Say the words “county fair” and you automatically travel back in time, to a more bucolic place. Lazy summer days pass by as you idly stroll on sawdust and straw (people actually strolled in the old days, probably wearing straw hats!), eating buttery corn-on-the-cob (real butter! non-GMO corn!), checking out prize-winning livestock, then cooling down with a fresh-squeezed lemonade (with real cane sugar, naturally). So quaint. So, well, corny.
One could be excused for thinking the same of the L.A. County Fair. After all, it takes place at the farthest reaches of L.A. county in relatively quaint Pomona. I made that assumption once, a few years back. I was young. And then I went to The Fair.
It’s big. Really big. In fact, it’s massive. The exposition — which turns a youthful 95 this year — is the largest county fair in the United States, dwarfing the scale and scope of many STATE fairs. Over its 19 days each September, 1.5 million cruise through the gates. By comparison, the Kentucky State Fair attracted a little more than half a million visitors last year over its 11 days. (Sorry, Colonel Sanders, but you’ve been served.)
Anyone who has spent a day at the Fair can tell you, it’s like walking into a bustling metropolis all its own. Imagine a fusion of EPCOT, Coachella, Ringling Bros., and every farmers’ market in the state happening at the same time, and you’re pretty close. The Fairplex sprawls across 543 acres, nestled against the hills in Pomona. Every square foot is packed with sights, sounds, smells, flavors. Presidents, campaigning politicians and visiting dignitaries have made it a regular stop, mingling with the masses. Now it’s your turn.
The Farm is the Fair’s big beating heart, and is the biggest draw of them all. Amidst all of the changes in the ways Californians — and all Americans — consume food, the state remains the nation’s largest breadbasket. Even in troubling times, like our recent record-shattering drought, our system of farms retains its status as a wonder of agribusiness. The Farm offers a menagerie of animals and prize-winning produce (the organic farm onsite boast 150 California specialty crops). If miniature animals are your bag, the new Little Red Barn is just for you…just don’t try sneaking out any with you in that bag! There’s a full slate of live entertainment every day, to boot.
This summer, L.A.’s concert promoters have done a spectacular job of programming, from the big venues like The Greek and the Hollywood Bowl to the endless array of free shows at public spaces across the city. The Fair keeps the party going with yet another sizzling all-star lineup of evening concerts in the Fairplex’s Grandstand. The lineup features current pop chart toppers (Migos, Fifth Harmony); country stars both young (Hunter Hayes) and seasoned (Trace Adkins); Latin superstars (Juanes, Ramon Ayala); classic rock elder statesmen (Styx, Kansas) and more throwback R&B than you can shake a churro at (Babyface, The Whispers, The Stylistics). Even the Queen herself — Latifah, that is — will put in an appearance for her subjects. Make a day and a night of it. Concert tickets range from $44-125. For the full slate of concerts and links to buy, visit lacountyfair.com/entertainment/concerts.
For the Swiftians among you, the GRAMMY Museum presents The Taylor Swift Experience. It’s a comprehensive look at the 10-time GRAMMY-winning artist, with rarely seen photographs and videos, interactive features, artifacts including handwritten lyric sheets, costumes, and much more. There is a modest additional fee for the attraction. Haters welcome.
Here’s a playlist of some of the artists scheduled to perform, along with some other Fair-themed favorites, including the Beach Boys’ iconic “County Fair.”
It’s a county fair, so naturally, everything is battered and fried. Well, most things. In keeping with its scale and scope, the Fair has a wide range of cuisines on offer, from the decidedly decadent to fresh and healthful. For a more upscale experience, the Wine, Spirits & Beer Marketplace is a culinary showcase unlike any other, and offers daily wine tastings and flights.
The Fair offers up exotic attractions to rival those of any theme park. There’s rides galore on the midway, from the kiddie friendly to the more extreme for adrenaline junkies. Also along the midway, Esmeralda’s Traveling Circus boasts feats of daring from world-class aerialists that you definitely shouldn’t try at home. Esports hosts a massive gaming show, where joystick fanatics can dive into VR realms, sample new games, and enter gaming competitions (for a small fee). You can even challenge the pros, if you think your thumbs are up to it.
“Wonderland: A Floral Fairy Tale” serves up a more organic VR experience, where visitors can travel down the famed rabbit hole from Lewis Carroll’s classic, with hundreds of beautiful flowers and live animals around every corner. For those of a Hogwartian or Game of Thrones inclination, “The Magical World of Dragons, Wizards, and Beasts” boasts a full-on castle, complete with a dragon and a tale-telling wizard. Additional attractions throughout the park center on trains, dinosaurs, hot rods, and Wild West heritage. Giddy up.
For the bigger kids, there’s live wagering/simulcast of the ponies at Los Alamitos’ late summer meet. Enjoy the races in the luxurious Top of the Park and Finish Line Sports Bar & Grill, which offers panoramic views of the park. First post, 2 p.m.
I know, it sounds crazy that a county fair actually focuses on high culture, but that’s how L.A. rolls. High meets low. The Millard Sheets Art Center, open year-round, offers classes and programs throughout the Fair, including “One Path Two Journeys,” an exhibition of work by Judithe Hernández and Patssi Valdez. It’s part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the Getty-led series of exhibitions that focuses on Latin American and Latino prominence in the L.A. art scene.
I had a friend who lived in Pomona who always insisted it was a half-hour drive from Downtown L.A.. Unless your last name is Earnhardt, I doubt you can pull that off. Still, it isn’t that far - a straight shot out on the 10 for most of us. If you’re of a greener inclination, you can catch the Metro’s 310 bus line from Union Station, which typically takes about an hour each way.
Metrolink San Bernardino is offering Saturday and Sunday service to the L.A. County Fair. All trains will stop at the Fairplex station beginning at 9:30 a.m. (except for Train 351, 352 and 353). From there you will catch a free shuttle to the Yellow Gate to begin your day of fun. Metrolink is offering an additional train service back to Union Station, departing the Fairplex station at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday so you can stay for dinner and last-minute shopping.
Once you’re there, you may just want to stay. All of this stuff takes more than a day to see, right? Pitch a tent…literally. The Fairplex boasts a large KOA campground with tent spaces, RV parking, and cabins for you “glampers.” The area also features several hotels and motels, but that’s not anywhere near as fun.
Through the years, the Fair has put L.A.’s best on proud display. And for all its bluster and bigness, it retains its old school charm. While the rest of the state, the nation and the world looks on in wonder, all you have to do is get yourself over to Pomona to experience it for yourself. So what are you waiting for? Here’s some basic info to get you started.
See you at The Fair!