If you’ve lived in the Greater Sacramento Region during the summer, it’s likely that you’ve been to or are at least aware of the California State Fair that takes over the city for 17 days each year. Because there is so much to do during the fair, it’s likely that you feel like a kid at a candy shop when you arrive, overstimulated by the lights, sounds and smells of this exciting community tradition.
That’s why we wanted to create a guide to assist your visit and help you make the most of your time at the fair this year. We’ll highlight schedule must-dos and direct your attention to some significant attractions, as well as help you avoid frustration or confusion throughout the process.
Get prepared before your visit so you can focus on all the fried food and carnival rides while you’re there!
When Is It?
The fair is taking place July 8–24, 2016 — smack dab in the middle of summer!
Where Is It?
The California State Fair is held each year at Cal Expo just north of the American River near Arden-Arcade. It’s easily accessible from just about any community in the Greater Sacramento Region, but makes you feel like you’re away from it all because of the lively activity within its gates.
What Can We Do at the Fair?
There is so much going on at the fair at all times and on any given day. To give you a brief overview…
Enjoy FREE live musical performances every night of the fair on the Golden 1 Stage. Or purchase tickets ranging from $12–20 for reserved seats closest to the stage. Hear from bands such as The Plain White T’s, a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band, and Styx. Check out the schedule to see what band is playing the night you plan on visiting the fair!
Experience the thrilling rides the fair has to offer — from their Kids Park with family-friendly rides for the little ones to the main Carnival, featuring the classic Giant Ferris Wheel, the Ex Scream Machine Coaster, and the Zipper.
The Kids Park opens at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and opens at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Carnival is open from 2–11 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; from 11 a.m.–11 p.m. on Tuesday; and from 11 a.m.–midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
There are several unique exhibits open daily during the fair’s duration, debuting all sorts of interesting concepts and subjects. Don’t miss the Classic Car Show, the Photography Exhibit, or the Fur & Feathers Exhibit!
There are also plenty of opportunities to see exciting sports competitions and demonstrations. Every day during the fair, watch the brand new high diving show or the Jack in the Box Freestyle Motocross Show. And keep an eye on the horse racing happening every weekend!
The fair is one of the best places to go shopping, as you’ll encounter some of the most unique products and have the opportunity to mingle with their makers. This is like an extensive flea market — plus you have the option to escape the sun if need be. Visit the covered “Cool Shopping” buildings or peruse the booths at the Open Air Shopping area to enjoy the summer sun.
Speaking of fur and feathers, what is a fair without animals on display? Check out the livestock competitions, horse races, and furry friends at the petting zoo! You can’t miss them — just follow the farm-like smells.
What Can We Eat and Drink at the Fair?
Like any good fair, the California State Fair offers so much to eat and drink for guests.
There are so many food vendors scattered throughout the fair that you won’t go hungry if you develop a hot dog craving in the middle of the day’s activity. If the thought of fried food makes you wary, be comforted by the fact that there are several healthier options available as well. Get a pizza salad from Cardinali WoodFire Pizza, some fresh fruit from Pepe’s Fruit Cart, some gourmet baked potatoes from the Spud Shack, or a Greek salad from Mediterranean Foods.
Visit the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Country to taste award-winning California wines and other pairing products. This area is open each day of the fair, and even features award winners from the California State Fair’s Commercial Wine Competition!
Beer is an appropriate companion for your fair food meal. Thankfully, there are several opportunities to grab some craft beer at the fair!
The Craft Brew Pub offers over 50 taps of the finest craft beers in the state, including the 2016 California State Fair’s Best of Show Winner from the Commercial Beer Competition. This is a relaxing and laid-back area to cool down during your time at the fair. The Craft Beer Pub is open from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Sample beer in a more interactive manner with a ride on the Rolling Beer Garden, a unique pub crawl on wheels that stops at three of the fair’s best watering holes — the Concert Bar, Craft Brew Pub, and the Honky Tonk Saloon. This tour lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes, and tickets cost $39, which includes a souvenir tasting cup, a special selection of beer at each stand, and three 5-ounce beers!
Don’t miss the Best of California Brew Fest on Saturday, July 16. Sample the finest craft beers in the state at this exciting festival in the Miller Lite Racetrack Grandstand starting at 3 p.m. Buy a $35 ticket in advance (or $40 the day of) to sample 10 of California’s award-winning beers from the Commercial Beer Competition in your very own 5-ounce souvenir cup!
What are Some of the Best Events?
There are several special events in store this summer at the fair!
$2 Taste of the Fair | July 13, 14, 20 & 21
Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. each Wednesday and Thursday, sample a variety of fair foods with $2 menu specials from your favorite food vendors! This is a great way to save some money during your visit, but more on that later…
Best of California Brew Fest | July 16
The Best of California Brew Fest provides an opportunity to sample the finest craft beers in the state within the Miller Lite Racetrack Grandstand. Buy your $35 ticket now so you don’t miss out on this exciting experience!
Jaripeo | July 10 & 24
Head to the Show Arena at 5 p.m. on July 10 and 24 for Jaripeo, a special special bull riding show featuring music, horse dancing, intricate costumes, and other entertainment the whole family will enjoy!
Gospel Festival | July 16
The Gospel Festival at PG&E Center Stage is a multi-cultural concert showcasing some of the best vocalists, bands, praise dancers and pastors from a variety of churches around the state. This is a day-long celebration showcasing family, faith and culture.
What is Happening the Exact Date I’m Going?
Check out the schedule of events for each day the fair is up and running. Simply choose your date, narrow the search down by category or location if necessary, and see what the fair has in store for your visit! As mentioned, there is something planned for just about every minute during these 17 action-packed days.
How Do I Save Some Money?
Wells Fargo $2 Rides for all & kids free Tuesdays
Kill two birds with one stone by avoiding crowds and saving some money by visiting the fair on a Tuesday, when you can score $2 rides for all ages and kids can get in for free!
Senior Savings Fridays
On July 8, 15 & 22, admission is only $8 for seniors 62 and better. And seniors ride for FREE on the Grand Carousel and the Giant Wheel!
Read to Ride
If your children enroll in the fair’s Read to Ride program and fill out the report form after reading two books, they can earn two free carnival rides (courtesy of Butler Amusements)!
Military & Veteran Appreciation Day
On July 14, the fair is offering FREE admission all day for active, retired, veterans, and reserve military personnel with an ID.
First Responders Appreciation Day
On July 21, the fair is offering FREE admission all day for all first responders and law enforcement with an ID.
If you foresee you and your family visiting the fair several times between July 8 and 24, you might consider purchasing one of the season pass options available in order to save some money. Keep in mind that each of these passes must be purchased in advance (before July 7 at 11:59 p.m.).
- Blue Ribbon Season Pass — $39.99 Valid for daily State Fair admission, daily Raging Waters admission during the fair, unlimited monorail rides, horse racing reserved seating area and a coupon book. Photo ID required each time a Season Pass is used (adults only).
- Season Pass — $29.99 Valid for daily State Fair admission and daily Raging Waters admission during the fair. Photo ID required each time a Season Pass is used (adults only).
Family Fun Pack
Get the whole family in the gates for a reasonable price by purchasing the Family Fun Pack for just $44.99, which includes four daily admission tickets, four carnival or monorail rides, and a 1-day parking pass.
How Do I Avoid the Crowds?
While you may enjoy the excitement and constant activity the fair has to offer, sometimes large crowds are not conducive for your stroller or entourage to manage, and you would prefer to not stand in line for the majority of your visit. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, it’s smart to visit the fair on a weekday during the day, or on a day where there are no major special events planned. As can be expected, weekends are popular days to visit the fair because people are off work.
Where Do I Park?
Sometimes one of the more intimidating questions upon arrival at a large event is the parking situation.
Look for signs along Exposition Boulevard labeled as lots A, B, C and D. Any of those lots will allow you to enter the fairgrounds using the Main Gate (via Parking Lots A, B, or C), the Blue Gate (via Parking Lot D), or the Green Gate ( via Parking Lot A).
Make sure you bring cash because parking costs $10 and the attendants only accept cash for parking!
Where Should I Watch the Fireworks?
Oh! Did we mention there’s an extravagant fireworks show every Friday and Saturday night? You might be wondering where you can get the best view of said display, and we have the answer. Keep in mind that the fireworks are launched from the Miller Lite Racetrack Grandstands, so anywhere where you have a clear view of the eastern sky a good distance across Cal Expo will guarantee a good view!
Alright, I’m In. Where Do I Purchase Tickets?
Purchase tickets in advance to save a few dollars, as each type of ticket has a discounted price valid through July 7! But if you make a spontaneous decision to visit the fair, you can still get tickets after July 8. Before the 7th, adults can purchase tickets for $10, seniors for $8, and kids for $6. As mentioned, there are several bundles, discounts and deals available as well!
Photos Courtesy of California State Fair. Featured photo by Robin Douglas.