There’s plenty to be excited about at Santa Barbara County Fair
Carnival rides! Yummy food! Hit songs by tribute bands! A “Salute to Agriculture!” A livestock auction!
And yes, the iconic giant ice cream cone and corndog!
What more could you ask for in a county fair? How about a free shuttle ride?
The Santa Barbara County Fair made its triumphant full-fledged return on Wednesday after a forced, two-year pandemic-related shutdown. The five-day event continues today through Sunday at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St. Gates will open from 3 to 10 p.m. today and noon to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
“It feels good,” Rebecca Barks, the fair’s public relations coordinator, told the News-Press Wednesday. “We want to welcome the community back. This is what we’re here for. We put on the county fair.”
“The last time we had a full-fledged fair with our livestock program was in 2019,” she added. “In 2020, we completely shut down. We had a modified fair in 2021, with a livestock virtual auction and portable theme park. We still did the carnival part of a traditional county fair, but it was contained. There was one admission price, and everything inside was included, minus the food and drinks.”
Not this year.
“We’re excited about getting back to normal,” Ms. Barks said. “This is what we do. There’s something for everyone. We’re embracing it all.”
To start with, fair officials adopted a “Salute to Agriculture” theme for 2022 to acknowledge the importance of the area’s farms, especially in light of the supply chain and trucker shortage issues that emerged over the past two years that decreased the availability of produce to consumers, she said.
“It came to the forefront how important our agriculture program is,” Ms. Barks said. “We felt it was the right time, and we live in the right place. This is a huge agricultural area, and we wanted to promote the local farmer, local grower and local rancher.”
To install in children an appreciation of the area’s rich agricultural heritage, fair officials will run a seedlings program in which children learn how to grow produce from the ground up, she said. “They will learn the husbandry of them” so they can learn how produce is grown as part of the food supply chain.
Children who don’t participate in 4H clubs will be able to learn the proper care and feeding of livestock, and how to diagnose and document any illness, she said. “They’ll learn how to be a rancher, even though they’ll be a herder of one.” The animals will be sold at auction.
In addition to the return of people’s favorite carnival rides, the fair will provide folks with entertainment throughout the day — and night.
New this year is the Raha FMX Freestyle Motocross Show Friday and Saturday in the Minetti Arena.
The Center stage will feature the Allan Hancock Dancers, Las Vegas hypnotist Tyzen twice daily and popular local bands — the Belmont Kings, an R&B group; Sound Investment, a classic rock band, and Steppin’ Out. At night, the main stage will host nightly tribute bands featuring the most popular songs of the musicians they cover.
The entertainment is free with the cost of admission.
“We decided to go in a different direction this year” with the tribute bands, Ms. Barks said. “It’s kind of an exciting thing to do.”
The bands, she said, will play “the songs you love. It will be really great entertainment and fun.”
Bands will include tributes to Queen, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Journey and Def Leppard.
“They’ll hear the best of Journey and then rock out on Def Leppard songs,” Ms. Barks said. “It will be 45 minutes of the No. 1 hits that everybody knows.”
A Hispanic concert will take place Sunday on Fiesta Day in the Minetti Arena.
Of course, what would a county fair be without food vendors?
This year will include a mix of former and new vendors because of the pandemic, Ms. Barks said.
Some of the former vendors took a big hit because they could no longer travel from fair to fair to make a living and are no longer in business, she added.
“It’s about a 50-50 split between new vendors and the tried-and-true vendors,” she said. “You’ll still see the giant cone and giant corn dog” along with vendors offering such fare as funnel cakes, “the slurpy guy you love” and various forms of barbecue.
Ms. Barks added that there will be new food options as well, including tamales.
Also new this year is the use of free shuttle trolleys to pick up and transport fairgoers, dropping them off right outside one of the admission gates every 20 minutes — and then back again.
“We don’t have enough parking for the community, so this year the city of Santa Maria partnered with us,” she noted.
Santa Maria Regional Transit will offer the free trolley rides to the fair between Santa Maria Fairpark and the Freight/Vallarta bus stop near 1482 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.
Friday at the fair is Agriculture and Cattleman’s Day, and there will be free admission for youth the entire day. And Military and Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is set for Saturday.