County Fair visitor count is second-highest ever


Drivers passing the Del Mar Fairgrounds who saw the sea of parked cars surrounding the “Summer of Sports” know it was a busy year at the San Diego County Fair.

And indeed, more than 1.2 million people attended the 2008 fair during the 21-day run from June 14 to July 6 - 1,235,698 to be exact.

This makes 2008 the second largest fair in San Diego history, not quite breaking last year’s record high total of 1,265, 997.

This year’s fair would likely have overtaken last year’s total attendance had it been open the standard 22 days, fair officials said. But the fair postponed opening one day due to the U.S. Open at nearby Torrey Pines Golf Course.

“Having one less day had a major impact,” said Tim Fennell, general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. “It affects attendance, which affects revenue… But I think the U.S. Open was good for the city and there was a good balance.”

July 4th proved to be the most popular day to enjoy the exhibits, food, games, rides and entertainment with just over 87,000 celebrating Independence Day at the fair.

Promoting itself as a “staycation” option during the economic downturn, the fair generated small increases in spending on rides and food.

“I was surprised, it looks like we’re going to be slightly up in revenue, even with one less day,” Fennell said. “It felt like a good, strong, solid fair.”

Thrill seekers spent more than $6.4 million to fly, spin, slide and enjoy the view in the fun zone, a 1.96 percent increase over last year.

The sensational gastronomical offerings enticed hungry fair-goers to spend more than $10 million on food, a 2.37 increase from 2007.

More than 5,000 White Castle sliders, more than 2,000 pounds of deep-fried frog legs and about 4,000 orders of fried Spam were sold during the fair.

Among the many other fun fair statistics, a few stick out: 420 contestants in the Best Animal Noise Contest, 1,344 pieces of pie consumed in the Pie Eating Contest and 20,680 entries in Kids’ Best, making it the largest exhibit this year.

Another impressive number is the amount of waste diverted from the landfill. Of the almost 2,000 tons of material generated by the fair, 75 percent was recycled or composted.

Planning for the 2009 fair will begin shortly. The dates are set for June 12 to July 5. Fair officials expect to announce next year’s theme in September.