The 2023 OC Fair is set to open Friday, July 14, offering 23 days jam-packed with entertainment, games, shopping, wacky foods and thrilling rides.
More than 1 million people are expected to visit during the fair’s run through Aug. 13 – it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays – at the the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Fair officials have elected to maintain a daily cap on attendance at 45,000 people – initially enforced as a pandemic protocol, they’ve said it created a better experience for all, with just a little more elbow room – so visitors are encouraged to plan ahead because some days will sell out, especially when there are popular shows at the Pacific Amphitheater and The Hangar.
Tickets need to be purchased online. But, for those folks who need more than one day of deep fried foods and nostalgic carnival games, the fair has brought back its passport option, which will provide admission any day of the fair with no restrictions.
Speaking of fair nostalgia, one stop for many fairgoers is the Centennial Farm. Built in 1989, the farm was constructed with the intention of highlighting Southern California’s rich agriculture. It’s also home to goats, pigs and other farm animals.
When it’s not fair season, days on the farm are calm, but busy. Volunteers lead school tours and agriculture classes. Most days the farm is open for locals to walk around the grounds and learn about where their food comes from or take a peak at the animals.
But a different thrill of excitement fills the air at the Centennial Farm when the OC Fair rolls around.
“Good memories are created here,” Evy Young, director of agriculture programs at OC Fair & Events, said simply.
Pigs are a regular fan-favorite at the OC Fair, Young said, and this year attendees will be meeting some newborn piglets and possibly will even see some sows give birth.
“We also highlight milking demonstrations and California dairy,” Young said. “California is the No. 1 dairy state in the nation. We borrow cows from Scott Brothers Dairy and we do three milking demos every day of the fair so people can actually see the cows getting milked. And we provide education to the public while they do that.”
OC Beekeepers, the UC Master Gardener Program, the California Rare Fruit Grower Society and other organizations hang out at the fair to share more gardening and agricultural lessons.
“The farm is where the love is,” Young said. “It’s a free aspect of the fair. Animal always make people smile.”
In the early days of the fair, before the farm was created, organizers would “would create little vignettes” and showcase some landscaping, but “they started to see that a lot of the kids weren’t really in tune with what agriculture was and where their food came from,” Young said. “The impetus for starting the Centennial Farm is to be able to provide that education, so kids will remember that the food they buy at the grocery store, someone had to grow and raise that food. And hopefully there will be a better understanding and more respect for the environment.”
Michele Richards, CEO and president at the OC Fair & Events Center, said the Centennial Farm is a way for the public to get up close and personal with the importance of farming.
“I absolutely love watching people experience the fair,” Richards said. “I love seeing the expressions on their faces, especially little kids who maybe have never seen a pig or a cow up close. To see that for the first time, the wonder in their eyes, it’s such a special thing for me.”
Aside from all the activity happening at the farm, Richards said she is most excited for the carnival food that’ll be cooking once the fair opens.
“When you come to the fair, you have to give yourself permission for that one day to go crazy,” Richards said. “Set your your diet aside and just experience all the the wonderful flavors of the fair.”
And there are plenty of concoctions to bust a diet, from deep fried s’more on a stick to a bacon smoothie.
For the fair’s thrill-seekers there are two carnival areas, with one geared toward the kiddies. The main carnival midway will be packed with 40 rides including returning favorites Zipper, Crazy Coaster and Rocking Rodeo.
There are three new rides, including Sling Shot, an experience that is exactly as it sounds. Riders will be strapped into a harness and rubber band-like cables are pulled back like a slingshot, shooting riders up into the air.
Tickets for playing the carnival games and unlimited ride wristbands are on sale at discounted rates online at ocfair.com through July 13.
If thrill rides are not your thing, let loose at one of the five stages that will feature free live entertainment – there is also roving entertainers. Karaoke with a live band returns this year and Mark Yuzuik, comedy hypnotist, is always popular.
Ticketed concerts – they include fair admission – at the Pacific Amphitheatre include a variety of genres. Smokey Robinson, Ramon Ayala, and Three Doors Down are among the many artists set to play during the fair. The Hangar has a full lineup of popular tribute bands and adrenaline junkies will be thrilled by the calendar at the Action Sports Arena with its mix of demolition derby, motorcycle racing and rodeo. Both venues also require a show ticket.
Catch a breather by walking through an exhibit of contest entries or doing some shopping.
The Art of Music Experience exhibit will showcase hand-painted reproductions of album covers, renderings of legendary musicians and neon signs. The exhibit is designed to celebrate the pre-digital legacy of record albums and get visitors to explore the creative process and impact of these works of art.
“The OC Fair is the largest gathering of community in Orange County all year long, so it’s a time and an opportunity for people to get their family and friends together to make memories,” Richards said. “Our theme this year is ‘Happy Together,’ so our hope is that everyone will come to the fair and just be happy together.”