Fish Fry to reel in thousands

Maybe it's the super-secret ingredient in the fish batter, but something keeps locals coming back year after year — 64 years to date.

The annual Lions Fish Fry & Carnival is set for this weekend, so club members are busy wrangling thousands of pounds of potatoes, fish and cole slaw into place.

Organizers try to walk a tightrope between tradition and change.

"There are a lot of new carnival rides, and we've got a lot of really good entertainment on the stage," Costa Mesa native and Lions Club board member Mike Scheafer said. "We rely on tradition so much — we kind of keep it close."

In its heyday, the Fish Fry was the biggest community event in the area, with parades, a pageant and a jam-packed Lions Park. Though fish fry events are a far more common tradition on the other side of the Mississippi, the local Lions Club version has been a tradition for generations of Costa Mesa residents.

Originally founded to raise funds for a baseball field at Lions Park, the event has had a relatively tumultuous recent history, including a threat of being cancelled due to now-scrapped plans to build a skate park in Lions Park. But the community rallied around the club and the Fish Fry, and it remains a highlight of the summer season.

The event still draws about 10,000 people, who come for the food (including non-fish options), entertainment, carnival rides and socializing.

"This is the 64th annual, and it was started by a couple Lions Club guys who wanted to do a community-type thing," Scheafer said. "It's turned into probably the biggest event of its kind in Costa Mesa."

Funds raised primarily go to local charities like the Boys & Girls Clubs, high schools, Sea Scouts, the senior center, Scheafer said, although some also go toward the community service club's own charities. To date, more than $2.5 million has been raised.

"Typically, we raise around $40,000 or $50,000 each year," Scheafer said. "We try to give away as much as we can."

Another popular component of the weekend is the annual baby contest on Sunday for babies ages 6 to 24 months, who are judged on their beauty, personality and overall appearance. A registration form is available online; to enter if space is still available, fax the form and bring the $5 entry fee and proof of date of birth to the judging.

There is no admission fee for the Fish Fry; attendees only need to pay for carnival rides and food, including the famous $10 fish dinners, Scheafer said.

"We'll have drawings for some really good prizes as well," he added.

If You Go

What: 64th annual Lions Fish Fry & Carnival

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Lions Park, 567 W. 18th St., Costa Mesa

Cost: Free admission; pay for carnival rides and food

Information: (714) 754-5300 or

Schedule of Events


Noon to 2 p.m.: Sportin Woodies band

2 to 3 p.m.: Dano Forte's One Man Band

3 to 4 p.m.: Endeavor School of Dance

4 to 4:30 p.m.: Opportunity drawing

4 to 6 p.m.: Nick and the Bear band

7 to 8 p.m.: Jet Set Go band

8 to 8:30 p.m.: Opportunity drawing


Noon to 2 p.m.: Lou LaRocco's band

2 to 2:30 p.m.: Baby contest

2:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Dancers

4 to 4:30 p.m.: Opportunity drawing

4 to 6 p.m.: Avalon Highway

6 to 8 p.m.: Latino Band

8 to 8:30 p.m.: Opportunity drawing

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