The constant whir of the gears turning and the banter of carnies on the midway transform the southeast corner of the California Mid-State Fair into a place of constant movement and sound.
The carnival rides range from modest to those not for the faint of heart. I set out with my daughters, Ellianna, 10, and Lilly, 5, on Saturday afternoon to see which ones were the most fun.
After hearing the audible gasps from both of them as we walked into the cluster of rides and games, I knew that they would have a good time no matter what.
Luckily, we got there early enough to beat the crowds. We arrived around 4 p.m., when it was still easy to navigate the area and the lines weren’t bad.
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But by 8 p.m., when we decided to do a few last rides after eating and checking out the rest of the fair’s offerings, the lines were almost not worth the wait.
We purchased wristbands ahead of time, so we weren’t worried about clutching loose tickets or making sure we had enough for the rides we wanted to try.
You can get the wristbands at the fair for $30 on weekdays and $35 on weekends in the carnival area.
There are enough ride choices that both young and old can enjoy a quick rush of adrenaline. Two Ferris wheels also offer panoramic views of Paso Robles and the bustling fair below.
The newest attraction to the midway is a sideshow dubbed the World of Wonders. It is an added cost, $3 per person, but it embodies all the tantalizing elements of any “freak show.”
Want to see a headless woman? Or a sword swallower? Or maybe someone lose their head by guillotine? Then bravely step into the tent.
My younger daughter, Lilly, was just at the 42-inch height required to ride some of the rides alone. Most of the major features require 48 inches or taller. Here’s what we thought of some of the attractions, along with the youngsters’ ratings:
Berry Go Round
Rating: 4 out of 5
Climb into a berry-shaped car and turn the wheel in the center to go round and round and round and round. You can make it spin as fast or as slow as you would like, reminiscent of the teacup ride at Disneyland. This ride left my girls squealing for more, and me begging to get off.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5
The carousel, a staple at any fair, is a ride that anyone can enjoy. The beautifully craftedhorses and other ornate creatures were fun to look at and to choose from.
Although this ride is not as adrenaline-packed as the others, it is a fun way to take a little break. This carousel actually has an interesting history, according to fair spokesman Tom Keffury. It was the same carousel used at the White House for events during the Clinton administration.
Rating: 4 out of 5
This was one of their favorites. Located at the center of the midway, the Tilt-A-Whirl is much like the Berry Go Round ride, but you don’t get to control the spinning. The girls held on tight and screamed with delight the faster it spun. Lilly got of the ride jumping up and down in excitement, asking to go again.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
The colorful cars of this roller coaster are made to look as if riders are sitting in a large dragon. My younger child, having gotten her first taste of fast rides, was more than ready to give it a try. “Are you ready for that?” she said as she pointed at the ride, taunting her older sister. Ellianna was happy to oblige. The best part was going fast, up and down the rails.
Rating: 2 out of 5
I always find something appealing about Ferris wheels. Maybe because it gives me a chance to quietly take it all in from a vantage point I rarely have. For the girls, already hooked on the rush of fast rides and stomach-dropping twists and turns, it wasn’t quite as appealing.
That said, Lilly still had her face pressed against the edge, looking below in wonder.
Oktoberfest Wave Swinger
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ellianna and I did this ride alone because Lilly wasn’t quite tall enough. Sitting in a metal swing, dangling from chains, you fly through the sky in circles in a way that isn’t nauseating or dizzying. It has always been a fair favorite.