Due to a major heat wave, the California State Fair posted low attendance figures – the lowest in 20 years. 572,250 visitors came during the fair’s 17-day run. This was a substantial drop from 2017 attendance of 636,628.
But then last year, temperatures did not soar over 100 degrees, which was the temperature on Tuesdays, when kids were admitted free, a big draw for families.
According to State Fair media director Sabrina Washington, the fair set up fans with misters, and there were 20 air-conditioned buildings throughout the grounds to help counteract the temperatures.
Numbers aside, weekends were busy, and Butler Amusements, which provided the fair’s midway rides, had huge ride days the final two Saturdays and Sundays of the fair.
And there was plenty more for attendees to experience beyond the midway.
There were 50 California brews available to taste at the Craft Brew Pub, and free wine tastings at the Save Mart Wine Garden, which showcased a winery of the day.
Agriculture was on display at The Kaiser Permanente Farm, offering attendees a chance to taste locally sourced food at an outdoor kitchen grill, as well as learn about 70 California-grown crops. The State Fair Farmers Market allowed in-season tastes of California produce such as grapes, watermelon, and stone fruit.
The agri-theme was broadened last year, according to Washington with the introduction of Taste of California Experience Classes, that offered fairgoers the chance to learn about subjects around wine, cheese, honey and other California-sourced foods. Washington says these 30 minute classes particularly resonate with younger attendees who are extremely interested in where their food comes from and how it is made.
In the fair’s sampling center, a rotating selection of food vendors also showcase California foods, from olive oils to organic cheese.
And of course, traditional fair food received the spotlight during the corn dog and pie eating contests that drew plenty of participants and viewers. On Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. every food vendor sold an item for just $2, offering a great way for visitors to taste everything from French fries to fried rice.
Away from the agriculture and food-focused exhibits, a wide range of attractions and entertainment took place at the fair, including an exotic bird demonstration, a free horse ride program, and musical events featuring acts such as Latin Party Crew, The Greg Kihn Band, Kool and the Gang, and the Dave Russell Band. All concerts, including the final event in the Toyota Concert Series, UB40, were free with fair admission, with tickets available to purchase for reserved seating. Also free: thoroughbred horse racing. From freestyle motocross to performances by acrobats from Hebei China, this large fair offered something for just about everyone. Bull riding, weiner-dog races, and Monster Truck Rides were all a part of the mix. According to Washington, the fair’s theme this year, “Don’t Miss a Moment,” was apt.
According to the fair’s CEO Rick Pickering, the fair serves as a “beacon of the achievements of Californians and our multicultural threads.”
2018 marked the first time that the fair showcased a statewide youth mariachi competition with contestants ranging from 1st graders to college age. Judging the event was the voice of Miguel in Disney’s Coco, Anthony Gonzalez. A silent disco was another fair-first, drawing over 26,000 visitors to dance with headphones on. National Geographic offered a new exhibition, The Future of Food, which explained in lush visuals how California assists in feeding the world. Throughout the fair this year, “selfie stations” were positioned for guests to snap away for social media, which also served as a unique way to promote the fair during its run.
A new exhibition of Tiny Homes during the fair’s first weekend proved a popular attraction. And, among the performers, the renowned Mariachi Vargas deTecalitlán the oldest and most famous mariachi group performed at the fair for the first time.
Other firsts were community oriented, such as The Rescue Dog Dive Day with Splash Dogs featuring 39 rescue dog participants; prize money won at the event was donated to a local animal shelter, and there were two dogs adopted. Out At The Fair became an official CA State Fair event on the fair’s final day; featuring Out At The Races and a Diva Drop bungee-jump, LGBTQ-inclusiveness took a giant leap forward. Another first: The Cal Expo Police Department invited fairgoers to feed the police horses and canines, or sit on one of the police motorcycles.
General admission to the fair was $14 for adults, $12 for seniors 62 and up, and $10 for kids ages 5-12. Of course, there were a variety of ways for fairgoers to save. One of the most charitable ways was to participate in the fair's first ever SMUD Cares at the Fair Giving Monday, in which fairgoers donated 3 non-perishable food items per person between 11 am and 3 pm on Mondays to receive free admission. Food was given to the Elk Grove Food Bank. Discount admission for seniors dropped to $10 and was combined with a free ride offer on both the Grand Carousel and the Giant Wheel on the last Friday of the fair. Wells Fargo $2 Rides for all and Kids Free Day made Tuesdays at the fair a real bargain for family, when all kids 12 and under received free admission, and rides were just $2 regardless of age. And for members of the military and veterans, admission was free, and expanded to include spouses and dependents until 3 p.m. on the first Thursday of the fair, Washington relates.
The fair was promoted in traditional media as well as through social media and community outreach, and through the fair’s frequently updated website. A state fair app was available to help fairgoers experience the fair and promote events; a variety of combination offers also raised fair awareness and interest, such as a combination ticket for the fair with a ticket to the Sacramento Zoo, usable through December 31st of this year.