My family enjoyed the summer vibes at the Alameda County Fair last Saturday afternoon.
Our second annual trip as a trio (later a quintet, with grandmothers in tow) went much more smoothly than last year when we took then-6-month-old Francis to the fairgrounds -- just too noisy for the little guy then.
Not this time. Franny loved running around outside, snacking on parent's lap, checking out the sights from the stroller and even laying back for a 45-minute nap that allowed me and my wife to sneak off for a funnel cake date while my mom and mother-in-law pushed the snoozer.
Even though he was still too small for most of the carnival rides this year, I'm sure we'll be all aboard soon enough -- Francis couldn't take his eyes off the gondola anytime the aerial seats had people in them looking down on us. I guess we'll have to be ready for the Sky Ride next year.
It is a somewhat abbreviated trip when you go to the fair with a toddler, although we got plenty done in our three-plus hours inside the gates that afternoon.
Corn dog, skewer rice bowl, Dole whip and beer were the edible highlights. We toured a few exhibit halls (I love the collectibles competition), listened to a few cover songs (a catchy take on The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" and a well-edited rendition of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" stood out), visited vendor booths and perused the art contest display outside.
The crowd levels were comfortable when we were there, but you could see more people readying to come in for the evening festivities as we were walking out around 4:30 p.m.
We also couldn't believe how manageable the weather was, with the high barely reaching the 80 threshold. Still, we found a great spot to sit in the shade, in a little grass alcove amid vendor booths not far from the main entrance, between exhibition halls A and B.
Really, the only minor rough patch was the traffic getting in. It took us more than 20 minutes to get from the Bernal Avenue offramp from Interstate 680 to our spot in the fairgrounds lot, even within the first hour of operation that afternoon. Then again, going so early helped us get the closest parking spot we ever have.
I can't help but wonder if dedicated traffic control blocks beyond the gates might help entry-exit go more smoothly, a costly proposal admittedly. Fair officials do urge people to take public transit options when possible. They also alert motorists on their website; here's the popup that was on the homepage Wednesday afternoon: "Coming to the Fair off 580? Avoid 680 construction and take Hopyard or Santa Rita Exits."
My advice: Plan accordingly if you're going to the fairgrounds this holiday weekend.
It is sure to be a popular spot, given the great list of special attractions on the schedule for this third weekend of the 2023 fair. And remember, it is open every day from here on out because Independence Day falls on a Tuesday.
The gates are open from noon to 11 p.m. each day, except for the Fourth of July when operating hours are noon to 8 p.m. and final entry is at 4 p.m. There will be live horse-racing this Friday through Sunday as well as Tuesday this week.
The upcoming concert calendar is fun. I believe we have a couple people on staff going this Friday night to watch Gin Blossoms; maybe a bit of (hey) jealousy from me. George Michael Reborn and the Purple Reign tribute to Prince perform Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Country fans can enjoy LANCO on Monday and LeAnn Rimes on Thursday. Night Ranger is sandwiched between, on Wednesday. (There is no concert on the holiday.)
The Nightly Movie series continues each day with, in order, "Luca", "Trolls", "The Angry Birds Movie", "The Lego Movie", "Paw Patrol Movie", "Home" and "Clifford".
There will also be a special drone and fireworks show on Friday evening, with a nightly drone show on the other days except for Tuesday.
Reminder: Wednesday (July 5) is the final day of "$1 rides until 5 p.m." and Thursday (July 6) is the last "$3 Food Fair Bites" program, also from 1-5 p.m. Check out the fair's extensive calendar of events and attractions online to see all of what's on tap each day.
Look for next week's Cover Story to spotlight all the happenings of closing weekend at the fair, July 7-9.
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh is the editorial director for the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division. His "What a Week" column is a recurring feature in the Pleasanton Weekly.