The sheer popularity of the California Mid-State Fair can make it challenging at times to plan the most convenient and cost-effective fairgoing experience.
So we’ve gathered tips from veteran fairgoers — via email and The Tribune’s Facebook page — to help make it easier. They’ve learned by trial and error how best to increase spending power and reduce headaches amid the fun-loving masses.
Here is their advice, coupled with information from fair organizers, on where to eat and park and how to save money, beat the crowds and take advantage of special promotions. Read quickly! The fair begins its 12-day run Wednesday.
Where to eat
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More than 85 vendors sell food and drinks at the fair, including Atascadero Kiwanis' burgers that get rave reviews.
Hot Dog on a Stick offers top-notch corn dogs made fresh to order instead of kept warmed under a heat lamp, according to Nicole Vert.
However, Facebook commenter Anthony Kalvans wrote, “Don’t eat hot dogs before going on the Gravitron or Zipper.”
Some veteran fairgoers say to forget your diet, or any semblance of healthy eating. Your selections will include cotton candy, deep-fried corn dogs, salty pretzels, battered-and-fried artichokes, salt water taffy and ice cream cones coated with chocolate.
“Eating and enjoying all the ‘not so good for you’ treats is part of the fair,” Facebook commenter Margaret Wold wrote. “Don’t eat first. Eat there and support the vendors!! Diet later.”
But weight-conscious options in and around the fairgrounds do exist. Mixing and matching treats and less caloric options may work for some.
“If I want to eat badly, grabbing a cinnamon roll is usually at the top of the list,” Atascadero resident Bob Sarber said via Facebook. “If I want to eat healthier, there’s a Thai cuisine food wagon that I try to visit.”
For sit-down meals within striking distance of the fairgrounds, Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ offers beef ribs, grilled chicken, dinner salads and more. Numerous fast-food restaurants are also within walking distance of the fair.
Paso Robles also has dozens of great restaurants of varying pricing and chicness. Those seeking to craft a dining out experience around their fair activities have plenty of options.
Visit www.pasoroblesdowntown.org/paso-robles-restaurants/ to view some choices.
Once you’re inside the fairgrounds with paid admission ($10 per day for adults; $6 per day for kids; $8 per day for seniors and $5 on Seniors Day, July 22), you can find plenty of amusement for free.
Free concerts this year include performances by arena rock band Starship with Mickey Thomas (July 16), jazz rock group Blood Sweat & Tears with Bo Bice (July 24), and Chicano rock trio Los Lonely Boys (July 26). Shows take place at 6:30 p.m. and at 8:30 p.m.
Other free entertainment includes live band karaoke on July 21, 22 and 23 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. and Do Paso Square Dancers on July 24 at 6:30 p.m.
And if you want to at least catch the sounds of performances on the big stage, the music of Zac Brown Band and Kid Rock will be audible from outside the big arena.
“The music on the free stages tends to be better than the music on the expensive stage, which you can ‘experience’ from anywhere in Paso,” Tony O’Donovan said on Facebook.
For more free fun, tour the livestock area to see the impressive lineup of hogs, steer, rabbits, goats and more. And watch the 4-H and FFA animals as they’re auctioned off; the hogs are sold on July 26, for example.
Additionally, you can get a free chuckle by watching the Mutton Bustin’ competitions featuring young children under 60 pounds who hop aboard the backs of sheep and hang on for dear life trying to ride for a full six seconds.
The event runs four times a day in the South West Corner at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Weather and crowds
It’s no secret that the weather during fair time can be extremely hot, particularly during the sweltering afternoons.
The fair doors open to the public from noon to midnight each day.
Go early to beat the crowds and at least some of the bake. Or, better yet, visit after the sun goes down and temperatures dip to more comfortable levels.
“Go at night to beat the heat,” said Tribune multimedia advertising specialist Patti Leos. “But take a light sweater because if it (the temperature) drops, it drops quickly.”
To stay hydrated, bring two unopened plastic bottles of water as allowed by the fair. Bottled water is also available for $2 from various vendors, and you can refill at the fountain at the Main Quad.
Arrive early to concerts to avoid the bottlenecks getting in to the Chumash Grandstand Arena. For most convenient entry, be sure to arrive before the opening act, even if you’re there just for the main show.
While most promotions on the fair’s website had a July 15 deadline, a couple of them are still valid on www.midstatefair.com/promotions.php.
The Domino’s Family Pack deal offers admission tickets for two adults and two children, pizza slices for four, and water for four for $30.
The winner of an AT&T Front Row Instant Upgrade receives two tickets located directly in front of the world-famous performers — enabling them to ditch their current seats.
Another discount option by The Tribune provides two free adult daily admission tickets for a monthly subscription of $12.08 for the Thursday through Sunday editions. (To get those free tickets, go to www.sanluisobispo.com/subscribe and enter the offer code MSF2014 before July 26. For more information, call 781-7878.)
It’s too late for this year, but in the future you can save money by purchasing discounted tickets in advance of the fair.
This year, local Albertsons stores offered discounted day rates, and Farm Supply offered lower-priced season passes. Both stores also had discounted advance deals on carnival rides.
The Mid-State Fair’s box office also sells discounted tickets before the fair starts.
Making good use of free shuttles and decent walking shoes can save a chunk of change when parking.
Parking fills up quickly near the designated lot on Riverside Avenue across from the fairgrounds. The lot charges $10 per day before 3 p.m. and $15 per day after 3 p.m.
Nearby private property owners typically charge between $5 and $20 for on-site parking. But some have jacked rates up to $40 in desperate moments for concertgoers right before shows.
Experienced fairgoers have their favored public spots, some of which are top secret for the purpose of this article.
“I’ve searched for years for the best parking and shortest food lines,” Jennifer Norton wrote on The Tribune’s Facebook page. “Won’t tell.”
But those who are a little more loose-tongued say that spaces can be found for free on Spring Street and along neighborhood streets within blocks of the fair.
For the quickest getaway, park farther away from the fairgrounds and plan to do some walking to save wait time.
“I usually park on a street in some neighborhood and hoof it,” Tribune reporter Pat Pemberton said. “One, I don’t want to pay for parking and, two, while there are shuttle buses, after a popular concert, you’ll have long lines so that it’s actually quicker to walk to your car — and you don’t have to be on a packed bus.”
With a little scouting, you may find your hideaway. Just make sure you’re not on private property.
The shuttles bus people in from free parking locations throughout Paso Robles. They stop near Paso Robles High School, Albertsons and Bank of America on 15nd and Spring streets, to name a few spots.
They run every 10 to 30 minutes depending on the pick-up area.
No shuttles are running this year from local communities outside Paso Robles, such as San Luis Obispo or South County.
For more information on where to access shuttles in the city, go to http://www.midstatefair.com/local_shuttles.php.