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Sunny skies and a hot but breezy day greeted thousands who attended the opening day of the 78th annual Sonoma County Fair, this year bearing the theme “Peace, Love and Fair.”

Organizers said there were long lines at 11 a.m. when the fair officially opened and crowds entered to the sight of a metal sculpture spelling L-O-V-E. After that, there are abundant choices.

One path might take you past vendors selling food ranging from corn dogs to Froot Loops popcorn, mac-and-cheese-stuffed burgers, funnel cakes and fried alligator. Or you can take your pick among lawn ornaments, house plants, henna tattoos and face-painting booths.

Another route goes through a cornucopia of carnival rides, like Pharaoh’s Fury or the traditional Ferris wheel.

Yet another will lead you to art exhibits, the garden show, livestock events, musical performances, dog races and a petting zoo.

Or, like Sophia Singer, you could be kissed by a sea lion.

“It was fun and exciting,” said the 11-year-old Petaluma elementary school student, who posed for a photo and got a peck on the cheek from the marine mammal. “It was a little bit slimy and scratchy. But pretty great.”

The sea lion show was a hit Thursday, drawing crowds of squealing children and awed adults who cheered as the sea lions performed to musical numbers. It was a return engagement for the show, which first appeared at the fair in 2003.

Back then, a young Santa Rosa High School student from Occidental named Sophie Darling was dreaming of being a marine biologist. Now Darling, 28, is the supervising trainer of the same show and was thrilled to bring it back home.

“I hoped we would come back to Sonoma,” Darling said of the show, which is put on by SLEWTHS — Science Learning and Education With The Help of Sea Lions.

Lissa Provost’s youngest daughter, Winne, who at 8 has told her mom she aspires to work with animals, might one day follow in Darling’s footsteps.

“She wants to be a trainer of orcas and dolphins and sea lions,” said Provost, who brought another daughter, Eleanor, 13, to opening day.

Both seemed delighted to be near the sea mammals. “We’ve all looked forward to the fair,” Provost said.

All four of Provost’s daughters entered projects into art exhibits and competitions featured throughout the fair. Eldest daughter Abigail, 15, created a Barbie doll from scratch, which was on display in the junior art exhibit.

But, as they have for nearly eight decades, farm animals took center stage the first day, with competitors from 4-H and Future Farmers of America showing pigs, sheep, lambs and other livestock in a variety of divisions.

Santa Rosa residents Stacy and Nobby Clark beamed as their two sons — Owen, 13, and Alister, 9 — won ribbons for their lambs.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” said Owen Clark, standing next to his black lamb that was nuzzling his hand. “I’ve made a lot of friends doing this.”

On Thursday, which was free to seniors, there were not many long lines at rides or food vendors. Organizers said they expected bigger crowds today, which is free for children 12 and under, and throughout the weekend as horse racing and other events get underway.

A bigger crowd was on hand Thursday evening when the L-O-V-E sculpture was lit up as part of the Fair’s 1960s theme.

Bonnie Harvey of Forestville came prepared in a tie-dyed T-shirt, peace sign earrings and a necklace she said was authentically of the time period.

Harvey and three friends scoured through dozens of food booths to find the right meal, settling on Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ and the Sleek Greek.

“We looked at all of the places and made an educated decision for two plates of ribs and a gyro,” Harvey said, adding she has been going to the fair on and off for the more than three decades she has lived in Sonoma County.

She and her friends came to hear R&B band The Delta Wires, but they wanted to at least view all the food selections, even the bad-for-you kind.

Despite the careful deliberations, at least one of the group said there might be a corn dog or some kind of fried fair fare on the menu later.

“The night is young,” said Sandy Gable of Forestville as she finished her Greek gyro sandwich. “I’m going to have to top it off with something horrible.”

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.