Fun rides and fried foods and music, oh my! The San Diego County Fair is back, featuring a “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” theme, called “Oz-some,” in a nod to the classic children’s tale by L. Frank Baum. The festivities kick off at 4 p.m. May 31, 2019 and continue through the July Fourth holiday.
“The fair’s theme is quite special to San Diegans, because ‘Oz’ author L. Frank Baum is thought to have found inspiration for at least three of his 14 Oz books during his extended stays in Coronado ,” said Katie Mueller, deputy general manager of fair-time operations. “Though most people know Oz only through the famous movie, the fair has chosen to bring the books to life, including a few differences that will be a surprise to most. For instance, Dorothy’s famous slippers are silver, not ruby.”
Perhaps not-so-surprising will be all of the Oz-themed attractions, decor and food stationed around the fairgrounds.
At the Theme Exhibit, fair-goers will have the chance to see original props from the 1939 movie, borrowed from the USC Libraries and the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas. One of the items is a Munchkin jacket. There’s also a chance to “Ask The Wizard” whatever one’s heart desires. And on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (excluding opening weekend), there is a “Winged Monkey Party” with DJ Man Cat, who will play electronic music to pump up revelers.
June 13-16 and June 27-30, Oz historian John Fricke will speak about “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” book and film. He is the author of several Oz books and a Primetime Emmy Award winner.
Oz photo opportunities should be plentiful, as costumed characters will mingle with the crowd. Visitors can also pose in any of nearly a dozen “selfie spots” featuring scenes such as the tornado and the Yellow Brick Road.
“It will be an Oz-some experience,” San Diego County Fair Night Information Manager Mark Zegan said.
The fair’s fare
Some vendors will cater to the fair’s theme. The Indian Fry Bread stand will offer Ding Dong the Witch is Dead — a dessert of chocolate cake and peanut butter with a chocolate chip cheesecake filling. The Original Fish & Chips will introduce Wicked Witch’s Sriracha Ceviche, and Ten Pound Buns will market its Oz-some Avocado Toast. Pink’s Hot Dogs will top off its lineup with a Scarecrow Dog, while Tasti Burgers will roll out its Emerald City Fire Burger with avocado, ghost pepper cheese and jalapeños. The Lollipop Guild candy store will satisfy one’s sweet tooth.
Some of the fair’s more unusual foods can be found at Chicken Charley’s. This season, there will be Deep-Fried Creme Brûlée and the Buffalo Chicken & Macaroni and Cheese Chimichanga, and the return of Deep Fried Kool-Aid. Bacon-A-Fair will have El Salvadorian Bacon, Bean and Cheese Pupusas, while the Cardiff Seaside Market will unveil its Cardiff Crack Barbecue Sliders.
Zegan predicted that a new experience that may cause a bit of a buzz is the Magical Balloon Adventures. Visitors can begin and end aerial adventures from the fair, weather-permitting, on a daily basis. The packages ($211 per adult and $191 for ages 5-11) include fair admission; Champagne, juice or mimosa toast; a cheese-and-chocolate plate; celebratory banners; souvenir pictures; a commemorative flight certificate; and 2-for-1 wine-tasting vouchers to Southern California wineries. Rides must be booked in advance at hotairfun.com/san-diego-fair
There are also a couple of new rides in the Fun Zone to test one’s courage. The Endeavour is billed as a “speedier version of the classic Ferris wheel,” as it elevates fair-goers 60 feet into the air at 25 mph and 3G acceleration, but also twists riders upside-down. An even faster — and taller — ride is Speed, as thrill-seekers experience 3.5Gs while whirling 120 feet in the air, also with upside-down motion.
New for 2019, a FunPass (available as a card and app) will allow one to pre-purchase ride and game tickets. The bar code on the pass is scanned at each ride or game and the cost is deducted. The card can be bought at carnival ticket booths; instructions on downloading the app can be found at sdfair.com
There will also be limited FastPasses daily, sold at carnival ticket booths. The $20 FastPass is an add-on option for the FunPass or a Pay-One-Price ride wristband, and can only be used on the day of purchase.
Music, movies and more
Entertainment will be everywhere around the fairgrounds, from concerts headlined by international superstars to contests that uncover up-and-coming artists. The biggest draw is expected to be the Toyota Summer Concert Series, with performers varying from country music star Jake Owen to comedian Jim Gaffigan and rapper Pitbull. There will also be a Battle of the Bands, a singer/songwriter contest, and a 24-Hour Film Festival.
New this year is the San Diego’s Got Talent competition for youths and teens. The contest will be divided into two categories: ages 8-12, and ages 13-17.
Several years ago, the fair introduced a speakeasy, and because of its growing popularity, it will be open daily this season. The tropical-inspired Wicked Wahine will offer Hawaiian bite-sized appetizers (pupus) and specialty cocktails in a hidden location high above the fair — but the trick is to find it. This will require asking around for directions. (Hint: Try inquiring at the Moon Valley Nursery Exchange.)
Festivals will abound during the nearly five-week timespan, with celebrations that highlight everything from cultures to award-winning libations.
On June 8, the Toast of the Coast will showcase international vintages. There are two tasting sessions, 1-3:30 p.m. and 4-6:30 p.m. and the $67 general admission fee includes a souvenir tasting glass with unlimited samplings. VIP Winemakers’ Tastings (pairings with foods ranging from Grilled Spanish Octopus to chocolates) are 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 2:30-6:30 p.m., for $115. Prices include fair admission; thetoastofthecoast.com
The San Diego International Beer Festival runs June 14-16, with five tasting sessions and hundreds of brews. General admission, which includes unlimited 1-ounce tastings, is $60; VIP tickets ($115) also include food pairings from brewery chefs and a souvenir sampling glass. Last year, the San Diego International Beer Competition had nearly 1,500 entries from 260 breweries representing 25 states and 10 countries. In addition to sampling sessions, there’s a Gold Medal Beer Pairing Dinner 6-8:30 p.m. June 13, for $78 per person, and a new barrel toss competition to entertain the crowd. Fair admission is included in ticket prices; sandiegobeerfestival.com
Sandwiched in between the beer festival dates, June 15, is the Asian and Pacific Islander Festival. Attendees can expect traditional and popular foods, entertainment and martial arts, along with examples of Asian flowers and gardening in the Paul Ecke Jr. Flower Show. Regions to be represented include China, India, Japan, Philippines, Korea, Hawaii, Polynesia and Vietnam.
The following week, June 22, is the Distilled Spirit & Cocktail Festival in the paddock, with more than 150 tequilas, whiskeys, vodkas and other libations. There will also be a live mixology competition and “Meet the Maker” educational sessions. Fair entry is included with tickets. A 10-tab wristband is provided with general admission ($35-$45.50), while the VIP experience has unlimited samplings and VIP lounge access with foods ($130-$140.50); distilledsandiego.com
June 22 will focus on spirits of another kind, as the Gospel Festival will encompass all four stages, all day long. It will culminate in a concert at 7 p.m. featuring The Clark Sisters with The Walls Group.
Let the games begin
Esports (video game competitions) have been steadily gaining more attention, and the fair will have a setup in the 17 Hands Restaurant & Cantina near the paddock. Along with gaming tournaments, Zegan said there will be eight Nintendo Switches, two gaming PCs and arcade machines available for play, with coaches on site to provide gaming tips. Furthermore, there will be presentations on developing healthier and productive gaming habits.
The theme of the Garden Show is “There’s No Place Like Home,” and a variety of landscape exhibits and individual container plants will be on display. Meanwhile, the Flower Show will have the region’s largest exhibition of floral specimens. More than 5,000 fresh-cut blooms and floral designs will be presented, and there will be competitions for both amateur and professional floral designers.
• IF YOU GO: The 2019 San Diego County Fair runs May 31-July 4 (closed Mondays, Tuesdays in June) at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard in Del Mar. Admission: Ages 13-61 is $20; Seniors (62+) $14; Kids (6-12) $14; free on Fridays; Kids (5 and younger) free. Parking: General $17, Preferred $27; off-site parking with shuttles at Del Mar Horsepark ($5), and off-site parking is also offered on weekends and select dates at Torrey Pines High School and MiraCosta College’s San Elijo campus (free). (858) 755-1161, sdfair.com