Everything You Need to Know About the San Diego County Fair

Austin Powers: There are only two things in this world that scare me and one is nuclear war.
Basil: What’s the other?
Austin Powers: Huh?
Basil: What’s the other thing that scares you?
Austin Powers: Carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.

– Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery


The San Diego County Fair is back in town this year from June 2nd to July 4th! (Check out our top 9 things to do while you’re there!) The theme of 2015 was “A Fair to Remember:  A Celebration of World’s Fairs and Balboa Park” and 2016 was “Mad About the Fair” (an Alice in Wonderland celebration).  My fiancée and I try to get to the Fair at least once or twice a season.  One day with the kids, which is the type of ‘fun’ that I can tolerate for about three hours, and then we try to catch at least one concert at the Toyota Concert Series as well.


We usually park at the Del Mar Horse Park near the corner of Villa de la Valle and El Camino Real.  If we are lucky, we get to ride a double-decker bus to the Fairgrounds, which is always fun for the kids.  (If you’re not as lucky, you ride a regular school bus or wait for a double-decker one.)  Parking at the venue is usually pretty difficult, and the Horse Park and other remote sites are usually good options, especially on the weekend.


One of the best things about the Fair is the low price, which enhances the “people watching” experience dramatically!  Admission tickets to the fair are around $15 for adults, $8 for seniors over 62, $8 for kids 6-12, and free for kids 5 and under.  The major sponsors like Vons and Albertsons have savings over and above that.  All that said, the San Diego County Fair is one of the best crowds I have ever encountered at any county or state fair throughout the country, and I’ve been to quite a few.  The admission price does not include the rides or the carnival games, but they are a reasonably good deal as well.  The long slides are usually very fun for the kids and even the adults, especially compared to DisneylandUniversal Studios Hollywood, and even Legoland California.  We do however like Disneyland and Legoland very much.  Another thing I really like about the Fair is that it has rides for the smaller kids in a separate area, usually in the infield of the horse track; it is a very nice set up for families with younger kids.


The carnival games are typically a total rip-off and are overpriced, like at most Fair venues, but it is fun to play a couple of them.  We still have a live goldfish that we won at the Fair two years ago; our Beta fish and our other pet store goldfish didn’t last a year though.


One of the major draws to the Fair is the food, of course.  It is actually pretty good food with reasonable quality.  They deep-fry all sorts of foods, but if you hunt around you can find some healthy choices as well.  We always get a bag of the Kettle Corn and try to eat some of the barbeque when we are there.   There are also 12 beer gardens conveniently located throughout the venue, and many have live music.


The Toyota concert series always has some pretty good acts.  Two years ago we saw Darius Rucker, who is a country artist that used to be the lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish.  He was awesome and put on a great show!  He is coming this year also, along with John Michael Montgomery and Toby Kieth.  If you are not at least in your mid-40s, there are also a number of artists that you may enjoy; the full line-up can be found at The Toyota Concert Series.  There is also a bunch of other smaller venue musical entertainment throughout the month as well as many fun festivals. Planned for the Fair this year is a Toast of the Coast Wine Festival on June 10th, the San Diego International Beer Festival June 16th-18th, and Distilled: the San Diego Spirits and Cocktail Festival on June 24th.

One of the things we always like to do is see the animals and livestock at the Fair.  This is a traditional aspect of county fairs where I grew-up, and finding a prize hog is always a treat!