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Farm focus pays off for Sacramento County Fair

Family Fun at Sacramento County Fair at Cal Expo

This Memorial Day weekend tradition returns with a patriotic-themed celebration and plenty of family fun. Find hundreds of vendors and agriculturally themed exhibits. A tractor pull (featuring monster tractors) highlights Monday’s entertainment sc
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This Memorial Day weekend tradition returns with a patriotic-themed celebration and plenty of family fun. Find hundreds of vendors and agriculturally themed exhibits. A tractor pull (featuring monster tractors) highlights Monday’s entertainment sc

What do camels, science and Ferris wheels all have in common?

They are all attractions at this year’s Sacramento County Fair. Offering amusement rides, livestock showings and dozens of food vendors, the county fair – which started Thursday – will continue through Memorial Day at Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento. Admission is $6.

Established in 1937, the fair serves as a way to pay homage to the area’s rich agricultural history: Today, the livestock exhibits and the petting zoo remain some of the most popular attractions.

“(We’re) a family-friendly fair, basing everything we do on agricultural education,” said CEO Pamela Fyock. “We really try to provide educational exhibits.”

At a time when traditional fairs are competing with high-intensity amusement parks and online entertainment, the Sacramento County Fair has seen its attendance rise steadily over the past five years. In 2011, when Fyock joined, attendance was about 60,000. Now, she said, about 100,000 visitors are expected through the holiday weekend.

“We’re a good mix of rural and urban,” Fyock said.

The attendance figures are particularly noteworthy when compared to those at the much-larger California State Fair, which has seen ticket sales stagnate after peaking in the early 2000s.

About 5,000 kids come to the county fair each year to exhibit their livestock, Fyock said, with many competing in various 4-H and FFA showmanship competitions. Don and Gail Campbell, from Paso Robles, were at the fair Friday to watch their grandchildren show their lambs.

“We live about 250 miles away. We come every year as long as the grandkids are doing their thing,” Gail Campbell said.

This was the first year Sacramento-based Girl Scout Troop 1290 came to the county fair, said Marlene Cuzzo, who helped coordinate the trip. The troop submitted an entry into the fair’s “Farm Garden in a Wheelbarrow” competition, growing arugula, carrots and beans from seeds.

Other groups, such as Crestwood Center in Sacramento, come frequently to bring mental health patients to the fair.

“You can’t beat deep-fried Reeses and Twinkies,” said Shaundra Hudson, an employee at the center.

Indoors, visitors can learn about how electricity works or play an oversized board game. St. Francis High School senior Perri Horan said that she decided to come to the fair instead of going to grad night on Friday.

“We don’t really want to spend $300 to go to Disneyland for a day,” Horan said, who was playing a game of giant Connect Four with friends. “So we were like, ‘Let’s just go to the county fair.’ 

Shellie Miramontes spent Friday at the fair running a mini fishing game. She worked at the California State Fair for 10 years before joining the county fair three years ago and said she doesn’t regret the decision.

“I like the county fair a lot more; it’s a lot more family-oriented,” she said, adding that the state fair crowd can become rowdier sometimes.

While this year’s opening day crowd wasn’t as big as last year’s due to the chillier weather, Miramontes is optimistic that this weekend will be “packed.” The state fair, which will be held in July, had a 14 percent drop in attendance last year.

“We have over 40 things free with admission,” Fyock said, adding that kids 12 and under get in for free. “It’s a huge number of things to see for $6. It’s just a huge value pack.”

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks: ayoon-hendricks@sacbee.com

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