On opening day, State Fair showcases attractions old and new

07/13/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:45 AM

California's 160th annual State Fair opened Friday to the delight of veteran fair-goers, who arrived early for cinnamon rolls, spaghetti ice cream and a new 3-D exhibition.

Forty people donning yellow 3-D glasses lined up for the 5th Dimension, a video experience designed by the British company Amazing Interactives. Inside, centipedes and gargoyles lurched at viewers from seven identical screens, and a Venus flytrap secreted an aroma you could smell.

"I thought it was scary at first, but after a bit, you get used to it," said Nolan Moyer, a 9-year-old from Morgan Hill. "It looks like you're gonna get eaten by things."

Moyer told his friends, "I want to go again!" and got in line a second time.

The 5th Dimension exemplifies some of the changes at the fair since Rick Pickering became its general manager in late December. Pickering says he wants to honor the fair's traditions while showcasing the future, such as California's high-tech industry. His team has pushed to connect to youths via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Paid attendance at the fair has slumped in recent years, falling to 461,477 in 2009 from 847,099 in 2001. Experts blamed the economy and triple-digit heat, as well as a shift in the fair's start date – from August to July – in 2009 in an attempt to capture kids before the school year starts. But they say they expected the fair to rebound, and it drew 523,838 paid attendance last year. Fair officials didn't release figures for opening-day attendance.

David Wellmon, a 63-year-old sandwich vendor from Grass Valley, said the State Fair faces competition from the Orange County Fair, which also opened Friday.

"I know a lot of vendors that chose to stay down (south)" after the San Diego County Fair ended July 4, he said from his sandwich stand, called Grinders.

Wellmon said he's worked the State Fair for 30 years. He expects the new management to roll out bigger changes for its next stint. In the meantime, he travels fair to fair with his family from mid-May to mid-October, often sleeping in hotels. He hires locals near each fair to work the stand.

"Hot pastrami's our best seller, which isn't that healthy – that's probably why it's the best-seller," he said.

Fair-goers can feast on two-pound ribs, corn dogs and champagne gelato. Bob Sonnier from Sacramento said he came for his annual cinnamon roll.

Macy Howell of Rio Linda said she visits every opening day for "the rides, the caramel apples, the Zipper (carnival ride), Dippin' Dots."

Howell, 17, and Julien Espinoza, 19, also tried the fair's latest carnival attraction, Vertigo, on which riders swing in circles around a 100-foot tower.

"I loved it," Howell said.

Call The Bee's Jeffrey Dastin, (916) 321-1037.

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