After 16 months of an un-fair pandemic, O.C. Fair organizers say it’ll soon be ‘Time for Fun’

Man walks past carnival ride
Carnival workers set up a Rave Wave ride as preparations for the 2021 O.C. Fair take place Tuesday in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News )
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Costa Mesa’s Orange County fairgrounds stayed busy throughout the coronavirus pandemic — offering COVID-19 tests, vaccinations and hosting a number of drive-through events — but for the first time in a long while, the site is getting back to what it does best.

The 164-foot La Grande Wheel XL is being assembled, carnival game booths are coming into being and farm animals are being groomed for showing in preparation for the 2021 O.C. Fair, which runs July 16 through Aug. 15.

This year’s theme “Time for Fun” couldn’t be more fitting, after organizers pulled the plug on last year’s fair at the beginning of a pandemic that’s only now is showing signs of receding.


Since crew trucks started rolling onto the fairgrounds in mid-June, the same time as California businesses began reopening with fewer restrictions, a collective feeling of elation has started to rise, said Michele Richards, chief executive of the O.C. Fair and Event Center.

“This is who we are, and this is what we do, and not getting to do that this past year was very sad,” she said Tuesday. “We’re now getting to do what we’re trained to do, what we’re experienced in doing. So, there’s a joy that comes with that.”

Some aspect of this year’s event will be a little different from typical fairs. For instance, organizers plan to cap admission to 45,000 a day, and all tickets must be reserved online in advance. Once capacity has been reached, ticket sales will close.

Touch-free security gates and even concession sales restrictions will be in place to keep visitors safe.

There will “be fewer booths and attractions,” said fair spokeswoman Terry Moore. “We’re spreading things out on the fairgrounds just to give everybody more room.”

And while attendees who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to remain unmasked, those who are not fully vaccinated must wear facial coverings when indoors.


Richards said officials began envisioning different versions of a modified-capacity fair as early as October. And although attendance restrictions may have been lifted, organizers decided to stick with a 75% capacity model that had earned a blessing from the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The reduced crowds will give guests space, while also lessening traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods and maintaining fiscal viability, Richards said.

Officials had previously estimated that, at 50% capacity, the 2021 fair would take in about $20.3 million in revenue which, after expenses, would earn $6.4 million in net proceeds. Richards said Tuesday that the 75% configuration would increase that net gain.

With little more than two weeks remaining, O.C. Fair employees and operators can’t wait for the fun to begin.

“We’ve been through such a challenging time as a community, and people are really feeling joy at the simple things that are coming back,” Richards said. “Now that’s all coming back, it truly is a time for fun.”

Cardine writes for Times Community News.