This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

Attracting over 1.3 million guests in 2019, the OC Fair is a highly anticipated event for visitors near and far. However, after COVID took over the world in 2020, the OC Fair & Event Center remained bare last summer with no operating fair. It was the first closure the fair had experienced since World War II in its 131-year history.


Editor’s Note: Read our other OC Fair 2021 opening story: OC Fair Reopens Friday As Debates Over Its Identity, Policies Could Reshape Local Image


As cases went down and vaccines became more accessible, the OC Fair & Event Center staff continued to work closely alongside the OC Health Care Agency in order to gain approval for a safe and enjoyable summer fair. In the meantime, the staff arranged a successful lineup of off-season events for visitors of the event center. 

“The staff worked hard to find events that were safe and brought some joy during the pandemic,” said Terry Moore, communications director at OC Fair & Event Center. “Along with holiday drive-thru events and outdoor experiences, we were able to safely provide some respite for our fans.”

Autosonic Concerts presented a series of drive-in concerts last July through September, including musical acts like Beatles tribute band The Fab Four and Pink Floyd tribute band Which One’s Pink. The OC Fair also set up a unique drive-thru experience last August featuring various vendors offering the fair’s biggest draw — fair food. The OC Fair & Event Center even served as a vaccination super-pod as well as an emergency food distribution center for those in need.

What’s Changed and What’s New

The theme of this year’s OC Fair is “Time for Fun,” which perfectly expresses the excitement felt by both staff and fairgoers to return to the fairgrounds for rides, fair food and more this summer. Since the pandemic hasn’t quite died down, fairs like the L.A. County Fair canceled their grand summer plans once again due to COVID concerns. 

To properly ensure the protection of guests, the staff at the OC Fair has added enhanced safety measures to allow for both fun and peace of mind. Below are a few helpful things to know before your visit to this year’s fair, as well as a glance at the entertainment being offered inside and at the Pacific Amphitheatre.

The Euroslide is a favorite for kids at the OC Fair. Credit: Photo courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center

The planning for the 2021 fair included a number of changes for guests in order to follow state and county health directives. To start, there will be a daily capacity limit of 45,000 fairgoers allowed per day, an average of about 75 percent of the daily capacity of previous years. To avoid possible setbacks at the gate, tickets must be bought online in advance at ocfair.com for specific days only. Tickets are nonrefundable and can only be used for the day purchased. There will also be implementation of new technologies at entry gates to make lines shorter and to avoid crowds at security. 

Throughout the fairgrounds, adjustments have been made to follow sanitization and social distancing protocols. Along with various sanitizer dispensers and handwashing stations being added to the fair’s layout, there will also be fewer food vendors, booths and rides to give fairgoers a bit more space. To minimize physical contact, there have also been more touchless, cash-free payment options added at registers.

“We have earned the GBAC STAR, which certifies that facilities are able to demonstrate that correct work practices, procedures and systems are in place to prepare, respond to and recover from outbreaks and pandemics,” said Michele Richards, CEO of the OC Fair & Event Center.

Moore and her fair colleagues hope these measures, along with adding extra tables and shaded seating areas, will give guests ample elbow room. All guests who are unvaccinated must also wear face coverings when inside fair buildings.

Although there are limited rides and vendors at the fair this year, there are still plenty of new additions for those wondering what’s new this year. New rides at the OC Fair this summer include Moonraker, New York New York and Windsurf. On the kid’s side, new rides include the Liberty Wheel and Winky the Whale.

Sample food from several vendors on Thursdays with the $3 “Taste of Fair Food” deal at the OC Fair. Credit: Photo courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center

Some new food items include Chicken Charlie’s waffle cone with buffalo chicken and mac and cheese, Pepe’s Mariscos taco de tripa and Dutchmen’s fried chicken funnel cake, to name a few. To get the most of all the best munchies, the $3 “Taste of Fair Food” promotion also returns this year. Only on Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., visitors may sample special menu items at food stands across the fair.

Other classic deals and promotions are returning to this year’s fair. Valid all 23 days of the fair, children ages 5 to 11 will get three free carnival rides when they read two books and complete the Read & Ride form. 

Entertainment All Summer Long

The fair’s comeback means the return of live entertainment at both the Pacific Amphitheatre and The Hangar. Located in the Pacific Amphitheatre, OC Brew Hee Haw Craft Beer Roundup will be held July 23 and 24, offering three different sessions to choose from. The event features over 80 craft beers on tap as well as live music from tribute bands to dance to as you partake in unlimited tastings.

Starting July 29, the fan-favorite Summer Concert Series takes over the Pacific Amphitheatre for a monthlong course featuring musical and comedic performers. This year’s lineup includes acts such as Los Lobos (Aug. 1), Colbie Caillat (Aug. 20), Natasha Bedingfield (Aug. 20) and the Flaming Lips (Aug. 26). Joining the list of acts this year is Filipino American stand up comedian Jo Koy (Aug. 15), known for his several comedy specials that have aired on Comedy Central and Netflix. Much of his comedy focuses on ways to raise a millennial as well as the intricacies of Filipino traditions. Tickets for OC Brew Hee Haw Craft Beer Roundup and all other Pacific Amphitheatre events include same-day admission to the OC Fair.

The Hangar, located in the north-central section of the fair, presents live music by local musical talent and tribute bands. There will be nightly performances throughout the course of the fair by acts performing crowd favorites by ABBA (July 17), Elton John (July 23), Fleetwood Mac (July 25), Michael Jackson (Aug. 13) and many more. Maestro Jose Hernandez and his mariachi band, Sol de Mexico, will also be performing Aug. 8, playing traditional mariachi music and providing fairgoers an authentic taste of Mexico’s heritage.

Fair competitions such as table setting, quilting and woodworking are also back and will be on display inside buildings on the Main Mall. Other free entertainment inside the fair includes the All-Alaskan Racing Pigs, hypnotist Mike Yuzuik, the gravity-defying Peking Acrobats and more. 

The Alaskan Pig Races are free to watch at this year’s OC Fair. Credit: Photo courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center

The fair runs July 16 to Aug. 15 Wednesdays through Sundays. For hours, tickets and parking information, visit ocfair.com. The new 2021 OC Fair mobile app is available for download and provides information on daily activities, maps, food finders and other general tips.

Crystal Henriquez is a writing fellow for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at crystalh774@gmail.com.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.