a group happy hour beforehand in addition to attending the free pillow fight together and was purely just a mixer we put together for our members' convenience and to have other people to go to the pillow fight together."
"We were honest in all of our marketing language that this is a free event - we genuinely just wanted to try to keep this fun SF tradition alive and get the word out to as many people as possible," they said.
❤️#HappyValentinesDay ❤️The Great San Francisco #Valentines Pillow Fight❣️Feathers flying at the Embarcadero right now. #PillowFight #love #FunFriday #tradition tonight at 10pm @KTVU pic.twitter.com/tAZ43p80vW— Jana Katsuyama (@JanaKTVU) February 15, 2020
The Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight did happen in 2020 according to KTVU coverage above, which is not surprising, because COVID would not upend our lives until a month later. There is no evidence of a 2021 pillow fight, which is sensible, as COVID deaths were spiking at that time, and only people 65 and older could get the scarce and precious new COVID-19 vaccine. The pillow fight did return in 2022, but as seen below, participation was negligibly tiny.
The Sounds Of #Valentinesday2022: The annual Vday #pillowfight returns to #Sanfrancisco with a much smaller, but still fun crowd. And, yes. We will post more pictures to our website at a later date. pic.twitter.com/b13jkiWjmV— Oakland Photo Vault (@BlackKangoPhoto) February 15, 2022
SF Public Works was not a big fan of the pillow fight in its early years, and our old friend Mohammed Nuru absolutely hated the event when he ran that department. But Public Works has softened on the Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight over the years. “This has become a San Francisco event,” Public Work spokesperson Rachel Gordon said in 2014. “People have a lot of fun with it.”
When SFist informed Public Works we’d seen a Facebook invite for a 2023 Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight that has more than 1,000 responses, Gordon was again good-natured. “We will have crews at the ready to clean up the feathery mess,” the Public Works spokesperson told us Thursday.
San Francisco Valentine's pillow fight looks amazing pic.twitter.com/A5IZFiDVOS— georgie vallance (@GeorgieVallance) February 15, 2016
Hey, if you’re so inclined, grab a pillow and head to the Embarcadero Plaza at 6 p.m. for the Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight and party like it’s 2014. Should you go, check out our tips for enjoying the pillow fight we published in 2014. Though we’ll add another tip, which is that you do not need a paid registration to participate in this free event.
Note: This post has been updated with comment from Club Urban Diversion.
Top Image: Kevin Y. via Yelp