OC Fair returns Friday with limited attendance

COSTA MESA, Calif. (CNS) — Last year’s limited attendance at the Orange County Fair due to the coronavirus pandemic worked out so well that officials say they will follow the same plan this year when the fair returns Friday.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to unlimited attendance,” OC Fair CEO Michelle Richards told City News Service. “We’re doing the same thing,” Richards said of limiting attendance at the 23-day fair, which ends Aug. 14.

what you should Know

  • The OC Fair is limiting attendance to the 23-day fair, which ends Aug. 14
  • Last year’s fair attracted 1,055,770 visitors
  • Over the past decade, the fair has attracted about 1.3 million visitors each year, with a record 1.4 million in 2018.
  • Fairgoers are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance to avoid sellouts

“We had such a great experience last year controlling our attendance,” Richards said. “It was an excellent customer experience for our guests to have more elbow room, much smaller lines. It was just a much, much better experience, and it was a great experience for our neighbors because we weren’t creating as much traffic and noise in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Last year’s fair attracted 1,055,770 visitors. Over the past decade, the fair has attracted about 1.3 million visitors each year, with a record 1.4 million in 2018.

Fairgoers are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance to avoid sellouts. Visitors should also check the fair’s social media accounts to see if attendance is closed for the day.

As of Tuesday, there were no sold-out days yet, Richards said.

“We saw that happen last year as well, really on the first weekend,” Richards said. “People started getting the word out that I should get my ticket online in advance.”

Last year, the fair sold out 17 of its 23 days, she said.

There are no fees for buying tickets online in advance, Richards said.

Another feature visitors can expect this year is the same prices, Richards said.

“I really want to emphasize that despite inflation being so high and gas prices, grocery prices and utility costs seem to be going up, we have not taken a price increase,” Richards said.

The fair admission price of $12 per day and $14 on weekends, with children and seniors getting in for $7, is the same as 2018.

Richards said fair officials are more focused on making sure visitors have a good time than breaking attendance records or turning a profit.

“Fortunately, this community supports the OC Fair very well, so we see no reason to raise the prices,” she said. “We’re here to make sure everyone has a great time. Obviously we don’t want to lose money, but it’s not about making money. It’s about making memories.”

The Action Sports Arena, which was closed last year, will return this year.

“So we’ll have the monster trucks, the speedway and the demolition derby,” she said. “So we’re super excited about that. … You’ll get more for your money at the fair this year, especially if you’re sitting in the Action Sports Arena.”

Another returning perk is unlimited ride wristbands on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which cost $44 in advance, Richards said, while new food this year includes a garlic chowder menu at Garlicky’s and a cotton candy cone, which is a waffle cone with swirled ice cream and candy sprinkled on top with a ring of cotton candy.

“To me, it looks like a pink tuft around the ice cream,” she said.

Moon Goat Coffee will serve gluten-free and vegan pastries and beverages, Richards said.

There’s also “a mixer bar we created where people can make their own fruit smoothies while pedaling a bike,” Richards said.

The Taste of the Fair attraction also returns from 11am to 4pm on Thursday so visitors can sample a variety of fair food.

Other new foods at the fair include the Kool-Aid Chicken Sandwich at Chicken Charlie’s, as well as chicken sandwiches with hot Cheetos and Cap’n Crunch cereal at Biggy’s. Fairgoers won’t have to guess where the food is this year as a food list and map will be made available for the first time.

Carnival attractions will include a new pirate ship attraction, Richards said.

“The pig races are back and we’ll have new baby piglets in the barn — several sows are scheduled to give birth during the fair, so some of our guests will get a peek at Mother Nature at work,” she said.

The Pacific Amphitheater will continue its side concerts at the fair. This year, ’80s new wave Boy George and Culture Club will play the amphitheater for the first time as part of the fair, but on August 18 – a few days after the final day of the fair.

Other 1980s favorites Psychedelic Furs and X will play on August 14.

Comedian Trevor Noah will make his debut at the fair on Saturday night. Kool & the Gang will play the first night of the fair alongside the Family Stone, which includes members of Sly Stone’s band.

Fair hours this year will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The fair is closed Monday and Tuesday.

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