I loved roller coasters as a kid — the taller, the scarier, the louder, the better.
I loved the excitement and anticipation I felt moments before a free fall drop. I treasured the feeling that I could outbrave my older sister.
But the biggest reason I always pushed my dad to wait in line with me, again and again, is my enduring desire for adventure. I like whitewater rafting, skiing black diamond runs, backpacking in the forest by myself. I even think it’s fun when my car breaks down in the middle of nowhere on a road trip.
This week, I rode carnival rides for the first time in years at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. Predictably, I had a blast.
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I visited the midway midday on a weekday with my co-worker, Lindsey Holden, then went a Sunday date-night with my hubby, Kirk Barron. A daytime visit meant fewer crowds, but seeing the lights of the rides at dusk was fun and even a little romantic.
And, despite the summer heat, I was able to keep my cool. New carnival vendor Helm & Sons Amusements had misting stations, huge shade umbrellas and dozens of benches, making it easy to stay long enough to try all the rides we wanted even as the hot sun attempted to roast us.
Here are my top picks for fair rides:
1. Big Splash
New to the Mid-State Fair, this water ride renewed my childhood love of roller coasters.
The log boats move just slowly enough to build up anticipation before a quick fall that ends with a big splash. Then, the ride takes you higher for a second drop. Both downhill trips are fairly short. But as someone who hasn’t been to a carnival in years, Big Splash was a great way to ease back into rides that bring your stomach up to your throat. Plus, it was sweet to ride in the boat with my husband, who I used as a human shield once we hit the water.
2. Wave Swinger
Freedom. That’s what I felt as my feet dangled dozens of feet above the ground, as I was swung around in a large circle, centrifugal force pushing me out over the crowd. The classic fair ride lasted long enough that we could enjoy the music bumping through the carnival area and scope out our next ride. But it wasn’t boring. At times, I felt like I was floating. Lindsey was a little scared at first, but that quickly subsided as she took in the breeze and the views.
Bonus trivia: This ride was stationed at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez from 1998 to 2009.
3. Star Dancer (Xtreme)
Strapped into this twisting and turning machine was a practice in breathing. Some turns moved with enough force that I was pushed into my seat, a few times. And it spun fast enough that it was hard to look at the horizon.
Kirk said that it’s “one of the more intense rides, which makes it the most fun.” But most of the kids were not smiling when it was over.
4. Super Shot.
Anticipation is key with this ride, which lifts you to the top of a tower before a free-fall drop. Without being able to see the top of the tower when I was strapped in, I didn’t know the drop was coming. Meaning, it caught my breath. Most people I saw walk away from the ride were smiling from the rush.