7 Reasons Why You Should Visit the California State Fair (& Ways to Save)
A visit to the California State Fair is a classic Sacramento summer event. Live music, carnival rides, primo people watching and plenty of fried food are reasons enough to attend. Add in animals, artwork and entertainment and you have an affordable activity the whole family will love. There’s so much going on at the fair that it can be difficult to choose what to do. Following are the top reasons you should attend the California State Fair this year, plus ways to save money! But first, the basics:
Dates: July 12 – 28, 2019
Hours: Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri. – Sun. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Tickets: Children under 4: Free; Children (5 – 12): $10; Adult (ages 13 – 61): $14; Senior (62 and older): $12
The California State Fair is known for its stellar concert lineup. All shows are free, but reserved seats can be purchased for some shows for $15-25. This year, performers include the following: Plain White T’s (July 12), Queen Nation (July 13), TLC (July 14), Def Leppard Revisited (July 15), Clay Walker (July 16), the Marshall Tucker Band (July 17), Petty and the Heartshakers (July 18), Sean Kingston (July 19), Joe Nichols (July 20), Mariachi Vargas (July 21), the Boys of Summer (July 22), 38 Special (July 23), We Are Messengers (July 24), California Surf, Inc. (July 25), Tony! Toni! Toné! (July 26), Journey Revisited (July 27) and Martina McBride (July 28).
But that’s not all. Musical performances take place just every day of the fair and include DJs spinning the latest beats, pint-sized rappers, gospel celebrations, smooth jazz, an acapella barbershop chorus and many more.
If you love mariachi, come watch young performers compete in the Youth Mariachi Competition, Friday, July 19 through Sunday, July 21. First-place winners will perform on Sunday with world-famous Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. On Sunday, July 28, get tickets for Gran Jaripeo y Baille, a traditional performance that includes live music, dancing horses, bull riding and festive costumes.
2. Entertainment & Competition
The State Fair has plenty of entertainment choices to keep you busy. Looking for some excitement? Check out freestyle motocross every day at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Lover of dance? Watch Polynesian dancers, fire dancers, Irish dancers, and Bollywood dancers. Looking to explore something new? Come see Chinese acrobats, hypnotists, balloon artists, chainsaw carvers and brick-breaking champions. View the complete schedule for more!
Are you a gamer? Come to (or participate in!) the Bear Cup Tournament, which pits master gamers against one another. Watch them battle it out on an oversized screen, stream the games via Twitch and meet gaming legends. Think you have what it takes? You can even join in yourself in games including Fortnite, Overwatch, Super Smash Brothers and more.
Cal Expo hosts live thoroughbred horse racing every Thursday – Sunday, with daily first post times at 2:15. The races are free, but you can upgrade to season box seats that include State Fair passes and parking. On July 27, watch the wiener dogs run wild as they attempt to make their way along the track.
Replacing the nightly fireworks this year are LED-illuminated drone shows, with the mini aircraft flying in choreographed formation. The show will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights of the fair.
The State Fair wouldn’t be the State Fair without its carnival rides! The main carnival has all the expected fair rides, including the Tilt-a-Whirl, bumper cars, carousel and zipper, while the kids park has pint-sized versions for the littlest riders. An unlimited ride wristband is $30 Monday through Thursday and $35 on Friday and Saturday.
No visit to the California State Fair is complete without indulging in a little fair food! New this year is the Food Festival Pass, which gets you samples from more than 30 participating vendors for $28. Try Cap’n Crunch chicken sliders, a Hot Cheeto chicken burrito, deep fried Fanta or deep-fried banana hot dog. And of course, all the staples are there too: corn dogs, cotton candy, bloomin’ onions and funnel cakes.
You can also participate in $2 Taste of the Fair. For just two bucks, you can get smaller portions of fair favorites from any food vendor. The mini versions are available Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
5. Beer & Wine
Love craft beer? Come enjoy unlimited (yes, unlimited!) craft brews during the State Fair’s Brewfest, to be held July 20 from 2 – 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door.
Wine lovers can learn more about their beverage of choice during wine education classes at the fair. Topics include how to taste red and white wines, how to pair wine and cheese, and how to make your own wine at home, thanks to the Sacramento Home Winemakers!
A fair isn’t a fair without animals! Come see farm animals such as goats, cows and pigs and small animals such as rabbits, chickens and guinea pigs. Watch horses perform synchronized dance, see dogs jump and splash into a giant pool of water, see costumed llamas parade around, and of course get up close and personal to the baby animals at the petting zoo. Check out the daily schedule for the full lineup.
7. Arts & Crafts
Experienced fair-goers know to head to the exhibit halls during the hottest part of the day to cool off while viewing arts and crafts exhibits. Fine arts include digital works, paintings, sculptures, mixed media and photography produced by youth and adults. The craft exhibit showcases handmade items such as quilts, clothing, jewelry, wood carvings and more. Also, be sure to peruse the California Counties Exhibit, where each of the state’s 52 counties show off what makes them so great!
Ways to Save
Take advantage of daily discounts and ticket packages:
Senior Savings Fridays. On July 12, 19 & 26, fair goers over the age of 62 pay only $10 for admission. They also ride free on the Grand Carousel and the Giant Wheel!
First Responders Day. On Thursday, July 25, active members of law enforcement, firefighters, first responder unites and life guards get into the fair for free.
Military Appreciation Day. On Thursday, July 18, active, reserve and veteran members of all branches of the military can enjoy free fair admission. Active duty spouses and dependents can even enjoy free admission until 3 p.m.!
Read to Ride. Wanna save even more money? Kids in grades K-8 can read two books, write a summary and bring the form to the fair to get two free rides!
Kids Free Day. Tuesdays, kids 12 and under get into the fair for free! Plus, all carnival rides are $2.
Advanced Tickets. Purchase your tickets in advance and save $2 per admission.
State Fair Fun Pack. Plan ahead and save! For $49.99, you get four general admission tickets (good for one ride in the carnival or the monorail) and one parking pass. Tickets must be purchased prior to the fair’s start date of July 12.
Other Ways to Save
Groupon. Groupon has limited-time only deals on State Fair tickets that are more than half off! Opening day tickets are only $6, and a General Admission ticket and monorail pass are only $12 – or $20 for two. But act fast, there are limited tickets available.
Costco. If you’re a Costco member, take advantage of the Buddy Pack, on sale now in warehouses. The pack includes two general admission tickets, a parking pass and two $5 food credits. Supplies are limited.
All photos courtesy California State Fair