The California State Fair can be a lot of fun, but don’t let it deflate your wallet or break your little ones’ piggy banks.
Between parking, admission, exhibits, rides, deep-fried food, desserts and more, the 2 1/2-week extravaganza offers plenty of ways to blow through cash. Here’s how you can save money at Cal Expo this summer.
Free and discounted days
What better place to save money than at the gate? General admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors (62 and older) and $10 for kids ages 5-12, but there are plenty of ways to slash those prices. This year’s State Fair offers several free and discounted days for all these groups.
- Admission is free Mondays until 3 p.m. for any guest who donates three or more canned/dried food items, which will be donated to the Elk Grove Food Bank.
- Tuesdays, kids under 12 get in free (and rides cost just $2 a pop). Guests age 62 and up get a $2 discount on Fridays.
- Next Thursday, veterans and active duty military get free admission; the following Thursday, July 26, first responders get in for free.
- There are a few other weekly deals the State Fair is offering to keep your wallet healthy. Vendors will put food items on sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The State Fair offers a number of bundles if you’re planning to go in groups or on multiple occasions.
- A “Blue Ribbon” season pass is your best bet if you plan on spending more than two days at Cal Expo. For $45.99, you’ll get admission to the fair and Raging Waters; unlimited rides on the monorail; a coupon book that normally costs $5; and more.
- You can even take advantage of a combo deal to see savings through December, if you love animals. Spend a little extra for your ticket to the fair and you’ll also get a one-day ticket to the Sacramento Zoo, valid through the end of the year. Adults: $20. Children (5-12): $13.
Note: A four-person “Fun Pack” or “Poppy Pack,” available before the start of the State Fair, is no longer up for sale, according to the fair’s website.
See a show (or catch a game)
Love ZZ Top? What about Kidz Bop?
Both of those shows at Papa Murphy’s Park include free admission for the day when you buy your ticket (for those unaware, Papa Murphy’s Park is located at Cal Expo).
Kidz Bop Live plays Monday; ZZ Top takes the stage July 26.
And if you’ve got a ticket to the Republic FC match July 21 at 8 p.m., you’ll get free admission that day as well.
Tips from savvy spenders at Groupon
One of the best bargains might be to combine the above deals with half-off-or-more coupons from Groupon. Starting at $17 a person, you can catch a soccer match and get through the gate next Saturday. Starting at $20, you can swap soccer for Kidz Bop.
There don’t appear to be any current Groupon deals for general fair admission or the ZZ Top show.
Bring your own drinks or food
OK, it might defeat the purpose to bring your own food if you’re looking to munch on the fried goods that are up for sale. But you’ll definitely want to stay hydrated on a hot July day walking the fairgrounds. Why pay fairground prices for a bottle of water when you can bring your own? The State Fair FAQ page says you’re allowed to bring outside food and drinks (but no outside alcohol, or aluminum cans or glass containers).
Bring your own wiener dog
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. If you enter your dachshund into the Wiener Dog Race, on July 28, your admission to the fair is free.
Hitch a ride, or carpool
Some common sense advice: Parking is $15 per vehicle, so you’ll save a few bucks if you and your party use as few vehicles as possible.
Make the most of your day
The State Fair offers no exchanges or refunds, so if you pay for a wristband or any other deal, make the most of it. The more rides you enjoy with an unlimited wristband, the more value you’re getting. (Within reason. Your stomach will let you enjoy only a finite number of rides.)