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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Sacramento County Fair

20080522 Caramel Apple on a Stick

"Well I'm off to the county fair tonight," I say to a friend while leaving work.

"The fair? I thought that wasn't until August," replies my confused friend.

"No, not the California State Fair. The Sacramento County Fair," I answer back.

"I didn't know we had a county fair. Where's it held?"

This is a typical conversation for me in the week before Memorial Day the last three years. Not only have none of my friends been to the county fair (except for one who I went with this year), but none of them had ever heard of it before I mentioned it to them.

20090523 Lost in the Crowd
Win a Prize

But it's true--Sacramento County has its very own fair with rides and everything. There is no need to wait until August or drive down to Dixon to enjoy corndogs and cotton candy.

The fair is small, and of relatively recent birth. There was a county fair many years ago in Galt, but it became just an agriculture, livestock, and craft exhibition and competition. Then it moved to the old fairgrounds in Sacramento, and finally to Cal Expo when the state fair moved there.

20070527 FUN
Midway of Fun

In 1987 the organizers sought to expand it by adding rides, competitions, and entertainment, including a Jan and Dean concert. Since 1991 it has been a self-funding event that is trying to play the same role that county fairs play in every other county in the state.

Memorial Day Weekend, when the fair is held, is the same weekend that the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee occurs, a premiere event that takes place on a much larger scale. But even though I attend both events each year, they really appeal to different demographics. In the past the Sacramento County Fair had no admission charge, and this year it was still quite reasonable--$3 for adults, children 12 and under free. The jazz festival, on the other hand, charges $45 for an all-day pass on Saturday or Sunday. And while the fair maintains a family friendly atmosphere by not allowing any smoking on the fairgrounds, the jazz festival has big alcohol sales.

20080522 Dyed Sheep
Dolly

The bigger competition for the county fair is the state fair. The county fair is tiny by comparison, and in the years I have gone, there have been no big entertainment acts. The biggest draw this year was the demolition derby, for which a separate admission was charged.

Almost everything about the Sacramento County Fair is scaled down in comparison to the state fair, but it is much on par with many of the county fairs I have visited throughout Northern California. I have the same things I like to do at each of these fairs.

20090524 Giving Me the Goat Eye
Future Goat Stew

I check out the livestock exhibits. This year I brought a vegetarian friend with me, and enjoyed telling him of my experiences eating each of the animals we saw on display. "Oh look, the rabbits. I ate rabbit in Quebec." "I love goats. I had the most delicious goat stew at a Philippine restaurant in Concord."

Then I always check out the photography exhibit. I look at the art too, but it's the photography that most interests me. I've never been able to figure out the judging. There are some brilliant shots, some okay shots, and some bad shots entered every year, and sometimes the brilliant ones win, but not always. Occasionally some of the shots that I consider bad, and would have deleted before anyone else had a chance to see them if I had taken them, win.

20060529 Smoked German Sausage
Smoked German Sausage

I sample the many foods available, either looking for the typical county fair foods, like corn dogs, or for the particularly decadent foods. The only thing at the county fair that isn't on a smaller scale than the state fair is the pricing on the food. I probably wouldn't spend my money on it if I weren't also planning to photograph it.

Then there are the rides, and, most importantly, the lights on the rides, that move around at night. Unfortunately, I haven't spent much time at the Sacramento County Fair at night. It's only open until 10, and the sun sets late that close to the summer solstice.

20080522 Ferris Wheel

Despite the new admission charge, the Sacramento Bee reported that attendance was up at the Sacramento County Fair this year, as were food sales. I'm hoping that will mean some expansion of the offerings next year. I'm doing my part to spread the word.

20080522 Candy Factory

About Me

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I love to learn about, visit, photograph, research, and write about everything that is interesting, unique, and historical about Northern California, and wherever else I should be fortunate enough to find myself.  I've spent many years scouring the roadside in my little car for interesting subjects and walking down hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast to get to know the wonder that is Northern California.  I share most of this via photos on Flickr, and as much as time permits me to on my blog, the NorCal Explorer.  Fine art prints of my photos are for sale on Imagekind.