Fairest of Them All
Sonoma County Fair lives it up in wine country
By Caroline Osborn
It's that time of year again. With its staycation "Grape Escape" theme, the Sonoma County Fair celebrates the wine industry in all its bacchanalian (and, let's face it, monetary) glory.
The biggest themed flower show in the nation, the Hall of Flowers returns with "Gardens of Sonoma County Wine Country." This year's production features 12 gardens, each of which displays one famous local wine grape appellation. As always, tickets to the Flower Show preview on Sunday, July 25—two days before the fair opens—are available to those who would rather schmooze amid flowers, wine and hors d'oeuvres than navigate the crowd that populates a general admission day.
As the only NorCal fair to have invested in both a turf racing track and a high-quality dirt track, the Sonoma County Fair begins one of the region's most highly anticipated horse racing meets on Wednesday, July 28. Although the first post time isn't until 12:45pm, bettors eager to get a leg up on the competition can arrive at 11:15am in Shade Park for tips from the experts. The track announcer, handicappers and other knowledgeable voices will offer inside information on which horses are feeling fast. Aficionados who can't make it to the seminar can check Twitter for continuous up-to-the-moment betting advice. Those who love horses and winning but hate throwing money away can enter the Win, Place & Show free cash drawing, Sonoma County Harvest Fair ticket drawing or the Big Hat Contest. No risk and goofy hats. Win-win.
Fans of blues, country, rock and even Mexican ballads can find something to appreciate in the Sonoma County Blues Festival (July 31) and headliners Miranda Lambert (Aug. 2), Blue Öyster Cult and Foghat (Aug. 4), and Banda Cuisillos (Aug. 1). While these shows require a ticket in addition to fair admission, the Park Stage showcases new local talent at no extra cost, and the Redwood Theater hosts club and tribute bands.
Along with the usual agricultural animals, fairgoers can expect to witness the paradox of trained cats walking high wires, riding skateboards and ringing bells. Those tired of the majesty of racing horses can turn their attention to small dog racing in the Derby Dog Dash. More traditionally inclined attendees can tour the agricultural section in a horse-drawn wagon, back by popular demand.
If that somehow isn't enough to get excited about, fairgoers can always just celebrate their good fortune of living in a county where the signature industry is not something lame like Brussels sprouts.
The Sonoma County Fair kicks off on Tuesday, July 27, and runs through Aug. 8 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Horse racing extends its Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule to Aug. 11–15. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. 11am–9pm. $3–$9 general admission; children six and under free; $6–$8 parking. 707.545.4200.
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