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It's the Big Orange - The Orange County Fair
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RCS provided the midway at the Orange County Fair
Photo by Steve Hinz

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While it's Southern California area sister, the LA County Fair, has moved to a more temperate May, the Orange County Fair is holding fast to its late summer dates, this year running from July 14 to August 13 for 23 days. The fair was open Wednesdays through Sundays each week.
OC Fair ticket prices were $14 Wednesday and Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. Seniors and kids ages 5-12 received $9 admission on all days, with kids aged five and under admitted free. An Every Day Passport was also available, allowing access to the fair on any of the event's 23 days for $60. Of course, the carnival ride wristbands were also available, priced at $44 for online presale, and $49 during the fair. They could be used for unlimited rides and two free games every Wednesday and Thursday until 8 p.m. Carnival FunPasses consisting of 50 or 100 tickets were also available for online prior purchase with a discount of 20%.

Carnival rides purveyor Ray Cammack Shows offered a FunPass App allowing easy pass purchase and pass reloading to access rides and games. And RCS and the OC Fair paired up to reward kids for summer reading with two free rides.  

The operator also added new rides this year, including the Sling Shot, Raptor, and Joker 360. Sling Shot is a thrilling extreme ride that sends riders 200 feet into the fair for 1.2 seconds. It required a separate ticket to experience.

Returning rides included the popular Crazy Coaster, Alien Abduction, Galaxy Coaster, the Zipper and the Haunted Mansion. The carnival was divided into two areas, main rides such as these and a Kidland for younger carnival attendees. In the small fry area of the carnival, the always- popular Big Wheel shared space with pint-sized tractors, balloon rides, and Jumbo Flying Elephants.

There were plenty of games too, from Balloon Pop to Skeeball. Games were also located both in the main carnival area and Kidland. In the latter, games were geared to smaller attendees, with options such as Fish O Matic and Kiddie Bball.

The fair's theme this year was “Happy Together,” and with that in mind, the event provided a varied assortment of juicy – pun intended – fair attractions. These included many that were free with admission to the fair.

New this year were performances from the acrobatic The Flying Royals, and a featured exhibition of The Art of Music, which utilized large scale hand-painted recreations of album covers, as well as portraits of famous musicians among its many displays. The exhibit was interactive, allowing visitors to move between connected gallery and vendor areas, and it included the experience of watching a live painting of album cover art. According to fair CEO Michele Richards, the brand-new attraction was the first major exhibit at the fair since the pandemic. She described it as “custom-made for us about the art of music, a walk-through exhibit,” which she also said was “nostalgic.” The large-scale album covers were originally billboards, Richards related, displayed on major thoroughfares like Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, stored and preserved. Depicted were artists such as Madonna, Prince, Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Jones, and David Bowie.

The fair also offered more traditional fair fun, such as performances by a comedy hypnotist, a magician, and local dance troops. Roving entertainers included the Red Light Brass Band and the mariachi music of Elass. Latin music was also presented daily at La Cantina; C & W music at the new-this-year Western Saloon and Whiskey Bar.

There were exhibitions of visual arts, Cal Fresh California-grown crops, produce and floral competitive displays, and home arts displays such as quilting, baking, and woodworking.  Food- making demos abounded, from Indian and Pakistani cooking to making different kinds of pasta without using a machine, marshmallow confections, and corn and black bean salads.

Kids had special opportunities at the Explorium learning and play area, as well as the ability to enjoy photo ops with costumed OC Fair Foodies and participate in food-centric contests.

Musical and other performance offerings were also plentiful. Separately ticketed events at the Pacific Amphitheater included performance by Chicago, Cheap Trick, Beck, comedian Jeff Dunham, Dwight Yoakum, X, and Los Tucanes de Tijuana. Pacific Amphitheater concerts were all events with varying prices. Chicago was priced at $42.50 to $52.50. Dwight Yoakum was $35 to $75 per ticket.

Free at the Hangar venue were tribute acts including Wild Child, a tribute to Jim Morrison; Elton the Early Years; and Zeppelin Live, among others.

Food was a major component at the fair, too. New this year were an Egg Roll Hot Dog, spiked and unspiked Agua Frescas, a cocktail lounge featuring signature music-themed cocktails, Swirl Ice Cream, multi-flavored Fresh Pretzels, and Guacamole and Chicharones dished up by vendor Northgate. There was also a decadent maple bacon smoothie, a fruit pizza, and vegan and veg food from vendor California Grill.

Returning favorites included Pink's Hot Dogs, funnel cakes, tri-tip, lemonade, cinnamon rolls, tacos, gelato, and cotton candy. Beating the heat were Olde Tyme Ice Cream Bars and Olde Type Lemonade's lemon and strawberry slushies. Every Thursday brought a tasty bargain: the $4 Taste of Fair Food that provided samplings of some food and treats from 11 to 4.

For still-thirsty guests, there were four water refilling stations available on site this year, positioned to cut back on disposable plastic water bottle waste.

Of course, there was yet more to the large-scale fair. On Friday, August 11th, fairgoers could meet members of the LA Lakers basketball team in the Toyota pop-up tent; the Junior Livestock Auction supported both Orange County 4-H and FFA programs. Livestock of all kinds, including sheep, both pygmy and Boar goats, and cattle were on exhibit. So too were llamas, miniature donkeys, and game birds.

Along with livestock exhibitions, there was free admission to the Great American Petting Farm and performances by the ever-popular All Alaskan Racing Pigs. Educators at the fair's Centennial Farm introduced pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, sheep, and even peacocks to fair attendees. Demonstrations included everything form cow milking to food preservation tips. A camel milking exhibition at the camel dairy was likely the most unique animal related demonstration.

There were also other somewhat unusual animal and AG exhibitions, including one by the OC Beekeepers and another from the California Rare Fruit Growers Club.

Celebrating Chicano Heritage Month, tissue flowers were crafted and displayed in the Visual Exhibits Hall along with quotes about what it means to be Chicano. There was also a wardrobe display, and painting demonstrations.

Shopping opportunities were equally eclectic ranging from mattresses and custom cabinets to Russian souvenirs to artificial grass, Hawaiian shirts, and washable foam pillows.

A running, walking, or skipping Fair Fun Run 5k, courtyard wine seminars presented by the Orange County Wine Society, and both a freestyle Motocross and a Speedway Fair Derby added to the range of activities. Making a return this year after several years of absence, was the fair's Broncs & Bulls rodeo in the Action Sports Arena, a ticketed event priced from $17.50 to $27.50.
The fair limited capacity daily to create a better experience for attendees, allowing approximately 45,000 ticket holders through the gate each day for a total – final attendance is not yet tallied – but the approximate guest count comes in at 1,035,000 attendees. This number was of course exclusive of an Everyday Passport purchase, with which guests could visit as often as daily, even if fair days were already sold out. Other tickets required advance purchase by individual day.

Richards explained that the reason for continuing the pandemic-era practice of limiting attendance was because it worked well for both fair guests and surrounding neighbors. “It's a much better guest experience when we control our attendance,” she attested.
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