A worker helps set up for the Santa Cruz County Fair ahead of its opening day Wednesday.
A worker helps set up for the Santa Cruz County Fair ahead of its opening day Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Recreation & Sports

Everything you need to know to attend the Santa Cruz County Fair, running Wednesday through Sunday

Wallace Baine and Lily Belli bring you the details of this year’s Santa Cruz County Fair, which opens for business at noon sharp on Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

In these parts, the middle of September historically means it’s time for the Santa Cruz County Fair, and this year’s fair is ready for its close-up.

The 2023 version of the county fair opens for business at noon sharp Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on Highway 152 just outside Watsonville will open at noon. On Saturday and Sunday, it will open at 10 a.m. The fair will be open until 11 p.m. all five days.

On opening day, there will also be an opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m. at the main gate, during which a local veteran will receive a handmade quilt. And to get things started on the right foot, the fair’s apple pie-eating contest will take place at noon Wednesday at Paddy Smith Park. The Diaper Derby baby/toddler racing contest is Saturday at 1 p.m., also at Paddy Smith Park.

The Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the Watsonville Firefighters Association will host the traditional Opening Day Barbecue from noon to 2:30 p.m. Lunch includes tri-tip, beans, salad, bread and coffee or lemonade to drink. The cost is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for children ages 5-11, and the meal will be served at Paddy Smith Park between the Arts Building and Crosetti Building.

Among the new acts at this year’s fair is The Birdman, a bird show featuring macaws, cranes and condors, as well as the Cartoon Poodles dancing dog show.

Returning favorites include performing hypnotist Michael Mezmer, the Twinkle Time musical act for kids, and many others.

On the amphitheater stage every night of the fair at 7:30 p.m. will be live musical acts, including the Gary Blackburn Band (Wednesday), Tsunami (Thursday), the House Rockers (Friday), the Sun Kings (Saturday) and Grupo El Tiempo (Sunday). The Monster Trucks and Motocross show takes place Wednesday and Thursday at the racetrack.

Also part of the fair, on a regular basis, are popular attractions like the All Alaskan Racing Pigs, poultry and livestock contests, a tractor parade, camel rides, jugglers and many more. You can download a schedule for each day’s events here.

Tickets are $20 general admission; $13 seniors 62 and over; $10 for kids 6 to 12; and free for kids 5 and under. On the fair’s opening day, Wednesday, active-duty military members and all kids 12 and under get in free, and seniors are $10 at the gate. Parking is $10 as well.

Wednesday and Thursday nights will feature Monster Trucks and Motocross races, which is a separate ticket: $10 for adults and $5 for children 6-12.

The Santa Cruz Metro is also offering a free bus route to the fairgrounds from downtown Watsonville.

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