Fair goes ‘mad’ for the magic of ‘Alice in Wonderland’

San Diegans are surely going to go “mad” for the San Diego County Fair this year.

This year’s theme is “Mad About the Fair,” fusing the magical adventure of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with the artistic movement known as Steampunk.

“This year, we have gone completely mad — absolutely bonkers,” said Frederick Schenk, chairman of the Fair Planning Committee, during a press conference and fair preview on May 17. “We have tea parties and hats. White rabbits and cats. A fabulous day and queens and croquet. We are mad about the fair.”

The 2016 San Diego County Fair opens Friday, June 3 and runs through Monday, July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The 26-day fair will feature the “Mad About the Fair” theme exhibit, which will include a first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” first published more than 150 years ago.

“A Steampunk twist on ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll, the exhibit is a retro-futuristic vision of Alice and all of her friends,” said Schenk, who also serves as a board member of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds.

Fairgoers can also visit Steampunk Corner with cosplay-inspired teetotalers, or stop by “Grace Slick’s Mad Tea Party,” an exhibition of original artwork based on the book and created by Slick, the lead singer for the rock bands Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. Among a variety of other theme-related activities, there will also be a nightly Hatter’s Mad Party, a dance party for people of all ages.

The fair will also demonstrate how agriculture was, and still is, at the core of the fair. California Grown Exhibit, the fair’s newest exhibit, will show attendees the past, present and future of California farming.

“We honor the mission of the 22nd District Agricultural Association by bringing together our agricultural heritage with family-friendly attractions and exhibits,” said Tim Fennell, CEO and general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. “The San Diego County Fair is a premium value, providing entertainment and fun that gives families a reason to visit the fair year after year and time after time during the 26-day run.”

The fair will also feature animal exhibits, rides and games, car shows and a variety of festivals, including The Toast of the Coast Wine Festival on Saturday, June 11, San Diego International Beer Festival from Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19, and Distilled: Spirit & Cocktail Festival on Saturday, June 25.

As the largest annual event in the county, the largest fair in California, and one of the top five fairs in North America, Fennell said the San Diego County Fair attracts more than 1.5 million fairgoers annually.

With nine stages of entertainment, he predicted this year’s fair would break attendance records.

“Given this year’s theme and its fabulous opportunity to adventure through the looking glass and into the magical world of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” fantasy, and subgenre of Steampunk, I predict, in 2016, we will make history once again by breaking all records,” Fennell said.

The nightly Toyota Summer Concert Series is the fair’s premier entertainment event, featuring internationally-known artists on the Heineken Grandstand Stage.

The concert series opens Friday, June 3 with San Diego favorites Switchfoot. Other artists include Lady Antebellum on Sunday, June 5, Rachel Platten on Wednesday, June 8, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Thursday, June 9, X Ambassadors on Wednesday, June 15, 3 Doors Down on Thursday, June 16, Matt Nathanson and Phillip Phillips with Eric Hutchinson on Friday, June 17, Hunter Hayes on Tuesday, June 21, Kenny Rogers on Wednesday, June 22, The Jacksons on Friday, June 24, Charlie Puth on Tuesday, June 28, Brian Wilson on Thursday, June 30, and Kool & The Gang on Saturday, July 2, among other artists. Sebastian Maniscalco will perform on the Fourth of July.

And when the fair returns, so does the fair food.

Fair favorite Chicken Charlie’s food stand is back, frying fan favorites as well as some new creations.

Back by popular demand is Chicken Charlie’s triple cheeseburger on Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The popular chicken and shrimp pineapple bowls and fried Kool-Aid are also making a return.

Among Chicken Charlie’s new concoctions is chicken and waffles on a stick — a fair-friendly version of owner Charlie Boghosian’s popular dish from his Clairemont-based restaurant FryBQ.

Boghosian is also introducing fried shrimp rice on a stick and Kool-Aid hot wings.

“Every year we have to outdo the year before, and it’s not easy, so we have to be really creative,” said Boghosian, who has served fried food at the fair for 33 years, 20 years as the owner of the famous Chicken Charlie’s.

“I’m living the American Dream — that’s really what I’m doing,” Boghosian added. “I love it. I love everyday.”

From savory to sweet, selections from other vendors include bacon-wrapped baked potatoes, deep-fried lemonade, deep-fried nachos and deep-fried pizza, among many other treats.

Some of the vendors have also had fun with this year’s theme.

Pink’s Hot Dogs is debuting the Madhatter Dog, a mild Polish dog topped with chipotle mayo, grilled mushrooms and onions, shredded carrots and red cabbage. Vista-based Grant’s Tasti Burgers — also of Tasti Chips fame — is introducing the Hatter’s Mad Mash Up Burger, a 4-ounce ground beef patty on a pretzel roll with cheddar cheese, a bacon cheddar bratwurst, chopped candied pecans, iceberg lettuce, tomato, Sriracha bourbon sauce and chipotle sauce.

“It was really fun,” said Lori Southerlend, owner of Grant’s Tasti Burgers and Tasti Chips, a family-based, second-generation company. “I just like the theme.”

The 2016 San Diego County Fair opens at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 3 and runs through Monday, July 4. The fair will be closed Mondays, except the Fourth of July, and the first two Tuesdays.

Admission is $16 for adults, $9 for children ages 6-12, and $9 for adults age 62 and older. Entry is free for children 5 and younger.

For more about the fair, visit