Summer isn’t quite here, but fair season has begun. The San Mateo County Fair arrives preternaturally early – June 10-18 for 2017. So, M-Man and the Geek popped over the hill under bright sunshine and blue skies last weekend to enjoy the smarm and charm of our county’s annual ode to summer.
While this was our first visit to the the fairgrounds in San Mateo, the Slacker household for many years enjoyed escaping the August heat of our inland valley home outside of Los Angeles to the relative cool of Seaside Park, the oceanside home of the Ventura County Fair.
We didn’t go for the rides or the food or the games. We were hooked on the Nubian goat competition. (Go ahead. Click on the link.) True fact. We would recline confidently in the stands with The Kid – our progeny, not an entrant — and cast judgment on withers, muzzles, udders and ears as contestants filed into the livestock arena with their contest animals. We were nearly always wrong. But we had lots of uninformed opinions and great fun.
Ventura County, however, is a large agricultural county, ranking eighth in farm revenue statewide. San Mateo County is not. We knew going in that we would need to temper any hope of a rollicking day as amateur Nubian goat aficionados. Turns out it didn’t matter. We had a really fun day. Lots of charm. Very little smarm.
Here’s what we found during our day at the 2017 San Mateo County Fair:
1. Games you can win
That’s a switch. The Geek recalls calling out a rigged game at a Texas fairground years ago and being invited by a scary-looking carny to vamoose. The amusement company that runs the Midway at San Mateo, however, seems content to let contestants win a few, even if the prizes don’t quite measure up to the cost of competing. The hosts at the rides and booths are well-groomed and professional. We gamed the system a bit by settling in for a game of Balloon Racing as the only contestants. One of us had to win. With our grandsons in mind, we took a pass on the cuddly plush poops that seemed popular among the pre-teen boys and chose a brilliant blue whimsical panda as our prize.
Slacker Tip: Play for the thrill of victory. If you want a stuffed animal, visit the mall.
2. Food and funnel cakes
M-Man convinced the Geek to split a bento box for lunch rather than track down a corn dog. It was closer. It was healthy-ish. It was dumb. The chicken teriyaki was fine, but if you’re gonna do the county fair thing then eat a corn dog – 7, 9 and 11-inch varieties are available! Or grab some other fried or grilled morsel. Or a slice of pizza. And don’t forget a funnel cake with plenty of powdered sugar, a Slacker tradition. Pepsi is prevalent, but Coke products can be found with a bit of searching. A full bar is available.
Slacker Tip Do NOT sit downwind from your heavily powdered funnel cake.
3. Butterfly kisses
No, not the sappy Bob Carlisle song. Butterflies will literally land on your face at the Butterfly Adventure. The immersive exhibit includes more than 1,000 mature monarchs and painted ladies in a 1,600-square-foot enclosure. After receiving instructions and a cotton swab, fair-goers can step into the fluttery fairyland and play (gently) with the butterflies. Just dip the swab in one of the bowls of sweet nectar and anyone can easily transfer a butterfly from flower to shirtsleeve. Or hat. Or fingertip. Or face. Expect lots of smiles.
Slacker Tip: Check closely for hitchhikers before leaving the exhibit.
4. Rides to suit all stomachs
We had planned to man up and take on the Ferris wheel. We always enjoyed the magnificent view of the coastline from atop Ventura County’s monster wheel. But after arriving two minutes late for freebie fair entrance on opening day in San Mateo, we decided to save the cash. Besides, we weren’t confident we’d have a clear view of San Francisco Bay. But don’t let us dissuade you from a thrill or two. We spotted plenty of folks having lots of fun on rides to suit all ages and the constitution of most any stomach.
Slacker Tip: Choose wisely. The Freak Out ride has a hose and mop attendant on stand-by.
5. Bunnies, goats and chickens
The San Mateo fair’s livestock pavilion is many times smaller than the scene of our Nubian goat glory days. Alas. But the young 4-Hers from the Peninsula who raise these animals – many from our rural Coastside — are just as passionate as the Ventura County aggies. When you’re done watching the rabbits clean their faces and ears and admiring the chicken plumage, go mingle with the kids who are tending to their animals and the parents who support them. They are just as charming.
Slacker Tip: Check out the dog competition to see the difference between a “good dog” — have you ever met a dog-owner who didn’t have one of those — and an obedient dog.
6. Oldies but Goodies
The 2017 concert series features a representative sampling of oldies acts, including War, The Ohio Players and Smash Mouth. The Family Stone is playing with the Oakland Symphony instead of Sly. These main stage concerts cost extra. Sad. But you’ll find plenty of music throughout the day included in the price of fair admission. We watched Otilia and the Back Alley Boys knock out credible renditions of Hoochie Coochie Man and Got My Mojo Working during our afternoon at the fair.
Slacker Tip: The Family Stone WITH Sly would be booked at The Oracle in Oakland, not the county fair, and cost way more.
7. Arts, crafts and cooking
When you need a break from the crowd head back to the Expo Hall and check out the talents of your neighbors – children and adults. Quilts, photographs, and home brew. Cupcakes, paintings and literature. Lectures, advice and demonstrations. One demo featured an artisan crafting a Golden State Warrior’s logo using berry blue and lemon yellow Jelly Belly beans. A local author on a panel told about the time he shared the draft of his new novel with his teenage daughter – who found a plot hole big enough to cost him months of extra work. Good calm fun at the heart of a busy fair.
Slacker Tip: No waiting at the Expo Hall restrooms tucked away near the photography exhibit.
8. The Rest
We’ve only scratched the surface here, you’ll also find the All-Alaskan Racing Pigs; hypnotists, escape artists and other acts at the Plaza Stage; robotics and drones at the Tech Action Zone; the SF Street Circus, the Rain Forest Adventure, and much more – most of it covered by the price of admission.
So, if you haven’t been to your county fair lately or perhaps you’ve never been, check it out. Bring the kids. Explore. Try something new. As we discovered last weekend, there’s more to a county fair than Nubian goats.
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