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Sonoma County Fair Celebrates First Responders
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Running August 2 through 12th, the Sonoma County Fair offered a Salute to Heroes theme as it entered its 82nd year of fun and thrills. According to publicity coordinator Emily Janowski, the fair celebrated the contributions of first responders, a celebration close to the home and hearts for many fairgoers, after last October’s devastating 2017 fires in the area.

“There were so many people who were heroes for us during the fires last October,” Fair CEO Becky Bartling relates, “and we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge them. We want to celebrate all the things that make us Sonoma Strong.”

Located in Santa Rosa, Calif., one of the key exhibitions this year was at the Hall of Flowers, where a massive phoenix greeted visitors, a symbol of the community literally and figuratively rising from the ashes. The flower exhibition was themed as Seasons of Sonoma, and featured blooms “from the rugged coastal bluffs to the redwoods and vineyards. The entire exhibition is dedicated to “representing the resiliency of our county and its rebirth.”

Visitors also paid their respects to Angel, the Texas Longhorn, living at the fair, who’d lost not only her home enclosure but one of her owners in the devastating October 2017 fire. Her surviving caregiver is fundraising to build her a proper new enclosure.

Along with tributes, of course there was plenty of fair fun. A free horse-drawn wagon took visitors on a ride around the livestock area; the rides, offered by Butler Amusements, included a popular new addition, the Windsurfer. Riders perched on a surfboard with a metal sail as a controller to shift as the ride spun. Other popular rides were the flipping thrill ride the Zipper, and the Pole Position Spinning Coaster with exhilarating turns accelerating the fun of a traditional roller coaster-type ride. Vertigo, with a 100-foot-tall drop, and the White Water Flume Ride drew riders.

A key part of the fair’s appeal were the horse racing events. Eight Wine Country Racing days were free with fair admission, with VIP or reserved boxes available for sale for an additional fee.
The Derby Dog Dash, which ran two Sundays replaced equines with canines in an annual, much-beloved race for dogs under 25 pounds.

Fairgoers were also invited to get their beer on with the annual NorCal Brew Fest on the 4th of August. “The NorCal Brew Fest is a competition and a festival for beer lovers that began in 2017. Attendees receive unlimited tasting of over 50 beers and ciders, and admission to the Sonoma County Fair and Wine Country Horse Racing.” In the beer fest area, guests were invited to play free games of cornhole and Giant Jenga, too. Pre-sale tickets were $45, and sales were strong. Best of Show went to Island Brewing Company of Carpinteria, Calif., for their Starry Night Stout.

Besides the rides, other top attractions included the Mexican Village, a block-long attraction with shops, music, and Mexican food from tortillas to tacos. At Pepe’s Mariscos, fried shrimp, grilled and fried fish, ceviche tostadas, and quesadillas were big hits; Rose’s Mexican Food offere Carne Asada tacos among their fare, as well as flautas, mini-tacos, and vegetarian burritos. To drink, a variety of aguas frescas included the popular horchata. Street tacos from Senor Carlos concession was also a popular dish, as was the more exotic Waffle Taco.

Throughout the fair, a wide range of food types drew guests. Italian, Greek, and Asian vendors vied for guests’ food budget; Hawaiian food and the Monster Corn Dog from Big Jim’s Dawg House were among the most unique. Returning favorites included Willie Bird's BBQ, Ibleto's Spaghetti Palace, and Kettle Corn vendors. Castle Mini Donuts and Unicorn Cinnamon Rolls were sweet treats; but it was hard to top the popularity of the free ice cream cones given out daily from 1 to 4 p.m. from Clover Stornetta Farms.

Concerts were included as a part of general admission pricing, offering a wide range of musical choices. “New this year was our Blues Festival held August 4, which featured musicians including Joe Louis Walker, Carolyn Wonderland, and Grady Champion,” Janowski reports. Big name acts such as Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Sawyer Brown drew large crowds. Also popular was Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond Tribute band, and crowd pleasing repeat event, Elvis Singing Contest. The contest featured ten different Elvis impersonators with a live band, all competing for a $1000 cash prize.

Playing on the fair’s theme of heroes, on August 12th the fair held Super Sunday, with costumed appearances by Spiderman and the Black Panther. “Kids were invited to dress as their favorite superhero every day of the fair,” Janowski notes. Also riffing on the hero theme was a Wizard Fest held August 5th, themed to highlight literary hero, Harry Potter.

General admission tickets were $15 at the gate, $12 during the pre-sale period. Kids age 7-12 were $7, with children six and younger free every day of the fair. Pre-sale values abounded, including a Carnival Combo for $35, offering fair admission and an all-day carnival ride wrist band. A season admission pass was available for pre-sale for just $45 up until the 1st of the month.

Janowski says that even without the pre-sale discounts, attendees had many chances to save, with free admission for kids 12 and under every Thursday, and free admission for seniors over 60 on Fridays. “As a way to say ‘thank you’ to our many heroes, the Sonoma County Fair partnered with Lucky Supermarkets with free general admission and a free ride on the Ferris Wheel on Monday and Tuesday August 6 and 7.” Other special days included Food Bank Day, offering an admission discount to those bringing two non-perishable food items to the gate. Attendance remained steady from last year’s event.
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