San Diego

What's New at the 2019 San Diego County Fair: Speedier Lines, Hot Air Balloons, Head-Turning Food

The 2019 San Diego County Fair runs for 27 days spanning May 31 to July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds

A mobile ticketing option for fair rides, a video game zone, and hot air balloons, oh my. Those are a few of the new attractions visitors will experience at this year’s San Diego County Fair.

The fair will run for 27 days at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from May 31 through July 4. This year’s theme is “Oz-some,” inspired by L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

New Theme-Inspired Entertainment

To that end, the first new things visitors will see at the fairgrounds are “Wizard of Oz”-themed decorations including a Yellow Brick Road, props on display from the 1939 MGM film, and 11 spots for selfies featuring recognizable scenes and characters from Oz. There’s also the daily “Ask the Wizard” show and the Flying Monkey Electronic DJ area on weekend nights.

New Ride Pass Options

As far as the rides and games process goes, there are two new developments at the fair this year: the “Ride FastPass” and the “FunPass.”

The “FastPass” – which costs $20 per person – allows fairgoers to use a special lane to skip to the front of the line at rides. A limited number of these passes will be sold daily and can only be purchased at the fair.

Monica Garske
The FunPass is one of the new additions to the San Diego County Fair this year.

Meanwhile, the “FunPass” is a mobile app-based offering meant to streamline the ride tickets process.

FunPass spokesperson Tim Hargrove told NBC 7 the app allows fairgoers to buy and load tickets for rides and games to their smartphone. Those tickets can be transferred among families and friends, so if you don’t use all your tickets in one day, you can share them with others.

With this option, fairgoers also won’t have to stand in line to buy tickets for rides and games.

“In the past, it was cash only; there was no cashless system,” Hargrove explained. “This is the first year for the FunPass, which enables everyone to purchase tickets without cash and at home – before you even come here – so you just walk in and go and get on a ride or a game, bypass any lines, and it makes it easy for the customer.”

“You can literally hop on a ride with the swipe of your phone,” added Annie Pierce, a spokesperson for the San Diego County Fair. “It’s going to make the whole ride experience more fun and easier.”

To use the FunPass, visitors will need to download the FunPass app to their phones. In the “Events” icon, type in San Diego County Fair. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time via the app; there will also be purple FunPass kiosks located throughout the fairgrounds where you can buy and load more tickets.

New Rides

Visitors will be able to enjoy the typical fair rides this summer, including The Big Wheel. New for thrill-seekers is “The Endeavour,” an open-air suspended passenger vehicle that sends riders flying 60 feet through the air at 25 mph. 

Another new, high-flying attraction: hot air balloon rides, available for the first time over the fairgrounds.

“It’ll be the best bird’s eye view of the fair that you could ever get,” Pierce said.

The hot air balloon rides are led by locally-based company, Magical Adventure Balloon Rides & Aerial Tours. Co-owner Denni Barrett told NBC 7 the rides will launch from the fairgrounds in the evenings, beginning at 5 p.m.

The 1-hour flights will soar over the fair, with views of Del Mar and the ocean, too. He said a balloon will hold up to 20 riders, but private flights are available as well, if booked ahead of time. Barrett said hot air balloon rides at the fair will cost $211 per adult and $191 per child. On board, riders will be treated to refreshments and snacks.

Meanwhile, Pierce said the fair is hip to a trend in the world of video games known as “esports.” It’s a form of competition using video games and, new this year, fairgoers will be able to get their gaming on in a zone called “17 Hands.” There will also be “esports” coaching sessions and workshops throughout various dates.

Totally ‘Oz-some’ food is coming to this year’s San Diego County Fair. Take a look at what you can find.

New Food & Drinks

As far as fair food and drinks go, Pierce, along with San Diego County Fair spokesperson Nelly Cervantes, both said there’s plenty of new fare to try.

Cervantes said Chicken Charlie’s – always an innovator of outrageous fair food – created something called Deep-Fried Crème Brulee, which comes in a tiny ball of sweetness. Chicken Charlie’s is also whipping up a Buffalo Chicken Chimichanga topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust.

Cervantes said fair food vendors like to get creative year after year since fried, flavorful food is a huge part of the tradition of the San Diego County Fair. She always enjoys seeing what recipes the vendors drum up as the fair rolls around – from sweet to salty.

[G 2019] Outrageous, 'Oz-some' Food at the San Diego County Fair 2019

“I think all the fair foods are head-turners – at least they are for me,” Pierce added. “They sky’s the limit here.”

As usual, Pierce said many vendors will offer snacks and drinks inspired by the theme of the fair. For example, fairgoers will find Flying Monkey Caramel Corn – caramel corn with banana chips – over at the Kettle Corn booth, and Ruby Red Lemonade at Hot Dog on a Stick. Pink’s Hot Dogs will sell the Scarecrow Dog, while Rainbow Treat whips up a Yellow Brick Smoothie and Linda’s Pizza sells Emerald City Pizza Balls.

Pierce said on Thursdays, many of the food vendors will sell smaller “tasting” portions of select items for fairgoers who want to taste their way through the fair. Those tasters cost $3 a pop and vendors who are participating will have a small sign on their booth that says so.

For the latest in this year’s outrageous, “Oz-some” fair eats, click here.

Finally, for the 21+ crowd, this year’s fair features a speakeasy dubbed the Wicked Wahine. The hidden spot will offer tiki-themed cocktails.

Craft beer enthusiasts will also find the fair's official brew, Wizard of Haze, throughout the fairgrounds. The hazy-style IPA was created by local favorite, Mike Hess Brewing, meant to be a refreshing sip for those hot summer days at the fair. The fair's craft beer changes each year to match the theme.

Monica Garske
Mike Hess Brewing created the Wizard of Haze beer specifically for the 2019 San Diego County Fair.

Fair Admission, Concerts & Festivals

Pierce and Cervantes said the San Diego County Fair is truly San Diego’s kick-off to summer.

“It’s such a tradition with families – to come here and try the food. And we’re in such a beautiful setting here. To be able to ride The Big Wheel and see the ocean; people in San Diego just really embrace it and love this time of year,” Pierce added.

The San Diego County Fair will be open Wednesday through Sunday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except for the final week of its run – July 2 and July 3 – when it opens from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Tickets cost $20 for adults and $14 for children ages 6 to 12 and seniors 62 and up. Kids under 5 get in free. General parking costs $17. For ways to score deals and discounts on fair tickets, click here.

In addition to the rides, outrageous food, activities and entertainment, the 2019 San Diego County Fair will again feature a long lineup of concerts.

NBC 7’s SoundDiego breaks down the concerts here, which include big names like Toby Keith (June 14), Smokey Robinson (June 15), and “Mr. Worldwide,” Pitbull (June 29).

The fair will also present comedy acts like Jim Gaffigan (June 1), Jeff Dunham (June 7) and the cast of TruTV's "Impractical Jokers" (June 20).

The fair will host several festivals throughout its run, including Out at the Fair (June 1), the Toast of the Coast Wine Festival (June 8), the Gospel Festival (June 12), the Asian and Pacific Islander Festival (June 15), the Beer Festival (various dates), and the Distilled Spirit & Cocktail Festival (June 22).

The San Diego County Fair is the largest annual event in San Diego County. Each year, it draws approximately 1.6 million visitors.

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