When the Sonoma County Fair opens for its 78th season at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa Thursday, all of the old favorites will still be there — the carnival rides, live arena concerts, food stands and horse races.
But there’s much more to the fair than that, from shows and local bands on small stages to games, contests and livestock competitions to rows and rows of exhibits by local hobbyists and a wide range of vendors.
Pay close attention and scout around, and you’ll find new or previously overlooked delights at the fair, no matter how many times you’ve been to the event before. All day every day through Aug. 10, there’s a lot going on, all over the fairgrounds.
Here are 10 especially fun things, large and small, to do at the fair:
1. Ride ‘em cowboy: The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo offers saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, bareback riding, calf roping, barrel racing, bull riding and more, at 7:30 p.m. July 26. Tickets cost $10-$15, in addition to fair admission.
2. Investment counseling: Learn how to handicap and bet on the ponies at the free racing seminars, held at 11:30 a.m. every race day (1:30 p.m. on Fridays) at the Shade Park stage outside the racetrack. If you prefer canine sport to equine contests, try the Derby Dog Dash every Sunday in between horse races.
3. Talk to the animals: If you’ve got youngsters in tow, you owe it to yourself to break out your camera and take the kids to the Great American Petting Zoo, open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Snap some priceless photos of small folk in close encounters with pygmy goats, miniature ducks and pot-bellied pigs.
4. Farewell to the King: The fair’s annual “Elvis Day” is Aug. 2 this year, and there’s a new twist this time. Mike Bartle, whose Elvis tribute act has been a fair favorite for years, will give his last performance as the truck driver from Tupelo. Previously billed as Michael and Blues Suede, and later as Michael & TLC, Bartle plans to continue performing, but not as Mr. Presley. New pretenders to the throne will make their move at the annual Elvis Impersonation Contest, starting at 8 p.m. in the Community Theater.
5. Crash course: Aug. 2 also is the big day for the Demolition Derby, with top drivers seriously trying to collide, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10-$15, in addition to fair admission.
6. Water bomb:. The Acrobuffos duo brings theater to the fair, inviting the audience to join in water-balloon gladiator games, staged at various times onstage at the fair’s Community Theater. You’ll get wet, but you can also get even.
7. Star attractions: The bigger-name concerts roll out with country star Billy Currington on Aug. 6 and the Lifehouse rock band Aug. 7. Both shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35-$60, in addition to fair admission.
8. Metal madness. If the Demolition Derby isn’t wild and loud enough for you, check out the Monster Trucks of the Monster X Tour, at 7 p.m. Aug. 9-10. Big-name trucks in the line-up include Rock Star and Big Foot. Tickets cost $10-$15, in addition to fair admission.
9. Be cool: Sure, between the shows, rides and concessions, you can spend some money, but there are free things, too. One long-time local favorite is free Clover-Stornetta ice cream. between 1 and 4 p.m. every day.