By Denise Ortuno Neil
It is simple summer fun. Close your eyes and you can envision the sounds and smells of a typical seasonal Fair. The aroma of popcorn and corndogs and fried everything fill the air with piercing screams from exuberant passengers on bright neon rides. There’s nothing quite like it. What is even better is that this fair in particular is situated in Orange County….in 75 degree weather far removed from the desert summer heat, making it a great heat escape.
It all started back in 1889 when Orange County was first created. The Orange County Community Fair Corporation put on their first fair a year later in Santa Ana which mostly was made up of a small town horse race and limited exhibits. As years went on, the fair took shape incorporating more of a carnival feel, moving around from different cities including Huntington Beach and Anaheim. The fair finally settled in its current location after California formed the 32nd District Agricultural Association and made it in charge of the fair. The state purchased the land that was part of the Santa Ana Air Base and portioned off part of it to be the new home of the fair. They held the first fair in its permanent location in1949 and it has been a major Orange County amusement event ever since, accelerating from its once humble 5 day fair schedule to its current 23 day extravaganza now attracting upwards of 2 million summer fair fun seekers.
There is so much to do at the Orange County Fair that you might want to go for more than one day, if you don’t mind a diet of funnel cakes and cotton candy. The fair has literally something for everyone and will certainly bring out the kid in even the most mature adult. On entering the fair from the main gate, fair goers will be enthralled by a sort of Believe it or Not animal attractions such as the Giant White Mountain Steer which is really huge, or on the flip side, the Smallest Horse and then there is the Giant Alligator, “Darth Gator”. You can visit the over 14 foot 1,100 pound reptile in its tank for a measly $2.
Fun selections from the animal amazement only grows from there. The fair has a vast array of rides and games to choose from as well as exhibits and shopping. If you’re up for some carnival craziness, take a ride on the impressive Speed or Force, surely to make your stomach drop. Or if you’re feeling a bit parched, the Wild River log ride will certainly refresh you. But a must ride is the enormous Le Grande Wheel. It is a beautiful Ferris wheel which towers the fair refusing to be ignored. There are also classics like the Haunted Mansion and other fun houses like Zombie to give you chills. If you want to win a prize, most likely an oversized stuffed animal, for your date, kids or just for yourself, the fair does not disappoint with its variety of games. Try your luck with Bank a Ball, Balloon Bust or Shoot the Hoop among many others.
The exhibits are plentiful as is the shopping. There are vendors galore throughout the fair selling just about anything imaginable. The Huntington, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa pavilions offer a shoppers delight. If you’re looking for more crafty kind of shopping, visit Crafters Corner. There you can find jewelry, face painting henna tattoos and even a magic shop. There is also a place in the village where you can feed the butterflies, a very popular and Zen like attraction.
Down from Crafters Village is Centennial Farm. It is a working farm that exhibits livestock and fresh produce from its garden. If you go to the farm make sure to check out “Ysabel”, a 3 year old Watusi cow with seriously long horns…make sure to take a picture with her. Or there is Victor the Llama, who loves to munch on hay while passerby’s watch.
All of this game playing, riding rides and shopping can really zap your energy, just replenish and choose some food from the tons and I do mean tons of food vendors. However, if you’re looking for something healthy, the closest will be the Hawaiian Chicken Bowl place. But the fair is not the place to be healthy anyway, so take a day off from your diet and indulge in cholesterol spiking food like pizza on a stick, giant corndogs or if you are in a bacon mood, a bacon wrapped turkey leg, bacon truffle fries with gouda or the ominous bacon bomb. The bacon bomb is a croissant filled with pepper jack cheese wrapped in bacon and then deep fried, KABOOM!! And for dessert, you can have some chocolate dipped bacon or delve more into deep fried food frenzy with a deep fried Twinkie, Oreo or Snickers. Full yet?
After all that food, relaxing with some entertainment will help your stomach settle. You can relax and cruise the fair with a beer or other libation (drinkers are not relegated to stay in an alcohol garden) while enjoying a variety of music from different spots throughout the fair such as the Hanger, which provides different acts focusing on tribute bands that include Hotel California-A Salute to the Eagles, or Purple Reign-THE Prince Tribute just to name a few. The fair also has big name acts that play in the Pacific Amphitheater such as the Go-Go’s, Joan Jet, ZZ Top and many, many others.
The fair started on July 11th and goes until August 10th and is opened from noon to midnight Wednesday through Friday and 10am to midnight on the weekends. General admission is $11, $8 for seniors and $6 for kids 6-12. Active military and veterans are free. Check for daily discounts which can shave off dollars from entrance such as Saturday and Sunday Rise and Shine which is only $3 from 10am to 11am.
Like I said before, there is so much to do at the Orange County Fair that it would take a couple of days to take it all in. But even if you just go for the day it is absolute summer fun, for every age. And the bonus for us in the desert is that we can get out of the heat, if even if it’s for a little while, making the Orange County Fair a great desert heat escape.
For more information visit www.ocfair.com