Back in 1854, the first California State Fair was held in San Francisco, with the cows standing on display in Mission Dolores. The fair moved to Sacramento for good a few years later, but the annual event (now held at the capital city’s Cal Expo Fairgrounds) still celebrates the Golden State’s diverse agricultural bounty—as well as offering a generous helping of rides, entertainment, sports, and delicious food throughout the 17-day event.
While this classic fair has plenty of blue-ribbon sheep, rabbits, and crafts on display, it also showcases a wide range of California delights. Cooking demos, beer and wine tastings, and culinary competitions, such as the California Homebrew Competition and the pros-only Commercial Craft Beer contest (recent winners of the latter have included Los Gatos’ Loma Brewery and El Dorado Hills’ Mraz Brewing Company), are among some of the exciting activities available. There are parallel competitions for California wines, olive oils, and cheeses—but you can also watch (or compete in) the more old-school pie- or corn-dog-eating contests. Other events include wiener dog races, a judged alpaca and llama dress-up pageant, a classic car show, and an exhibition of the work of California photographers.
Fans of live music should check out artists slated to perform. Lineups in the past have included such well-known and diverse acts as Good Charlotte, ZZ Top, Sheila E, and Los Lonely Boys. Concerts are free with fair admission, and are often followed by a meet-and-greet and photo op with the artists. But it’s not just about big-name headliners—events such as the statewide youth mariachi competition and gospel choir performances let the less-than-famous among us get some spotlight time too.
Fair season also brings harness horse racing to the Cal Expo fairgrounds, as well as pro rugby, motocross, and a cornhole championship. Friday and Saturday nights, meanwhile, get jazzed up with fireworks. If you love over-the-top fair food, check the lineup for the 30+ food festival vendors cooking up a vast menu of sweet and savory dishes, from spicy chocolate covered bacon to loaded tater tots. Not into corndogs and cotton candy? Not to worry—vendors also offer a wide variety of delicious and healthy vegetarian- and vegan-friendly items.