A hallmark of summer in Pleasanton every year, the Alameda County Fair is celebrating Opening Day this Friday with all sorts of familiar fan favorites taking over the fairgrounds -- all that after one prominent "last ride."
The fair's cattle drive, a kick-off event on opening Friday for the past two years, will usher in the start of the fair for the final time in 2019. A throwback to Pleasanton's Old West origins, the cattle drive is expected to once again draw thousands of people to downtown this morning to watch as cowgirls and cowboys herd dozens of steer to and from the Alameda County Fairgrounds via Main Street.
The hoofed procession will rumble out of the Rose Avenue Gate around 10:30 a.m. Friday and then make its way through central downtown and back to the fairgrounds just as the first patrons are entering the carnival midway, exhibition halls and other popular attractions once fair gates open at 11 a.m.
The annual fair offers a little something for everyone looking for an afternoon or evening of summer fun. Just ask Pleasanton Vice Mayor Karla Brown.
"Pleasanton residents are fortunate to have the Alameda County Fair right here in our city, especially during the upcoming fair season," Brown told the Weekly ahead of the 2019 fair's opening.
"My family and friends enjoy the concert series, carnival rides and the displays of paintings, photographs, quilts and 4H projects," she said. "The tiny baby pigs are always adorable. Let's not forget the Cattle Drive, which has become one of my favorite events."
"For the past five years, I have loved going to the horse races at the fair. Admission is included with my fair ticket, so I invite some good friends, we dress up, and with big fancy hats then bet a few dollars on our favorite horses," Brown added.
Routinely ranked among the top 50 fairs in North America each year and as the seventh largest fair in California, the Alameda County Fair is Pleasanton's trademark summertime event. Aptly themed "I Spy Summer" this year, the annual showcase is running on 18 days between today and July 7 (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) at the fairgrounds at Valley and Bernal avenues.
The cattle drive marks the start of Western Weekend at the fair, with Wild West-themed attractions all over the schedule, highlighted by extreme rodeo shows today and Saturday.
Other special events this weekend include horse racing all three days, Brew Fest on Saturday, Fiesta a la Feria and Fiesta Del Charro on Sunday, and free admission for everyone Friday until 3 p.m., seniors until 5 p.m. Friday and dads on Father's Day.
The nightly musical performances get underway on the main stage this Friday night at 8 p.m. with funk/rock band WAR, known best for classic hits like "Low Rider," "Spill the Wine" and "Why Can't We Be Friends?"
The Big O Tires Concert Series continues on Saturday with R&B/pop singer Ashanti -- "Foolish" and "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)" -- and then Mexican accordionist/singer and Grammy winner Ramon Ayala featuring Yolanda del Rio on Sunday.
The concerts going forward feature acts across musical genres, performers like Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe, Trace Adkins, Shelia E., Aly & AJ, Gin Blossoms and BB King Blues Band, plus tribute groups covering Bruno Mars, KISS, Johnny Cash and Steely Dan.
The concerts will run from 8-9:15 p.m. each night, with general seating free with fair admission and premium seating available for purchase. Each concert will be followed by a fireworks show, including a Fireworks Spectacular on June 28.
Again this year, the fair will not be hosting its once-popular Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular -- which ended after 2017 amid safety, security and traffic concerns. The fair will run special shorter hours on Independence Day, stopping admission at 4 p.m. and closing at 8 p.m.
Many other recognizable special events are back again this year, led by 15 days of live horse racing on the nation's oldest one-mile race track. Racing starts with three days on opening weekend and continues on June 20-23, June 27-30 and July 4-7. That includes the $50,000 Oak Tree Sprint Stakes on July 4 and the $100,000 Everett Nevin Stakes on July 6.
The Cocktail Fest (with Hat Contest) is set for June 22 and Wine Fest (with Derby Dog Dash) is on June 29. The Red, White & Blues Festival is also scheduled for June 29. Esports tournaments come to the fair on June 22 and 29. And look for the Junior Livestock Auction on July 7.
Also new this year are cultural festivals featuring live entertainment, attractions and other activities: Fiesta a la Feria this Sunday, Out at the Fair (LGBTQ pride) on June 22, Asian Pacific Celebration at the Fair on June 23 and Bollywood at the Fair on June 30.
Monster trucks, demolition derby, extreme rodeo, freestyle motocross, the Arenacross Nationals, RV demolition derby and the K-9 Flying Dog Show are among the highlights set for this year in the Action Sports Arena.
Another usual fan favorite -- especially on those hot afternoons -- are the indoor contest displays, from artworks and photographs to calligraphy and poetry to baked goods and jams to place-setting and floral arrangements and the always-popular collectibles exhibit. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Alameda County Central Railroad Society has special exhibits and activities planned, including newly renovated model railroads.
Education will also be the focus of STEAM events for youngsters set most days at the fair, including "Celebrate Creativity" this weekend, "Agriculture and Horticulture" next weekend, "LEGO Festival" on June 29 and "Robot Day" on June 30.
And of course, the fair foods, animal displays, carnival games and rides will all be back -- many familiar, plus some new ones. The cross-grounds gondola Sky Ride is returning, and new this year will be the Mega Flip, an extreme ride that thrusts riders high into the sky from four different swinging booms while simultaneously spinning and flipping.
The fair will offer a variety of discount days and promotions, plus fair officials have partnered with Wheels to offer the Wheels Fair Shuttle (Route 52) from the eastern Dublin-Pleasanton BART station to the fairgrounds -- all day, every day, until closing (except Fourth of July).
For all fair information, visit the 2019 Alameda County Fair website at annual.alamedacountyfair.com.
Open dates: June 14 to July 7 (closed Mondays, Tuesdays)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (except July 4: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Gate admission: Adults (age 13-61) $15. Seniors (62+) and Kids (6-12) $10. Children under 6, free.
General parking: $10.
FriYAY FREE, This Friday: Free admission until 3 p.m. for Opening Day
Father's Day, this Sunday: Free admission for dads, until 5 p.m.
Kids Free Thursdays, June 20, June 27: Free admission for kids 12 and under, until 5 p.m.
Boomers Free Fridays, Opening Day, June 21, June 28, July 5: Free admission for ages 62 and older, until 5 p.m.
First Responders Day, July 4: Free admission to first responders with valid ID, until 4 p.m.
Military Appreciation: Free admission with valid military or veteran ID, all day every day.
Fair Food Bite Thursdays, June 20, June 27: Food vendors offer samples for $2, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pet Food Drive, June 19: Free admission and $1 rides (until 5 p.m.) for every donation of new, unopened pet food items. Benefits Valley Humane Society.
Feed the Need Food Drive, June 26: Get one free admission and $1 rides (until 5 p.m.) for every donation of 4 nonperishable food items. Benefits Alameda County Community Food Bank.
Clothing Drive for Foster Kids & $1 Rides, July 3: Get one free admission and $1 rides (until 5 p.m.) with every donation of one new child's clothing item. Benefits foster children in the Bay Area. '
Big O Tires Concert Series
Sunday: Ramon Ayala featuring Yolanda del Rio
Wednesday: Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye & Aaron Tippin
Thursday: Earth to Mars (Bruno Mars tribute)
Next Friday: Loverboy
June 22: Aly & AJ
June 23: Lifehouse
June 26: Sheila E.
June 27: KISS Revisited (KISS tribute)
June 28: Gin Blossoms
June 29: BB King Blues Band featuring Michael Lee
June 30: James Garner's Tribute to Johnny Cash
July 3: Trace Adkins
July 4: NO CONCERT
July 5: Aja Vu (Steely Dan tribute)
July 6: Tommy Castro & The Painkillers
July 7: Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe
** Concerts run 8-9:15 p.m. nightly, followed by video and fireworks show (with special Fireworks Spectacular set June 28).