State Fair

Drone shows, barbecue records and rising attendance: How did 2019 State Fair stack up?

After marking a couple of firsts and setting a few records, the 2019 California State Fair is over.

Host venue Cal Expo is calling this year’s fair a success, announcing Monday in a news release a total attendance of 601,761 for the 17-day event, up 5 percent from last year.

That’s a boost of 30,000 people over 2018, but 2019 still had the second-worst turnout for the State Fair since 1998. The fair peaked at more than 1 million guests in 2001 during that 21-year span.

This year also marked a rebranding of the State Fair, now officially titled the California State Fair and Food Festival. A $28 food festival pass let fairgoers pick four items. The pass generated about $380,000 in revenue, meaning roughly 13,500 people took advantage of the deal, according to Cal Expo’s news release.

Not everything went smoothly. Drone light shows were canceled the first two weekends of the fair due to software problems. When the rescheduled show finally got underway last Friday night, there were some peculiarities: four drones fell out of the sky, some reported the accompanying music was inaudible and fireworks started in the middle of a show that had been billed as an alternative to fireworks.

“The combination of the old, beloved fireworks and the new drone light show symbolizes the innovation and nostalgic activities the Fair provides,” Cal Expo said in Monday’s news release. But Cal Expo management had said before the start of the fair that the drone show would replace the traditional fireworks display.

Here are some other takeaways from this year’s State Fair.

People love barbecue

The fair reported $8.5 million in food and beverage sales over 17 days.

Cal Expo says $1.3 million of that total came from barbecue sales, representing a State Fair record.

This year’s edition of the State Fair also offered a vegan food stand for the first time. Cal Expo says Frik’n Vegan had a “very successful debut” and has committed to returning to next year’s fair.

Esports rule

Another attraction debuting this year, an esports video gaming tournament sold out multiple tournaments.

The first-ever California State Fair Bear Cup was watched by more than 700,000 viewers total via internet livestreaming, Cal Expo said in Monday’s news release. Popular video game livestreaming website Twitch featured the Bear Cup on its front page.

$1 million worth of rides

Butler Amusements, which provides rides for the State Fair, reported a record-setting weekend in sales July 20-21.

Fairgoers bought about $1 million worth of rides - more than $500,000 that Saturday and more than $400,000 that Sunday, Cal Expo says. More than 100,000 people rode the monorail and Skyride.

A hot final weekend

Cal Expo didn’t break down attendance by weekend, but Monday’s news release noted 2019 was able to surpass 2018 numbers despite extreme heat over the final weekend. Last Friday was a tolerable 96 degrees, but Saturday hit 102 and Sunday reached a scorching 104, according to the National Weather Service.

Sacramento saw similar heat last July, but the hottest days fell in the middle of the week during State Fair season. Archived NWS records show temperatures hit triple digits three times during last year’s fair, but never during the weekend. And the final day of the 2018 festival was a cool 90 degrees.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.