Located in Pleasanton, Calif., the Alameda County Fair said “Hello to Summer” – the fair’s theme - in a big way, starting with an opening-day cattle drive down Main Street. The fair’s 18-day run from June 15 to July 8th was a whopping success according to Angel Moore, vice president of business development for the fair. The Western Fairs Association 2017 winner had another strong year with attendance and offered plenty of fun for the Northern California region.
423,418 visitors attended this year, with attendance at the fair’s popular horse racing events topping 52,699. The new Sky Ride, which sent attendees way above the midway, boasted 22,064 riders over the course of the fair’s run. The Fair was closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
At the iconic Opening Day Cattle Drive, cowboys and girls guided a heard of steer through downtown Pleasanton. Restaurants and retailers gave away free fair tickets and the Museum on Main hosted kids activities.
Gate prices ranged from $10 for children and seniors to $15 per adult, with unlimited ride wrist bands at $30 to $35. A family fun pack included parking was $70. For true fair lovers, a season pass was available for $40; the carnival also offered a Fast Pass, new this year. The Fast Pass provided a priority entrance for rides with no waiting and cost $10.
Discounts were many and varied: on opening day, admission was just $1, and rides were $1 each; free admission for dads was offered on Father’s Day; kids 12 and under received free admission on Thursdays, while Fridays were titled Boomer Fridays, offering free fair admission for those 62 and older. Free admission and $1 rides were the reward for participating in the Feed the Need Food Drive by bringing in four non-perishable food items; military members and veterans received one free admission on any day; first responders were admitted free until 3 p.m. on July 4th.
There was plenty of good news for charitable ventures: the fair’s Feed the Need Food Drive resulted in 27,760 pounds of donated food, up 15% from 2017; the fair’s Foster Kids Clothing Drive netted 5,473 donated items, up 418% from 2017.
Fair highlights included traditional food favorites such as corn dogs and cotton candy, livestock auctions, horse racing, and musical events. Big name talent was on tap in the evenings, including LeAnn Rimes, Smash Mouth, En Vogue, Clay Walker, The Tubes, Sir Mix A lot, and Blue Oyster Cult. Seating was conveniently reserved through the ETIX concert page and on the fair website, making it easy to attend. Tickets for the concerts ran from $15 to $60, depending on the act and the seating chosen. All concert goers received admission to the fair on the day of the concert, encouraging music lovers to make a full day of it.
There were two new rides in 2018, Moore noted. The Sky Ride required an additional ticket, $5 one way, and $8 for a round trip. The 70 passenger gondolas offered riders a view of the fair and carnival from above, extending gate to gate across the fair. The other new ride in town was the Turbo, a fast, exciting experience that flipped riders upside-down 120-feet in the air – at 70 miles per hour. Fair favorites from preceding years also returned, including a white-water log flume, a circus-themed fun house, and giant scooters. Of course the classic Century Wheel and Giant Wheel, towering above the fairgrounds, were also on site, glowing with LED lights this year. Rides were provided by Butler Amusements.
If music and rides didn’t suit fair-goers then there were tasting events. The “Racing & Tasting” events this year ran with a different theme every fair weekend: there was the Red, White & Craft Brew Fest; Sip, Savor & Wager Wine Festival; and a Craft Cocktail Festival, all for fair attendees 21 and older, and held at the Stella Artois Grandstand infield track from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., with unlimited sampling, live horse racing and wagering, food, and lawn games. Tickets were $40, with season pass holders getting a substantial discount. Horse racing itself ran daily for 15 fair days.
Then there was the Friday afternoon Snackdown Fryday. For this event, fair vendors brought out their most outrageous food items to taste. For fair goers who wanted to sample them all, there were $2 “fun-sized” portions of fair food sold every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Some fair favorites were corn dogs, of which Moore attests 31,688 were sold, funnel cakes of which 29,997 were devoured, and BBQ turkey legs – 11,998 munched. Also top sellers: burgers, cotton candy, candy apples, and deep fried Twinkies.
Having dined, attendees could enjoy a different show each weekend at the Action Sports Arena, while on weekdays, a daily Extreme Freestyle Motocross Show was held. Top event? The Monster Trucks and Demolition Derby events. But don’t discount the Extreme Rodeo, Fiesta del Charro, or the K9 Kings Flying Dog Show for popularity.
The Alameda County Fair is ranked as one of the Top 50 North American Fairs by carnivalwarehouse.com and is the 7th largest fair in California. The Western Fairs Association (WFA) and the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) have recognized Alameda County Fair with top honors for innovation and excellence in competitive exhibits, agricultural programs and communications for 2017. The fair received 25 WFA Awards in its division, including nine 1st place, nine 2nd place, and seven 3rd place honors. The Alameda County Fair was also nominated for the Merrill Award, WFA’s highest honor, for its digital marketing campaign. “We are incredibly honored to be recognized within the industry for our continued efforts in making Alameda County Fair the best experience for our community each year,” Alameda County Fairgrounds’ CEO, Jerome Hoban, said. “We are fortunate to have such a dedicated team.” With the 2018 fair now complete, Hoban can look toward the possibility of new awards for this year’s successful event.