88 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa just recently held its 128th annual Orange County Fair, running for 23 days from July 13 to August 12. This year, fairgoers enjoyed a “Free Your Inner Farmer” theme that encouraged them to enjoy uncomplicated summer fun and reconnect to the event’s agricultural roots. Reimagined in 1949, the OC Fair offered concerts, entertainment, livestock competition, floral and agricultural exhibits, carnival rides, games and an overabundance of food. This year, the OC welcomed a record number of fairgoers at over 1.4 million — averaging over 1 million since 2007 despite attendance being initially sparse.
Formed in Santa Ana in 1889 shortly after Orange County split from Los Angeles, the fair began as an effort to showcase livestock and produce. Becoming a carnival of products at the turn of the century, interruptions arose along the way as a result of the Great Depression and World War I and II. According to the Orange County Register, the 32nd District Agricultural Association was created after the war and given responsibility for producing an OC Fair and purchasing what now serves as the present-day fairgrounds. Growing from a small, five-day celebration to the 23-day festival it is today has made it one of Orange County’s most eagerly awaited events.
Having arrived with my aunt and my cousins who were visiting for the summer, we were determined to do and to try as much as possible in the hours we had. Beginning with the carnival — preferring not to brave the rides and games on a full stomach — we loaded up on tickets which ranged from 40 tickets for $20 to 200 tickets for $100. We, or rather them because I’m a chicken when it comes to most things, made our way around the area, trying out the Kite Flyer, Sky Flyer, Superslide, Twister, Crazy Coaster and Wild River. La Grande Wheel XL, which has a capacity of about 2000 people per hour and is one of the largest traveling observation wheels in the Western Hemisphere, we saved until the very end to get a full view of the fairgrounds before heading home. Along the way we went through the various carnival games, only coming out victorious from two despite some valiant group efforts and boasting on one of my cousin’s parts.
The OC Fair does of course revolve heavily on the showcasing of livestock, produce and local craftsmen; the Centennial Farm, Main Mall and Livestock areas of course reserved for these purposes. There are pens housing dairy goats, breeding sheep, racing pigs and game birds, as well as competitions to see which animals come out on top. This was a heavily populated area with families taking advantage of a bit of shade on an otherwise sunny day and children happy to pet the animals. There were chef demos, wine tastings, vintage aprons and display after display of pastries and sweets featuring everything from Pixar’s “Coco” to Harry Potter. Everywhere you turned there was something to see and marvel over.
While the OC Fair is first and foremost an event meant to showcase agriculture, it is widely known for its food. Offering giant cinnamon rolls, deep-fried oreos, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled corn, coffee, beer and milkshakes to name a few, the food was an event in itself, and boy did we participate. Sampling endless cups of strawberry lemonade, we collectively tackled two corn dogs, a hearty helping of chili cheese fries and one massive turkey leg. The food was probably one of the biggest highlights of the day, not a single complaint to be heard. Despite being full from the sheer amount of food consumed, I still snagged a large bag of kettle corn for the long drive home.
The Orange County Fair is not to be missed, promising something enjoyable for every member of the family. A perfect summer event, I would mark my calendar well in advance for next year.