If you weren’t already hip to it, this is indeed late notice. But whatever your plan for the weekend is, if it doesn’t include a trip to the Santa Cruz County Fair — change it!
The fair is cheap, local and chockablock with an amazing variety of entertainment and recreation. But it only runs through Sunday, Sept. 20, so just pack up and go.
Since 1896, Santa Cruz County has hosted the fair, gathering the locals for fun and festivities and to show off the wares, crops and livestock of our diverse Central Coast community. With a big carnival area of rides and games, wandering musicians and magicians, special children’s shows and entertainment, food from gourmet to greasy, top-name live music acts, exhibits of farm and logging equipment, crop and plant displays, pets and livestock, and even motorsport events, the fair is a notoriously inexpensive way to have fun.
Aside from the food, carnival rides and souvenirs, pretty much everything on offer is included in your entry cost.
There are almost more fascinating, fun and entertaining things to do at the fair than one can digest in a single day, so you’ll want to set aside plenty of time. It’s a terrific destination with a date or a mate, but it’s extra special if you’re accompanied by kids. The fair is one of the few outings where parents, teens, kids, grandkids and grandparents can spend the whole day together with everyone interested and involved throughout.
Whatever your youngsters’ proclivities might be at home, they will almost certainly find the animal and pet displays wildly fascinating. The variety of critters, from reptiles to chickens, is staggering.
Ditto for the livestock. One of the great attributes of our community is that it remains sufficiently agricultural to nurture active 4-H and FFA groups. It’s a special delight to watch the kids strut their stuff at the fair. Their pride in, love for, and devotion to the calves or goats or sheep or bunnies they have nurtured bursts out all over. In a Norman Rockwell-like image, these kids are an inspiration to us all — and to youngsters from less agrarian roots, they represent an attractive example of life options.
In addition to the always-impressive arts and crafts, flowers, quilting, bonsai and gardening displays, fair officials have collected a full stable of other attractions again this year. Musicians will wander the grounds, as well as magicians and balloon artists. The racing pigs have become a big draw, and they’ll be here again. Likewise with the amazing Frisbee dogs.
The carnival rides and attractions are always popular with kids and young adults, and here, it’s a safe and fun area.
Musically, Blue Oyster Cult plays the big stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, Ryze goes on at the same time Saturday, and there’s a pro wrestling show Sunday. There is auto racing at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with a demolition derby Sunday at 5 p.m. All shows are included with your admission ticket.
The 91st annual Santa Cruz County Fair is at the fairgrounds in Watsonville. Hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and one could easily be there from open until close and still not get it all in.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for military members, $6 for kids and free for toddlers. This year, there’s also a special family package: $22 for two adults and two children. It’s very affordable and just about the most fun you can possibly have and still be legal.
Steve Bailey of Boulder Creek has spent plenty of time in recreational activities. Contact him at [email protected].

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