Starting Wednesday, Costa Mesa's a Fair Place to Pig Out

In the dark days before Nintendo and mega-malls, the opening of the county fair found Pa hitching up the wagon and Ma spiffing up the kids in their Sunday best for a day of family fun. It was a day to forget the chores, eat too many candy apples and generally kick up your heels.

Times have changed, but not much. Families visiting the 98th annual Orange County Fair, which opens next Wednesday, are more likely to sport Bart Simpson T-shirts than calico, but what lies beyond the fair gates is pure country fun, Orange County style. The fair continues daily through July 22.

Under the theme "Very Berry Extraordinary," this year's event salutes the county's strawberry industry with a strawberry pie-eating contest and, for those 2 to 12, the Strawberry Jello Squeeze, a genteel little game in which the players squirt gobs of the jiggly stuff at a target, and possibly each other.

Do your youngsters have a passion for pigs? The fair also honors our porcine pals: Children can take part in the Pig Root Race, the Eat-Like-the Piggies-Do contest and the Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Piggy game. Presiding over all the fun will be the fair's 350-pound mascot, Shortcake, a congenial Yorkshire crossbreed pig who will greet visitors from her pen on the livestock grounds.

Shortcake will have plenty of company. Nearly 1,000 animals will be on display--steer, sheep, rabbits, chickens and, of course, more pigs--many of them raised by area 4-Hand Future Farmers of America youth groups. (Watching the young competitors bathe, powder and otherwise primp their animals for exhibit can be a show in itself.) Children also can mingle with with deer, ducks, goats, antelope, llama and more at the Great American Petting Zoo, every day from noon to 9.

What's a fair without a Midway? B&B; Amusements handles the thrills and chills here with more than 50 rides ranging from the warp-speed Global Wheel to the Orbiter, an "alien ship" in which weightlessness is simulated. Tamer attractions include elephant rides, a carousel and a "kiddie carnival" for preschoolers.

Children's entertainers will roam the grounds, or play the fair's many permanent stages. There'll be unicycle-riding mime Mark Wenzel, Veekay the Clown, the Ken Ashley Puppets and the Mitchell Marionettes. Older kids may enjoy bike and skateboard stunts emceed by "America's Skateboard Mom," and the Earl Marcellus International Lumberjack Show, a hair-raising display of logging skills. The two-man Swan Brothers Circus combines comedy, music, magic and juggling in three shows daily, and a parade will wind its way through the main grounds each evening at six.

During Kids' Days, July 13 and 20, children 12 and under will be admitted free and can ride all attractions for just 75 cents a pop. A special schedule of games and activities is planned for those days as well.

What: The Orange County Fair.

When: July 11-22. Noon to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays through Sundays.

Where: The Orange County Fairground, Newport Boulevard and Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: The southern end of the Costa Mesa Freeway, where it turns into Newport Boulevard.

Wherewithal: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children 6-12, free for children under 6. All children under 12 will be admitted free on Kids' Days, July 13 and 20.

Where to Call: (714) 751-3247.

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