A Happy State of ’Fairs
This review is a bit long in coming. Oddly, I seem to be struggling with getting everything done lately. You would expect more of a working mom of three, right? Just kidding.
So I got to go to the California State Fair, and I brought Selah, my friend Danielle, and her daughter Victoria. I will own off the bat that after my experience bringing Asher to Raging Waters, I thought it might be wiser to stick with just older children (ages 6 and 7) for this public-park-style excursion.
I had not been to the state fair since I was in my very early 20s. Which of course was just a few short years ago, right? In my then-childless state, I mostly remember drinking wine, looking at the counties’ exhibits, and dancing to live music. So I wasn’t really expecting to do any of that this time.
If you recall, I am a big cheapskate who likes to avoid spending money on things like lockers, burgers that have been marked up by 350%, or trying fruitlessly to win giant stuffed Spongebob Squarepants toys that I don’t want in my house anyway. Therefore, places like fairs are a challenge, because everything costs a lot of money. As I explained to Selah toward the end, going to the fair is a little like going to a party where everyone stands there throwing all of their money up into the air. She thought this was funny, and I think she also kind of got what I was saying, because she finally stopped asking for one of the inflatable unicorns we kept passing.
- A money saver for before you leave: download the Read to Ride form for any children you are bringing. If they read two books and summarize them (or draw pictures, for the preliterate), they get two free rides. Good deal, right? Plus helpful for summer reading encouragement. Don’t forget to bring the form with you.
I dutifully packed my backpack full of enough food that we wouldn’t have to buy any food there unless we wanted to. You can bring in food and water bottles, which is nice. Parking is $10, so I picked up the friends we were bringing with us. (You can buy your parking and your tickets in advance online–just remember to bring them, too.)
When we got there, we brought our reading forms to the building we’d been directed to. And I was pleased to discover that the fair has an elaborate system for helping lost children. Anyone with young kids worries about losing them in big public venues, and the helpful volunteers there gave each child a sticker for her parents’ phone number. They have special uniforms to help identify them to children, so kids know these volunteers are safe adults to ask for help. This meant a lot to me.
Danielle and Me (Lost-Child Volunteer in Background)
We were a little overwhelmed at first, and I will admit that the map of the fair didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but we knew we should probably not start in the ride area, or it would be very difficult to convince the girls to leave. After a bit of wandering, we stumbled across SMUD’s Wild Science exhibit, which I had heard was a must-see anyway. And I wholeheartedly second that. It is dark and cool in the tent, and it’s free, and the kids love it. It has puzzles to work out, giant bubbles (though our kids were small enough that they had a hard time blowing the bubbles), and various other hands-on activities. Victoria, Selah, Danielle, and I are all sort of nerds, so we were interested in this sciency exhibit, but I think anyone would be. Plus, remember, it’s free and less hot. The volunteers in the tent were fun to interact with, too.
We finally got out of the tent, and by this time we were ready to eat and refill our water bottles. There is only one fountain on the whole fairgrounds, to my knowledge, and it’s by the front gate. So bring extra water. We also bought a margarita and shared it, because it was big. It was big, but iIt was $12. But we were hot, and when it’s hot, you need a margarita.
From there, we headed to the rides and games where you can win the world’s biggest Smurf. I really don’t say that to belittle the games. Many of you like those games, and it’s possible you are looking smugly over at your giant Hello Kitty doll right now and remembering the time you popped all those balloons with darts. I just know from experience that I can’t win any of them, and would have more fun spending my $5 on something other than 1.3 minutes of failing to throw a ball into a bucket.
When I was younger, I loved, loved, loved rides of any kind. I would get on the Barf-o-Rama and then the Practical Beheader and then be ready for more. However, something sad happened in my early 20s. I began to get ride-sick. I am still really disappointed about this. However, we decided it would be good to focus on the girls anyway, ride-wise.
First, we put them on the Ferris Wheel, which I will admit scared the crud out of me. There’s just something about seeing your skinny little seven year old in a wobbly seat, stopped at the top of the Ferris Wheel, that is unnerving. But I reminded myself to be normal and let my kid be normal too. Selah and Victoria thought it was awesome and had a great time, and I was proud that they weren’t scared.
The girls were big enough by a hair to go on lots of rides–just not the death coasters that wouldn’t have been great for them anyway. It seems like 48″ is the magic number to go on rides. Your 46.5″ elementary schooler might wind up disappointed unless she has tall shoes. They went on a bunch of rides, and we did things like this a lot:
It was hot, but it was kind of nice to sit for a bit anyway. I appreciated that our kids were old enough to go on the rides and we could rest. We also danced a little to the ride music, which was mostly from “our days.” Come to think of it, it was probably the same music that was playing last time I went to the state fair.
Danielle is less awkward than I am, and she wanted to play a game. Beware: those guys (What do you call the people in the game booths? Dunno.) are smoother than the smoothest car salesmen in the universe. They managed to keep Danielle going for a while, to my amusement.
She did not win a Hello Kitty, Smurf, or Spongebob, but I think she had fun trying. And don’t forget, Danielle–they were probably made in China anyway. 😉
We eventually dragged the girls away from the ride area, and headed for my favorite spot: the animals. I guess you could say I like animals a little bit.
On the way, we stopped to do the one ride I really did want to do: the giant slide. I highly recommend it.
I really liked the UC Davis Veterinary School’s tent, where they had tons of *baby animals,* which I happen to like even more than regular animals. There was this ridiculous pile of teensy little baby piglets, and I could have happily tried to pick up and carry away the whole pile. All of the baby animals there were mere days old. Not for the faint of heart, but very interesting to Selah and Victoria, was the video of livestock births. It was actually a useful teaching tool, and we talked a lot about human births and babies, and they loved it. I liked it and also thought it was a little bit alarming sometimes.
Next, we went to the regular livestock tents, and had a windfall of good luck. We got to talking with some people who owned the goats there, and they asked their daughters to introduce us to their “bottle babies,” who were comical little fellows. More fun than just seeing animals is petting and feeding and interacting with animals, so we were happy about this.
We began to realize it was getting pretty far past bedtime, and so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away. I wished we had had more time to see more animals, but the girls were hard enough to get out as it was. They were tired and whiny, and in the dark, all of the noise and flashing lights overstimulated them. Selah’s feet hurt, and it took a while to get her back to the car.
We had a good time, and I would recommend it to anyone who has kids this age or older (again, over that critical 48″ point). I would probably not want to bring a younger child or toddler myself, though many people did, or I might enjoy bringing just one younger child. I appreciated the level of independence our second-grade kids had–we had to stay together, which I would want to do anyway, but we didn’t have to go on rides with them unless we wanted to. If you are like me, I would suggest bringing as much water as you can without it being too heavy, and your own food and snacks, so that you only have to buy food if you want to buy food. They did have the usual suspects, like funnel cakes, deep fried everything, and…catfish on a stick. ? I was happy with my $12 margarita.
For information on the California State Fair, you can visit www.bigfun.org–and don’t forget those Read to Ride certificates!
lol the guys at the fair in the booths and running the rides are called Carnies!