Can extra shade and fried chimichangas draw more visitors to the L.A. County Fair?
Climate change has come to the Los Angeles County Fair.
The annual celebration of dizzying carnival rides, livestock and diet-busting snacks is investing in ways to keep visitors shaded and cool to help ensure that increasingly steamy summers don’t put a dent in attendance numbers.
In addition to such enticements, the operators of the county fair, which runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 22, are adding a dedicated weekend to celebrate gay pride and are banking on admission prices that are frozen at 2016 levels to help them record the second year in a row of rising attendance.
Fair attendance increased 5% last year to 1.13 million visitors, following a 7% decline in 2017. It peaked in 2011 at 1.49 million visitors.
“We want people to come here and have a great time and stay longer,” said Miguel Santana, the former Los Angeles city administrative officer who took over in 2017 as chief executive of Fairplex, a private nonprofit that operates the fair.
Months before Miguel Santana began his new job as the president and chief executive of the Los Angeles County Fair Assn., he asked his four daughters, ages 19 to 29, to visit the fair with him.
The Orange County Fair, which ended Aug. 11, drew 1.4 million visitors, down 5% from its record attendance year in 2018.
In the past, Fairplex officials have blamed the stifling heat that bakes Southern California each summer for attendance numbers that have fluctuated from a 16% drop in 2014 to a 6% increase the following year.
Santana said he can’t do anything about the weather, but he hopes that adding more shade might draw more visitors by making the summer heat tolerable.
This year, the Fairplex will add 100 new tables topped with umbrellas to bring the total to 300, plus 12 new umbrellas, which will shade other seating areas near the agricultural exhibits.
In addition, the Fairplex plans to more than double the number of shade sails that hang over the main thoroughfare that runs the length of the fairgrounds, a $50,000 investment. The fair will also add two more mist-spewing cooling stations, bringing the total to five.
“We’re committed to making the place as comfortable as possible,” Santana said. “One way of doing that is by increasing the amount of shading.”
Santana previously said the fair will boost security measures this year in the wake of several mass shootings at large public gatherings over the last few years. The efforts will include a new $200,000 command center in the fairgrounds where police, fire officials and other emergency staff can coordinate a response to an emergency.
Santana also hopes to draw budget-minded fair fans with daily ticket prices that have not increased since 2016: $14 for adults on weekdays and $20 for weekends. He has also persuaded most food vendors in the fair to offer meal deals for $6.50, down from $6.60 last year.
The fair will also promote days when residents of different areas of Southern California can attend at a deeply discounted price. For example, on Sept. 1, all residents of Los Angeles County can visit the fair for $8.
This year’s theme, “Fair goes pop,” focuses on the Los Angeles influence on pop culture in music, art and architecture. That means visitors can walk around small-scale versions of the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, LACMA’s street light display and Randy’s Donuts.
Since 2011, outside groups have promoted via social media an informal day known as “Gay Day” at the county fair. For the first time, the fair plans to formally support and promote an entire weekend — Sept. 7 and 8 — to celebrate the LGBTQ community by offering a parade and special entertainment, including DJs, live music and drag performers. Fair employees will be encouraged to wear multicolored shirts to show support for the LGBTQ fairgoers.
“The last few months of planning have been a dream come true for me,” said Eric Adams, producer of Visibly Proud, the group that is partnering with the fair to organize the event. “The good people who work at Fairplex are very talented and experienced and have been incredibly helpful this year as we’ve become more integrated than ever.”
The decision by Fairplex mirrors actions taken recently by Walt Disney Co. and Universal Studios Hollywood to endorse and promote gay pride events at theme parks in the U.S. and abroad.
Fairgoers who are drawn to the annual celebration by Instagram-worthy foods will have plenty of extreme dishes to choose from, including a deep-fried chimichanga filled with bacon, buffalo chicken and mac and cheese, topped with ranch sauce and dipped in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. One of the food vendors will also sell a grilled cheese sandwich filled with rainbow-colored mac and cheese.
Those visitors with a sweet tooth can indulge in a beach-ball-size cloud of cotton candy infused with Pop Rocks, or a “mermaid float,” made with coconut pineapple lime soda, whipped cream, sprinkles, a lollipop and gummy candy and topped with a puff of non-popping cotton candy.