State Fair

Five things you won’t want to miss at the California State Fair

Keith Breedlove, official chef for the California State Fair, will lead a series of culinary demonstrations throughout the run of the fair.
Keith Breedlove, official chef for the California State Fair, will lead a series of culinary demonstrations throughout the run of the fair.

Cal Expo has transformed into a kind of mini-city. The California State Fair runs Friday through July 24, and the area now abounds with agricultural exhibits, food centers and recreation in the form of Ferris wheels and roller coasters.

That’s a lot to digest over the next 17 days, and not everyone can take multiple trips to the fair, a Sacramento tradition for the past 160-plus years. If you’re in a time crunch, or just want to cherry-pick some of the fair’s best offerings, here are five things that should not be missed.

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1. Check the view from the Sky Ride: After a nine-year hiatus, the Sky Ride is back at the California State Fair for good. It’s a $1.1 million project that allows attendees to kick back in a three-seat gondola that cruises from the midway to near the Golden 1 Center concert stage. Bonus: If your timing is right, motorcycle riders will be launching off ramps located under the Sky Ride’s path, making the view from that $5 trip extra gnarly.

2. Spin and grin on the Inversion: Thrill-seekers and fun junkies should head straight for this new fair attraction, which swings 12 riders at a time on a giant pendulum that makes a 360-degree loop. If those g-forces aren’t enough for you, keep in mind the cars also spin while making the loop. Keep those cellphones and keys well secured, and don’t even think about hitting this ride after downing the Elvis Burger, which includes peanut butter and jelly, bacon, egg and more gut-busting add-ons.

3. Get down with Chaka Khan: The fair’s Golden One Stage is bound to erupt in a giant dance party once the crowd hears this: “Chaka Khan, let me rock you, let me rock you Chaka Khan, let me rock you it’s all I want to do.” Chaka Khan remains a legend of funk and R&B, both as a member of Rufus (“Tell Me Something Good”) and Grammy-winning solo act. Slip on those boogie shoes and catch this show on Monday, July 11. The concert is free with fair admission.

4. Appreciate animals at the petting zoo: The State Fair remains a kind of carnivore’s paradise given all the corn dogs, turkey legs, tri-tip and other meats for feasting. But before going back for another deep-fried pastrami pizza, why not get some close-up time with a few four-legged friends? The fair’s petting zoo is all kinds of adorbs, with a collection of pygmy goats, fawns, sheep, llamas and more. Drop by and express your inner Dr. Doolittle from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

5. Marvel at the high divers: The platform stands eight stories above a 10-foot pool of water, not the most ideal conditions for taking a plunge. But these divers are pros, well-equipped with flips and twists that’ll make the crowd go “ooh” and “ahh” as they approach the water. Look for these high divers three times daily at the fair’s Show Arena, which is located near the main drag for food concessions.

WINE: Search our 2016 California State Fair wine winners database

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

163rd California State Fair

Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento

When: July 8-24; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 pm. Friday-Sunday.

Admission: $12; senior discount Fridays (age 62 and up), $10; youth (5-16), $8; children age 4 and under admitted free.