State Fair

State Fair attendance could be strongest in six years

Yilianna Valdez Seever, 3, tries a ball-toss game under the watchful eye of her grandfather Daniel Valdez of Sacramento on Sunday, the last day of the California State Fair.
Yilianna Valdez Seever, 3, tries a ball-toss game under the watchful eye of her grandfather Daniel Valdez of Sacramento on Sunday, the last day of the California State Fair. rbyer@sacbee.com

California State Fair employees were cautiously optimistic about this year’s attendance numbers as the fair ended Sunday, crediting cooler weather and expanded live horse racing for bringing in larger crowds.

“It’s probably been one of our best attended fairs since 2009,” said State Fair police officer Caryn King, who has worked with Cal Expo for over 30 years. The mean daily attendance in the last five years has ranged from about 38,500 in 2012 to more than 44,000 in 2014.

Fredia Golden, who runs a margarita stand near the rides for young children, said she’s seen a lot of people in her part of the fairgrounds.

“This part of the fair has stayed packed ... compared to other years,” said. She said a few breezier days during the fair might have helped boost crowds.

This Wednesday and Thursday, for example, saw highs in the mid-80s. The year-by-year average high at the fair has ranged from 88 to 92 since it was moved from August to July in 2010.

“Wednesday and Thursday, we were slammed, when we didn’t think we were going to be,” said Amy Ziegler, who works at a fair entrance ticket booth.

Besides the weather, King said technology exhibits at the fair also could have drawn crowds. That includes “Tech Trek,” which features science-fiction-inspired technology such the Oculus Rift virtual reality unit.

Adding to the appeal, the fair expanded its live thoroughbred racing from seven days to 11 this year. Larry Swartzlander, chief operating officer for the California Authority of Racing Fairs, said he believes daily attendance at the races increased by about 10 percent after that move.

At the kiddie park, Golden said fairgoers were asking her where the racetrack was seven or eight times a day, up from just two or three in other years.

Nick Kinnaman of Lake Elsinore has operated children’s carnival games around the state but finished his first year at the State Fair on Sunday. He was happy just to be on the Cal Expo grounds.

The State Fair “is better than all of them,” he said. “A lot of people come out; a lot of people want to play.”

Andrew Holzman: 916-326-5545, @andrewlholzman

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