Cannabis, candy, canines and more: The California State Fair returns after COVID hiatus

The California State Fair opens its gates Friday for the first time since 2019, allowing attendees to once again revel in the tradition of fried food, soaring rides and agricultural competitions. But this year’s fair may look a little different from years past: Cal Expo is outfitted with new safety and COVID-19 precautions, and new exhibits and a cannabis competition will give even seasoned fair-goers something different to experience. The fair has historically seen nearly a million Californians visit annually. Rick Pickering, California State Fair CEO, said organizers are expecting between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors each weekend day, with traffic peaking in the late afternoons and evenings. A gathering of that size prompts pandemic concerns, Pickering acknowledged. The fair has new hand-washing stations throughout, as well as new surface-cleaning protocols, which Pickering said were developed from Cal Expo’s temporary transformation into a COVID-19 testing and vaccine site. As for public safety, fair officials instituted a clear bag policy as well as a controversial new youth curfew. With multiple police agencies partnering with Cal Expo police, Pickering said, organizers are confident that the event will stay safe.

“The safest place you can be, the safest square mile in Sacramento this summer, is the California State Fair,” Pickering said.

Javier Gamero, of Monterrey, Mexico, helps Butler Amusements Inc. co-workers move a sign that welcomes visitors at the California State Fair carnival area on Wednesday. Hector Amezcua No day will look the same at the fair. A slate of ever-changing concerts and community events are lined up to entice residents to return to the fairgrounds multiple times over its 17-day run. On the fair’s slower days — typically Tuesdays and Wednesdays— the fair is offering special deals on food and other items in hopes of keeping attendance high, said fair spokesman Jaime Ramirez.

With nightly concerts, multiple community stages, thoroughbred horse racing, varying food and agricultural competitions and traditional carnival rides, organizers are confident that everyone can find something to enjoy on the fairgrounds. Daily schedules are available online and on the California State Fair’s app. THESE ARE AMONG THE NEW EXHIBITS While it is grounded in tradition, this year’s State Fair will also include several new additions — notably, its heavily-publicized cannabis exhibit. The fair has completed judging for the cannabis competition, which was open to licensed cannabis cultivators across the Golden State. The competition is accompanied by an educational exhibit, which includes information on the science, history and culture of cannabis cultivation. Over the course of the fair, the exhibit will host dozens of speakers, who will discuss topics including indigenous farming, cannabis’s role in helping PTSD and motherhood. Speakers at a media event Thursday morning said the competition and exhibit are meant to remove stigma associated with cannabis. “Cannabis is here,” said James Leitz, who provided a tour of the exhibit to members of the press. “And it’s powerful. There’s a lot of super intelligent, creative, innovative folks in cannabis, and we want to showcase them here.”

Although the exhibit does not include cannabis consumption, only adults 21 and older are allowed in. Just steps away is a youth-oriented, enormous maze of candy, ranging from taffy to Milky Ways. The Candy Maze, which has arrived at the State Fair for the first time, boasts around 30,000 pounds of sweets, which customers can load into bags to be weighed at checkout. Visitors can also snap candy-themed pictures at the Maze’s selfie exhibit. Nearby is “Cats and Dogs the Exhibition,” which features intriguing facts about America’s favorite household pets. While you won’t meet real cats and dogs at the exhibit, you will get a chance to step inside the mind of one — the exhibit’s features tell visitors how high they could leap if they were a cat, and an appropriately scaled room provides insight into pets’ perspectives of human spaces. Fair attendees can also find the return of oddly-scaled objects at Toytopia, which boasts a wildly-proportioned Etch-a-Sketch and a historical array of toys through the decades. “It’s an exploration of the history of toy making, with a lot of the original vintage toy makers that we’ve identified as being really key players in the creation of some of the most classic toys,” Toytopia’s Keith Slagerman said.

Adrian Kirschenann sets up a scene for the Selfie Experience in Expo Center Building 2 as the California State Fair takes shape on Monday. Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.comRead more at:


This year, the fair will offer its usual range of new and traditional fair foods, as well as several promotions encouraging fairgoers to sample widely during the fair’s 17-day run. This year, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the fair will offer the $2 taste of the fair, where attendees interested in trying a wide variety of fair favorites can purchase bite-sized portions like miniature funnel cakes and servings of chili fries. Fairgoers can also participate in the Food Festival, which the fair introduced in 2019. For a $28 pass, attendees partake in up to four exclusive items from over 30 participating vendors. Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls took home the top prize in the 2019 Food Festival for their maple bacon cinnamon bomb. This year, owner Willie Madaus said, the reigning champion will be available for order, but it will not be defending its Food Festival crown. Instead, Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls will enter a new contender, the caramel crunch cinnamon roll, which features Cap’n Crunch cereal, Torani caramel syrup and cream cheese frosting. The fair will also host a fleet of food trucks, with offerings ranging from fried chicken and loaded tater tot nachos from Dreski’s Hot Rod Chicken to sausage jambalaya and po’boys from Soul Ona Roll. The fair will also welcome back longtime vendors like Milo’s Corn Dogs and Pizza, the sponsor of this year’s corn dog eating contest, and Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls, which has served a range of cinnamon rolls at the fair for 44 years. “We’re into our third generation — my children are working and active in the booth,” Madaus said. “With their generation and my generation and the generation before me, we’re in the DNA of the people of Sacramento and the entire state of California. We’ve been a fair staple the whole time.”