(credit: OC Fair CM)

The theme of this year’s Orange County Fair is “Let’s Eat” and with 23 days of food, rides, exhibits, animals, music, and more, I’ve got the 411 on where to eat, what to do with small children, nighttime entertainment and more.

(credit: OC Fair CM)

How to Get There

OC Fair & Event Center
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
More Info

The weekend crowds often create traffic delays within the surrounding vicinity. The fair offers a direct bus service to the OC Fair Friday through Sunday and it is highly encouraged that you make use of this low-cost transportation. There are 6 Orange County locations to select from and you’ll receive a $2 discount on admission when you take the OC Fair Flyer Express. Service is provided hourly on Friday from 3 pm to midnight and Saturday/Sunday from 10 am to midnight.

An alternative to parking at the fair is the Experian parking structure which offers free Orange County Fair shuttle service from 10 am to 1 am on Saturdays and Sundays. Exit the 405 freeway at Bristol Street to park in the structure. Be sure to add at least 30 minutes if you’re planning on attending a concert or other scheduled event.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

When to Visit

Naturally, the fair draws more crowds on the weekends. If you can visit during the week, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and a variety of discounts which include the following:

On select Wednesdays, visitors can receive free admission and one carnival ride with a donation. We Care Wednesday events benefit the Orange County Community.

On Thursdays, Kids 12 and under are free all day.

On Fridays, Seniors enjoy $2 off admission plus free Ferris wheel and merry-go-round rides all day.

Every Wednesday and Thursday, guests can purchase Unlimited Ride Wristbands for $25 + $2 games (valid until 8 pm)

Every Friday, guests can purchase $2 rides and $2 games from noon to 4 pm

And…guests will also enjoy $2 tastings at the Taste of Fair food from noon to 4 pm on Fridays.

The fair does offer some weekend discounts which include the following:

One free ride on La Grande Wheel in the Main Midway with each concert ticket stub (valid only on the night of the concert)

Enjoy $2 general admission from 10 am to 11 am on Saturdays and Sundays.

Children ages 5-11 who read 2 books can enjoy 3 free carnival rides this year through the fair’s Read and Ride program. Be sure to complete the form for eligibility.

(credit: OC Fair CM)

What to See and Do

Chill out at the Ice Museum, returning for its second year to the OC Fair. The exhibit, which is free with admission, features incredible works of art entirely made from ice.
Be sure to check out the daily ice carving performances by The Chainsaw Chicks.

Foodies take note…every Thursday you’ll find renowned chefs offering secrets, tips, recipes and more during the 2011 OC Fair Chef Series. Join the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman as he shares his secrets for creating amazing cakes, Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio as he discusses the art of presentation, Top Chef finalist Carla Hall as she shares a special comfort food recipe, and Chef Rick Moonen as he shares his passion for conservation and sustainable seafood. Free with admission.

When it comes to entertainment, the OC Fair is perhaps best known for it’s Summer Concert Series at the Pacific Amphitheater. Noteworthy talent includes Selena Gomez & The Scene, Chicago, Blake Shelton, Melissa Etheridge, and B.B. King. Tickets are currently on sale for all concerts.

And speaking of music, be sure to check out The Hangar, which was introduced last year to the OC Fair. The venue offers tribute bands and while each seat is ticketed, it includes free admission to the fair.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

How to Keep the Children Entertained

The highlight of any child’s visit to the fair is the carnival and this year won’t disappoint. But the fair is host to a variety of activities and events not to be missed, particularly if you have small children. Russel Brothers Circus features creative performances using people instead of animals. The petting zoo includes llamas, a mini-horse, potbelly pigs, and more. The Fun Zone is host to hands-on activities, exhibits, demonstrations, contests, and The World of Insects exhibit.

(credit: OC Fair CM)

What to Eat

Fried food and the OC Fair go hand-in-hand, and this year the infamous Chicken Charlie is deep-frying Kool-Aid, brownies, Girl Scout Cookies and BBQ Ribs. Along with these heart-stopping delicacies comes chocolate-covered corn dogs and beer-battered bacon from Deep-Fried Butter. Prefer a healthier fare? Food offerings span the globe and include everything from sushi and tempura to gyros and baklava. Check out the Food Guide here.

The OC Fair is also introducing Food Truck Fare this year for a broader appeal to those seeking more gourmet food offerings. Every Thursday from noon to 10 pm, attendees can purchase food from mobile venues like Piaggio On Wheels, The Burnt Truck, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Chunk N Chip, and more. Select trucks will also be hosting cooking demos and eating contests and every Thursday there will be a OC Fair Chowdown where a traditional Fair food vendor will be pitted against a gourmet food truck.

Caryn Bailey’s main beat is Orange County. She shares her adventures at Rockin’ Mama.