Budget-Friendly Guide to the San Diego County Fair

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Yet another reason to love summer: the San Diego County Fair comes to town May 31-July 4! This year’s Fair theme is “Oz-some” world inspired by L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Your family will love the good, old-fashioned charm of the Fair from carousel rides and pig races to pie eating contests and ocean views from the ferris wheel. Read on for our insider tips on squeezing every bit of fun out of your trip to the Fair on a budget. We show you how to save some serious cash on everything from admission and food to rides and parking. You’ll leave with priceless memories!

photo: Tim Buss via Flickr

Admission: Score Free or Cheap Tickets

Here are some great ways to save on Fair admission for your family:

Kids Days: Kids age 12 and under receive free admission every Friday of the Fair. Kids 5 and under are free every day of the Fair.

Military Free Day: Active members of the military are welcome to enjoy free admission to the Fair on opening day Friday, May 31st. (Gates open at 4 p.m.) Additionally, Military ID card holders can pick up two complimentary tickets per ID card at base ticket offices. Tickets available only at base ticket offices, not at the Fairgrounds.

Read Your Way Into the Fair: Kids 12 and under can earn free admission any day of the Fair by presenting a reading certificate signed by a teacher or librarian. All they need to do is read ten books on their own or with an adult. Can’t make it to a local library? Download the Fair’s reading certificate.

Albertsons/Vons Tickets: Skip waiting in line to buy tickets by purchasing them ahead of time at Albertsons and Vons. Save 20% on adult admission: $4 off adult tickets and $1 off admission for seniors and kids. Even better: take advantage of $6 Fair Days which are May 31, June 1 and June 5. Score this deal by visiting Albertsons or Vons to purchase $6 Fair tickets with a $10 minimum purchase.

Good to Know: Click here for more great discounts, including paying one admission price for all 27 days of the Fair.

photo: San Diego County Fair/Dave Gatley

Ride Packages & Unlimited Ride Wristbands

Kids will be kids and beg to go on the rides, especially in the Kids Zone, a special area designed for toddlers and young ones, that boasts thrilling age-appropriate rides. You may want to purchase a ride wristband (see info below), but there are also plenty of ride packages available, including a Costco Savings Pack and a Ride Fanatic Pack. Get the details here.

Good to Know: If you’re an early bird, be aware Kids Zone rides don’t open until noon. Closing time also varies according to demand.

Unlimited Rides Wristbands: These wristbands cost $38 each and allow unlimited access to Fun Zone and Kids Zone rides every Weds. & Thurs. in June $38 may seem like a lot of money, but regular tickets add up and most rides require three to six tickets each. Also, kids who don’t meet height requirements must be accompanied by a paying adult – so make sure you buy enough tickets! Wristbands are sold on-site and online.

NEW This Year at the Fair: The new Ride FunPass does away with keeping track of pesky ride tickets and visits to the ticket booth to purchase more. Download the FunPass app here and then load it with pre-purchased ride and game tickets. At each ride or game, your FunPass barcode is scanned and the correct amount of tickets is deducted from your account. You can load more tickets at any time and use your tickets any day of the Fair.

Ride FastPass is also new this year and costs $20/person.

photo: San Diego County Fair/Fred Greaves

Crafty, Creative Kids Can Get Free Fair Entry

Little crafters or cooks can enter a slew of contests from whipping up the best salsa or guacamole to making the best friendship jewelry. Just bring your item to the Fair on the scheduled day of the contest, along with the entry form. Click here for all of the fun competitions and contests available this year. Be on the lookout for Family Contests, which are new this year and take place on Saturdays.

Good to Know: Any youth contest participant will receive free entry to the Fair on the day of their contest (excluding On the Spot Contests). Everyone’s a winner!

The Creative Youth tent & Student Showcase are great stops to see the work of talented young artists. On June 21st at 11 a.m. in the Student Showcase, get a free haircut from the cosmetology students of The San Diego City College of Cosmetology/Esthetician program. Head to the Creative Youth Tent Jun. 2nd at noon for the Slime Demonstration where kids can mix their own batch of slime for free!

photo: San Diego County Fair

Save Some Dough: Pack a Picnic, Spring for a Snack… or Enter an Eating Contest!

Save some cash by bringing your own lunch to the Fair. No questions are asked if you tote in outside food for picky eaters, snack lovers, or for those with food allergies.

Want to indulge in all that great Fair food on the cheap? Mark your calendar for Taste of the Fair when you can enjoy sample-sized portions of all those culinary delights every Thursday in June between noon and 5 p.m. Taster portions will be available for $3 each during those hours and more than 100 of the Fair’s food booths participate by offering one or more foods from their menu for this price. Note: Taste of the Fair is not offered on Thurs., July 4th, the last day of the Fair.

If you don’t bring food from home, look for the ‘Kids’ Meal Deal’ sign at various food booths where kids can score an entrée, side dish and soft drink for $5.99. Additionally, kids will get a free piece of Coco’s pie if they participate in the daily Pie Eating Contest.

There’s also a Chocolate Dessert Contest Jun. 7th at 1:30 p.m.!

Save room for Fair theme inspired desserts based on The Wizard of Oz. Chow down on some Flying Monkey Caramel Corn complete with banana chips and wash it down with some Red Ruby Lemonade.

Good to know: Only factory-sealed drinks or empty water bottles are allowed into the Fair. Enjoy your picnic inside the beautiful Paul Ecke Garden Show where you’ll find plenty of tables, chairs and benches under the shade. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by landscaping to inspire ideas for your next garden makeover and there are plenty of kid-friendly areas for little ones to explore.

photo: San Diego County Fair

Free, Animal-Inspired Family Fun

If contests and rides aren’t your thing, check out our recommended free, family-friendly, animal-related activities.

Don’t miss the Swifty Swine Racing Pigs who race to the finish line to win an Oreo cookie served up on a silver platter! Find them racing several times daily in the Durante Area next to the Del Mar Arena.

In Family Funville, stop by the Oasis Camel Dairy exhibit to meet a baby camel, learn about camel milking and to pick up some camel milk chocolate.

At the Farm, kids will delight in the Wildlife on the Farm presentation where they’ll get the chance to see and touch wild animals seen on a farm.

The Livestock show gives kids and adults a glimpse at the best in cavies, rabbits, pigeons, dogs and more.

New to the Fair this year: Goat Playground, where you can watch a mama goat and her ‘kids’ play on goat mountain.

photo: Bill Gracey via Flickr

Save Money on Parking

The convenience of parking at the fairground costs $17 cash. But you can also park at the Horsepark for $5 or for free at MiraCosta College and Torrey Pines High School. Shuttles run continuously from these lots and drop off in front of the main O’Brien Gate. See dates and times for off-site parking here. For public transportation options, including the Fair Tripper pass, a great value which includes Fair admission and a ride on the Coaster, click here.

The San Diego County Fair runs May 31 through July 4, 2019 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays in June).

San Diego County Fair
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, CA 92014
Online: sdfair.com

––Cherie Gough & Beth Shea


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