10 Reasons Not to Miss the State Fair

Momservation: Cotton candy and a corn dog just taste better at the fair.

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The California State Fair comes to town this Friday, July 12-28. Time to hide that beef corn dog behind your back as you look into the big brown eyes of a prize Holstein.

I LOVE the fair.

As a kid the pinnacle of summer was when the fair finally rolled into town in late August. All summer my cousins and I would debate which ride we were going to ride first, what carnival games we thought we had the best odds of winning at, and excitedly anticipating our normally stingy great-grandmother giving us each a whole $20 bill to spend—a virtual fortune at the Monterey County Fair in the 1970’s (Easily a whole new glass set for our moms at the Dime Toss and new ashtrays for Aunt Chris).

It wasn’t until I was 16 and a date drove us from the Bay Area to the California State Fair here in Sacramento that I discovered that a fair could be so much more than the anticipation of graduating from a small grassy field of little kids rides to a dusty strip of big kid attractions.

It was HUGE! A midway so big you could get lost in its maze of carnival rides and games! Entire buildings for the exhibits where you could get so much more than a free pencil or paper fan from the Senior Gleaners! Not just a pen of cow and pigs but a pavilion of livestock! A promenade of food vendors as far as they eye could see! And no more racing from one end of the fair to the other to be the first back in line for the Scrambler after getting more money from our moms hanging at the wine shack…this fair was so big a Monorail circled it!

I didn’t know about other states, but I was sure nobody had nothin’ on California when it came to fairs.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and I still believe the pinnacle of summer is the fair. There’s something magical about gathering up your family on a warm summer evening and letting your senses loose to frolic in the sight, sound, smell and feel of a quintessential summer experience. Families have been doing it for over 160 years!

IMG_4320One summer, 20 years ago, my future husband and I stopped at the photo booths at the State Fair to commemorate a fun-filled night together. We have done it every year since. I have 20 strips of fair photos first of us, then with a young son, then with a little boy and baby girl, and continuing with a family of four so big that we can barely fit us all in the photo booth. It is always our first stop at the fair.

Listed below are 10 more highlights of the California State Fair that shouldn’t be missed, but truly, there are too many to list. And to encourage other families to experience this amazing summer tradition I will give away a Family Fun Pack with four admissions, four ride vouchers, and a parking pass to the first two people who sign up for my Momservations® newsletter (see side bar).

10 Highlights of the California State Fair (July 12-28)

1.    Free concerts! The CA state fair draws some amazing and classic performers for concerts that are free with the price of admission. This year’s list includes LeAnn Rimes, Hoobastank, and for those 80’s babies out there: Air Supply and Night Ranger!

2.    The Magical Midway. Over 68 rides including the new Vertigo attraction! Go on Tuesdays and kids under 12 enter the fair free and rides are only $1. If the rides are too scary there’s the Kids Zone for 12 and under that’s a mini-midway. Summer '11 296

3.    Xtreme Zone.  See incredible freestyle motocross (FMX) shows every day! Top-name athletes, DJ music, and an emcee calling tricks give an up-close and personal look at FMX excitement. The Xtreme Zone is located in the southwest end of Cal Expo, near the West Gate entrance.

4.    The food! Stroll through the Main Promenade and you’ll find over 70 State Fair food vendors with everything from the traditional corn dog and BBQ to the unique bacon sundae and exotic foods. If you’ve already had your allotment of fried foods check out the Farmers Market at the entrance to “The Farm.”

5.    Livestock Pavilion and Nursery. Get up close and educated about the animals! Stare a giant steer in the eye, marvel at the horns of a longhorn, giggle at the pygmy goats, see a sheep sheered, observe the personalities of the pigs—ask questions of the knowledgeable 4-H kids raising the animals to learn something new and develop and deeper appreciation for the raising of livestock. Then go see some baby animals born during the State Fair and revel in their adorableness and maybe even witness an amazing live birth!

6.    Shopping! What will that unique item be this year that everyone’s walking around with? The State Fair offers its own world market, take a stroll down Shopper’s Row for a variety of goodies—Check out all the shopping your heart can desire at Shopper’s Expo, located in Building D or just enjoy the air conditioning.

7.    Wild Science Exhibit. This exhibit is intended to show that science and technology are not only educational but are fun and entertaining. Wild Science is an excursion into the wild and amazing world of science through dozens of highly interactive, fun and visually captivating displays and activities created so that families and children can experience the mysterious and entertaining aspects of science and technology in a fun and casual environment through hands-on displays.

8.    Beer and Wine gardens! For those of you with older children, send the kids off with their ride bracelets and go have some adult fun! Sample beers and wines in the tranquil shade of redwoods or boogie down to live music and the variety of adult beverage venues featuring daily beer and wine events. Don’t forget a designated driver!

9.    Entertainment and Exhibits. There is more to see and do at the State Fair than can be done in a day with multiple stage venues with a variety of daily shows, 18 days of indoor and outdoor education and demonstrations, and competitions in every category you can think of.  Check the Daily Schedule listing to choose from a head-spinning variety of activities to plot your day of fun or what to come back for.

10. Fireworks! The nightly tradition to close the State Fair with a beautiful fireworks display is now just Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m. Whether you’re in the midway, on the monorail, eating a funnel cake, or lying in the back of your car in the parking lot, feeling the boom in your chest and watching the sparkles of light rain above you is no better way to end a magical summer night at the State Fair.

Don’t forget to leave your memory at http://www.bigfun.org/memories/ for a chance to be featured in the next California State Fair commercial!

Share the fun and connect through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram by sharing photos with #StateFairCA or @StateFairCA.


  1. B. Durbin says:

    All discount tickets are available before the Fair begins, but a number of them are NOT available during the Fair itself. So check them out now, online, so you can get the deals that are right for you!

    I have gotten Season Passes for myself and my five-year-old (the three-year-old gets in free) because we are locals and can easily go multiple times. In fact, we went seven times last year. It also comes with free monorail rides. Which we did. Twenty-one times. I think they knew us on sight.

    If you have small children, a good place to go is the Farm. There’s a stamp-finding giveaway that is good, but they also have the loveliest play area, with a sandbox and a field corn box, and believe me, when you have small children, these are wonderful things to have a break. The county exhibits are also well-geared towards the small fry.

    If you don’t want to pay the parking fee, there is a shuttle bus from Arden Fair Mall, or you can find other parking around the area and walk to the gates. (Be careful to observe private parking areas so that you are not ticketed or towed.)

    One last thing: SUNSCREEN. Apply several times during the day. And make sure you stay hydrated; if you start getting a headache, hydrate and get something salty in you!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks for the additional info B! This is all great advice – and yes, the best discounts are before the fair starts so you have until tomorrow to take advantage at bigfun.org. Thanks for the tips for younger kids – I used to go to these areas too when my kids were little, and the Petting Zoo, but I think they didn’t have it last year and I didn’t see it on the map this year.

      Thanks for passing this on to Momservations readers and thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the journey! (Sounds like you do!)

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