The Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival started on February 18 and will continue through February 27, 2011. It runs around this time each year, and this year marks the Date Fest’s 65th year of success, with admission at an unbelievably low $8 for adults. While perhaps a quarter of the size of the LA County Fair and approximately the same size, in acres, as the OC Fair, the Riverside County fair offers a unique entertainment, food, geographic and seasonal experience.
The entertainment and events are fun, family friendly and at no added cost. For example, the camel and ostrich races are a staple of the Date Festival, as revealed in the recent Press-Enterprise profile. These animals are not predictable, making for a lively and unexpected result in each race. The other mainstay has become the monster trucks and motocross, as well as the demolition derby– both of which are as loud as they are dirty if you’re sitting in the front rows. The outdoor stadium may look small when compared to the LA County Fair’s racetrack, but your seat at the Date Fest are always close to the action, surrounded by a few thousand of your new friends. Don’t miss this years lineup of entertainment for the Fantasy Springs Concert Pavilion, which holds several thousand seats, including Third Eye Blind, Luz Rios, and Switchfoot.
The rides at the county fair were plentiful and the lines were rarely longer than 10-15 minutes. Everything from tame rides, like the swings and slide, to not the not so tame zipper are available. $25 will get you all you can handle for one day.
While this may be called the Date Fest, all of the usual modern fair food offerings are plentiful, including chocolate covered bacon and deep fried Twinkies. However, the real reason to go to the Date Festival is for the dates, with date shakes being perhaps the most popular. Surprisingly, we had trouble finding dates to purchase or taste, though once we found the few stands that offer these items, we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of festival’s namesake food item.
A couple other offbeat things we noticed here. First, there are some rather comical vendors if you like offensive t-shirts. Second, the guy with the pet monkey that is trained to take cash from people’s hands is comical. Finally, the model train and other indoor exhibits can be good if you’re trying to beat the heat, though that won’t be a problem this year with temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s, and many events that were postponed due to rain.
The Presidents’ Day parade featured newly elected Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach as grand Marshall. Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who represents the part of Riverside County that includes the location of the fairgrounds, was also featured in the parade and welcomed fair-goers on opening day.
If you’re looking for a fair that will best the LA or Orange County fairs, this is not your cup of tea. If you’re looking for a unique experience, a good reason to go away for a weekend to the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area, or just a reason to get out of the house, this is a classic mainstay for Riverside and San Bernardino County residents.