The San Diego County Fair has come a long way since that original opening day in 1880 when it was celebrated as an agricultural fair. Today, it is three weeks of nonstop food, music, rides, games and entertainment. Yet, no matter how big, how glamorous, how extraordinary the fair becomes, the fun remains home-grown.
From June 12 through July 5, visitors can enjoy the county fair offerings, many of which come from right around this region. See singers and musicians from San Diego compete onstage, learn from area experts at the many different exhibitions and compete against friends and neighbors in one of several daily contests.
Del Mar resident Kate Fuller, one of 19 soloists who will be competing for the $25,000 grand prize in the Musicpalooza music talent contest, is looking forward to performing for a local audience.
"I thought this would be a good way to get my name out there and let people know what I'm about," Fuller said. "It's probably quite nice (for the audience) to hear a local performer and say, 'Oh, she's been writing songs right around the corner from me.' "
Many of the specialty venues and events showcase the best of San Diego, and it's an opportunity for people to learn more about their corner of the world. Discover Ramona's Oasis Camel Dairy or visit the Paul Ecke Jr. Flower & Garden Show for advice from the San Diego Bonsai Society. There will be demonstrations, displays, lectures and classes by local experts on everything from minerals and hobbies to photography and woodworking.
"People of San Diego County feel very personal about the San Diego County Fair," said Linda Zweig, information officer for the Del Mar Fairgrounds. "It's been around for so long that people feel a part of it."
Blending tradition with a new theme each year keeps the fair invigorated and electrifying. This year, it's Music Mania.
"We have a lot of new things this year," Zweig said. "A lot of it is interactive."
The theme exhibit includes a personal concert experience, silent disco, musical game show, studio recording session, memorabilia, historic displays and other activities honoring every musical genre.
The 2009 lineup features free and ticketed concerts at several stages. From tribute bands to "American Idol" finalists, country to rock, Woodstock to the fifth annual Gospel Festival, there's a sound for everyone.
Before you even pay your admission and pass through the entrance, the fair greets you with the aroma of deep-fried elephant ears, sticky-sweet cotton candy and grilled meat.
It will be tough, deciding which of the more than 100 food stations distributed across the grounds to sample. In addition to regular favorites, the fair menu has added fried green beans, burgers by the pound, chocolate-covered bacon and a curious sandwich consisting of a marinated chicken breast tucked between oatmeal chocolate chips cookies smeared with cream cheese and strawberry jam.
For those who prefer to pack a picnic lunch, Guest Services will store it for you until you're ready to eat. Note that alcoholic beverages and glass containers are not allowed.
Just for kids
The county fair has several features designed exclusively for the junior crowd. The Sparkletts Water Infield includes Kiddieland, with more than 40 rides for toddlers and youngsters; Kids' Best, a display of children's art, writing, crafts and educational projects; The Turkey Stampede stage show; the Infield Stage with entertainment by community dance and athletic troupes all day; and more.
Families are sure to enjoy the contests held daily, so check the schedule upon arrival.
Harkening back to its founding days as an agricultural gathering, the county fair offers visitors a chance to interact with and be entertained by furry, feathered, scaled creatures. The AgriFair in the Wyland Center houses farm animals, including a petting zoo. There is also the World of Horses, Swifty Swine Races, a Junior Livestock Auction and the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.
Before leaving home for a day at the fair, visit the San Diego County Fair Web site (
). Check out the lineup of events and concerts, get an overview of the fairground layout, double-check policies about parking and admissions, and learn about money-saving opportunities. Most of all, plan on having some good, old-fashioned family fun.
$2 Dollar Tuesday: June 16. Fair admission is $2, with special tickets available only at Albertsons.
Kids' Day: Every Tuesday (June 16, 23 and 30). Special activities for the younger set, and all kids 12 and younger get free admission.
Seniors' Day: Every Thursday (June 18, 25 and July 2) with fun activities and entertainment for people with a lot of life in them.
Día de la Familia: Every Sunday (June 14, 21, 28 and July 5) with fabulous, lively, Latin-themed entertainment and activities.
Tuesday Taste of the Fair: Featuring $2 'tastes' of the fair food (June 16, 23 and 30).
Pepsi Pay-One-Price Ride Days: Every Wednesday and Thursday (June 17, 18, 24, 25, and July 1, 2). Buy a wristband, enjoy the rides all afternoon into the evening.
PennySaver Value Days: Every Friday (June 12, 19, 26 and July 3), featuring discount-coupon booklets packed with savings at fair food and product booths.
Parking during the 2009 San Diego County Fair
Paid parking in lots on either side of Jimmy Durante Boulevard with free tram service to the admission gates: $10 per vehicle, $15 per RV, $15 preferred parking.
Free Off-Site Parking and Shuttle Service is available at three off-site lots: Horsepark, 14550 El Camino Real, Del Mar; MiraCosta College's San Elijo campus, 3333 Manchester Ave., Cardiff; Torrey Pines High School, 3710 Del Mar Heights Road, Del Mar. Buses pick up patrons at each lot every 15 minutes. Handicap-accessible and lift-equipped shuttles are available. The service is free - no charge for parking, no charge for the shuttle.
Same-day in-and-out privileges not offered.
A drop-off and pickup area is on the east side of the main parking lot, just inside the main entrance. People using this lot must remain with their vehicle.