Best summer fairs

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June 20-24 — Sonoma-Marin Fair, Petaluma: This 5-day event does eclectic like no one else: livestock shows and chef demos, carnival rides and funnel cake championships, wine tastings and pig scrambles — and, of course, the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. This year, to make things even more interesting, ’90s favorite En Vogue will headline the fair’s concert series. The theme of the fair should be “Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow,” but it’s not, instead it is “Beyond the Milky Way.” Oh, well. Admission $12-$18, 175 Fairgrounds Drive. Petaluma, 707-283-3247,

June 30-July 4 — Marin County Fair, San Rafael: The best thing about fairs? Nostalgia music and cover bands. Before you can say “cotton candy,” you’ve been transported to the lazy days of your adolescent summers. With performances by Leann Rimes, Los Lobos, Eddie Money and a Beach Boys (cover band), there’s time travel to all decades and for all ages. There are additional trips available in the form of carnival rides, fireworks displays, and more flower/arts/crafts/baked goods exhibits than you can shake a stick at. Admission: $12-$20, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael, 415-473-6800,

July 4 — Napa County Fair & Fireworks, Calistoga: For the ultimate all-American experience, pair your fair with 4th of July fireworks and a classic hometown parade. In Calistoga, the star-spangled event takes on sepia shades with vintage contests, antique tractor and old-school games. Kids can be farmers for a day and everyone can get crafty at the “Make & Take Center” — all to the sound of some sweet Americana music. The parade begins at 11 a.m., followed by fair fun, carnival rides from noon, and after-sunset fireworks choreographed to music. Downtown Calistoga, 707-942-5111,

Aug. 2-12 — Sonoma County Fair, Santa Rosa: The big kahuna of North Bay fairs adds horse racing, free concerts, a hall of flowers and even a butterfly room to the usual mix of rides, crafts and food that sticks to your ribs for days. Last year’s fair introduced the NorCal Brew Fest, which returns this year on August 4. Don’t forget to check when the Clover booth hands out free ice cream and, for teens who love rides, make use of those discount wristband days. This year’s theme is “Salute to Heroes.” Gates open at 11 a.m. daily; $7-$13. Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, 707-545-4200,

Aug. 8-12 — Napa Town & Country Fair, Napa: There’s more to Napa Valley entertainment than BottleRock and winery tours. This year’s Town & Country Fair at the Napa Valley Expo, billed as the “Peace, Love and Livestock” festival, promises some down-home fun for the whole family, including a junior livestock auction, competitive exhibits, carnival rides and live music on the Plaza Stage. While this year’s entertainment is yet to be confirmed, we’re suspecting the return of last year’s popular outdoor dance floor and karaoke competition — a mind-altering experience to go with the fair theme. 575 Third Street, Napa, 707-253-4900,

Aug. 11-12 — Gravenstein Apple Fair, Sebastopol: It may take place in a growing city, but Sebastopol’s celebration of all things apple remains “the sweetest little fair in Sonoma County.” The music lineup is a who’s who of local talent (for a true Sebastopol experience, catch the Love Choir), and the culinary offerings are always excellent. Get a piece of the apple pie and sip some cider, wine and microbrews; then head over to the DIY Arena for some bee skep-weaving, pollinator gardening and viking-style zymosis (a.k.a. mead-making with local fermentation guru Jennifer Harris). 500 Ragle Rd, Sebastopol, 707-837-8896,

Aug. 30 - Sept. 1 — Lake County Fair, Lakeport: Lake County hosted its first fair in 1880, in the town of Grantsville (what is now Lower Lake). The popular summertime event is now held on the shores of Clear Lake at the Martin Street fairgrounds in Lakeport, and takes place over Labor Day weekend. Some 35,000 people attend the fair each year and just about anything you can breed, make or grow at home is eligible for entry into the contest: lightweight rabbits, window box herbs, frosted cakes, fishing lures, fine lady’s sweaters — they all have a division at the Best of Show. For less competitive kinds, there are carnival rides, live music and fair food. 401 Martin St., Lakeport, 707-263-6181,

Sept. 14-16 — Mendocino County Fair & Apple Show, Boonville: For those inclined to forget that Wine Country stretches beyond Napa and Sonoma, the Mendocino County Fair serves up Alexander Valley wines as a reminder. Held in the metropolis of Boonville (population 1,000), the fair also celebrates “the harvest, farm critters, good food, beer and just plain having a good time.” And good times can be had at the fair’s highlight event — The Sheepdog Trials — and at the Grand Tasting of apples and award-winning ciders. 14400 Highway 128, Boonville, 707-895-3011,

Oct. 5-7 — Sonoma County Harvest Fair, Santa Rosa: Celebrate the harvest with Sonoma County wines, beer, cider and the legendary World Championship Grape Stomp. This year marks the 44th anniversary of the fair and over 100 wineries will pour wine to thirsty fairgoers at the Grand Tasting Pavilion. The Grand Harvest Tasting ticket lets you sample all of the award-winning wine and food from this year’s Professional Wine and Food Competitions. Each day will offer a slightly new food pairing. Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, 707-545-4203,

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