The Best Things to do with Kids at the California State Fair in Sacramento

Each July as the weather heats up, so does the action at Sacramento's Cal Expo when the California State Fair gets under way. The Golden State's annual fair is July 8-24 this year, and it is one of the most anticipated events of the summer, not only for Sacramento residents, but for thousands of fair-goers from all over the state. Last year, almost 800,000 people attended the event during its two-week run. I don't know about you, but the thought of taking little ones to the fair can feel a bit overwhelming, and it seems that no matter how much we prepare, we always seem to miss some great child-friendly exhibit or event that we wish we would have known about, but didn't until after the fact. Well, here's a comprehensive guide on what you need to know and what not to miss when you bring kiddos to the California State Fair. 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Kids Free Tuesdays. Each Tuesday (July 12 & 19) during the fair, kids 12 and under are FREE (admission for children 4 and under is always free), and rides for everyone are just $2. 

Read to Ride. Children in eighth grade or below can earn two FREE carnival rides by reading two books and turning in the report form to the Guest Services team, located inside the main gate. Click here to learn more about the Read to Ride program and download your form.

Bring your own food. Did you know you can bring your own food and drink into the fair? This can save families a ton of money. Here's the official word straight from the fair website:  "You are welcome to bring outside food and drinks onto the fairgrounds. Ice chests will be searched at all entrances. No glass, aluminum cans or outside alcohol are allowed." 

EXHIBITS:

Whale Tales Nature Exhibit. This year's nature exhibit focuses on educating guests about California’s coastal regions and the animals that call these places home. Whale Tales includes activities that teach guests about the human effect on coastal regions and how we can play a part in preserving California’s beautiful beaches. Activities include interactive stations where guests can learn about problems facing the California coast and what we can do to preserve our beautiful beaches.

Classic Car Show. The Classic Car Show at Miller Lite Racetrack Grandstand presents a variety of cars such as Mustangs, Model As, Mopars, Corvettes, Camaros, lowriders, British cars, Chevys, Ford V8s, Hot Rods, Studebakers, Corvairs, Buicks, Model Ts, T-Birds and more. Each day will bring a different mix of cars and car clubs. Miller Lite Racetrack Grandstand. 

California on the Move: Air, Land and Sea. Many of us take advantage of transportation. But at the new California on the Move: Air, Land and Sea exhibit, we can all appreciate the wonders of transportation. Discover how transportation has shaped industry, culture, technology and innovation in the Golden State. Get a glimpse of the past with an original Wells Fargo stagecoach or step into the future with a look at an actual flying car! Come to experience a whole new side of transportation.

Dream Big. Our future leaders are encouraged to dream big and explore the possibilities of the Golden State in this comfortable, family-friendly environment. Here kids get to play and just be kids while learning what makes California great. Activities include Family Story time, Play Time Adventures, Cutest Show on Earth, Tree Circus and more. 

Camp Smokey. Learn about fire prevention and safety at Camp Smokey. This fun, interagency fire prevention program teaches fire safety at home and in the forest. Visit Smokey’s cabin and enjoy puppet shows, learn “stop, drop and roll” and safely exit “smoke-filled” rooms to earn your Camp Smokey bandana. Kids of all ages can hike the forest trail and learn how to prevent fires while camping.

The Farm. The Kaiser Permanente Farm presented by Save Mart Supermarkets is three luscious acres celebrating the importance of agriculture and food production in California. Here guests are able to get a Save Mart Supermarkets passport and learn about more than 70 crops grown in California, taste local culinary delights prepared by chefs at the outdoor kitchen grill, and learn about fish farming by visiting the aquaculture display.

California Counties Exhibits. The Counties Exhibits are a fun, interactive way to appreciate the best agricultural commodities and landscapes of each Californian county. With the theme “California Delivers,” counties do just that -- they deliver engaging exhibits that exemplify the best of California’s counties. These exhibits are enjoyable, hands-on displays of different cultures and events from across the state. Visit to learn more about the travel opportunities in California and discover the hidden treasures each county has to offer.

ENTERTAINMENT:

Freestyle Motorcross. The California State Fair will be home to high-flying aerial daredevils. Catch a free Jack in the Box Freestyle Motocross show during each of the 17 days of the fair. Daily shows include top-name athletes, music and an emcee calling tricks and giving fans an up-close and personal look at extreme riding. Daily shows at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

High Diving. Attention thrill seekers: Come watch professional divers perform cirque-style and jump off a board that is more than 80 feet high, as they twist and turn their way at a 55 mph velocity into the pool. It’s a thrill that can’t be missed. Daily shows at 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Magic Bean Show. The Magic Bean is prefect blend of education and entertainment. With the theme of “From the Farm to the Kitchen,” kids will learn things that never crossed their minds. You’d be surprise when polling kids with questions like “Where does milk come from?” Some of the answers they give get interesting. At the Magic Bean show, kids and parents alike can experience agriculture in an extremely fun way.

Jest in Time Family Stage. Kids will enjoy daily performances of Captain Jack Spareribs and Jest in Time, with occasional shows by Mad Science of Sacramento and Trevor Wyatt Magic.

Sadie's Farm-tastic Adventure. Enjoy daily performances of Sadie's Farm-tastic Adventure.

Joanna's Kids R It. At the PG&E Center Stage, Sunday, July 24 at 2:30 p.m.

Fireworks. Enjoy a fantastic fireworks show each Friday and Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. during the fair.

ACTIVITIES:

Poppy's Birthday. Everyone loves California State Fair mascot Poppy, and no kid will want to miss celebrating her birthday. On Tuesday, July 12, head on down to the PG&E Center Stage for music, live entertainment, FREE cupcakes and lots of fun with Poppy and friends. 

Kids Craft at California Forest Center. Head over to The Forest Center to decorate your very own wood animal, bird house or name tag.  Learn where wood products come from and about some of the native animals that you see in our forests.

Playdoh Making 101. Do It Yourself Booth: Jen Cooper of Ben & Max Snacks teaches us to make Playdoh. Bring the kids. Tuesday, July 19 at 11 a.m. in the California B Building.

PAW Patrol. This fully interactive tour, inspired by PAW Patrol, features an 18-wheel semi-truck PAW Patroller that opens to reveal a life-sized PAW Patrol Headquarters through which kids can walk. Within the PAW Patroller experience, there are interactive games, a life-sized Lookout Tower (with working periscopes) and a slide to take kids on to the next mission. The tour features two new segments launching this fall – Jungle Rescue and Roll Patrol. Fans can finish their day by taking a photo with PAW Patrol pups – Chase, Marshall, Skye and Rubble. Tuesday, July 19 at 11 a.m., just south of Building 5.

RIDES:

Kids Park. A carnival devoted to the little ones, the rides are just right for kids 12 and under. The park opens at noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

$2 Tuesdays. All rides are just $2 each Tuesday (Kids Day). 

Sky Ride. The Sky Ride Gondola is the fair's newest permanent attraction. The ride will transport people back and forth from the Golden 1 Credit Union stage to the main carnival. Tickets will be $5 per ride, or $7 for an all-day pass.

ANIMALS:

Petting Zoo. An exhibit ideal for lovers of all things furry and fuzzy. Ages 2-9 will enjoy it the most, but can you really put an age limit on animal fun? Come visit and pet a wide variety of different animals ranging from goats, llamas, chickens and even wallabies! Be sure to stop by to enjoy the animals or just to hang out in the FREE kid’s activity area. Open daily until 8 p.m.

Animal Education Center. Want to learn about some of your favorite barnyard animals? Then head on over to the Animal Education Center. Visiting the center is a great opportunity to become educated about the specific practices that go into raising some of our furry friends such as cows, lambs and kids. Here, guests will learn about the care that goes into the agricultural industry through interactive exhibits including videos on animal care, milking practices, and will be able to have face-to-face conversations with livestock owners. Open daily.

Exotic Bird Demonstrations. Daily at various times in Expo Building 6, Fur and Feathers exhibit. See fair schedule for times.

Farmyard Follies. A funny and educational animal entertainment show that features goats, sheep and llamas performing with the infamous troublemaking spotted donkey, Fiona-No-No.

Kids and Horses Variety Hour. A demonstration of kids with their horses. Come out to see the miniature horses running jumps and gymkhana, a fun event for all. The hour will also feature the riders of KISS demonstrating jumping and English flat work.

Jr. Pygmy Goat Show. What's cuter than a pygmy goat? Kids and adults alike love to watch these cute little creatures play around. Watch the judging of the Junior Pygmy Goat show on Wednesday, July 13 at 10 a.m. with the open Pygmy Goat show at 1 p.m. in the Tractor Supply Company Barn.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat Shows. On Friday, July 15, visitors can enjoy the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Show from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Tractor Supply Company Barn.

EATING AT THE FAIR:

$2 Taste of the Fair. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., sample a variety of food from vendors at the fair for just $2.

Gunther's Ice Cream Samples: On Sunday, July 17, Gunther's will be giving away FREE ice cream samples from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in California Buillding B in celebration of National Ice Cream Day.

Ben and Max Snacks Sampling. Come sample goodies from Ben & Max Snacks, a Cottage Food Industry Business.Various days and times at the Save Mart Supermarkets California's Kitchen - DIY Center. Check the fair schedule here.

Peach, Pear Honey, Olive Oil and Chocolate Samplings. FREE sampling of local produce and foods at the Save Mart Supermarkets California Kitchen. Various dates and times, check the fair schedule here. 

The Farm. Head on over to the Kaiser Permanente Farm for tastings of your favorite fruits and veggies.

Bring Your Own Food. As stated above, families can bring their own food and drink (excluding alcohol.) Bags and coolers are subject to search upon entrance.

TICKETS:

Buy Early. The best deals you are going to get on State Fair tickets are if you buy early. You will receive discounts on almost every type of ticket if you purchase by Thursday, July 7 - the day before Opening Day. Buy online here.

Regular Ticket Prices. Adult admission is $12, Youth admission is $8, children ages 4 and under are FREE. Unlimited ride wristbands start at $30, Season Passes start at $29.99 and include FREE admission to Raging Waters, good for the duration of the fair. 

Best Ticket Deal for Families. Family Fun Pack (formerly, Poppy Pack) is $44.99 and includes 4 admission tickets, 4 carnival or monorail rides, and a 1-day parking pass.

Kids Free Tuesdays. Remember, each Tuesday of the fair, kids ages 12 and under are FREE!