Why California’s Oldest County Fair Should Be on Your Family’s Summer Bucket List

By Cheri March

As far as favorite summer pastimes go, a day at the county fair is right up there with barbecues, picnics and running through the sprinklers. There’s something particularly special about memories forged at an old-fashioned small town fair—and it doesn’t get much more authentic or nostalgic than the Humboldt County Fair in historic Ferndale, California.

The oldest continuously running fair and horse racing track in California, the Humboldt County Fair began in 1861 and has been located in its current home at the historic Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale since 1896, where it has become one of the Victorian Village's biggest attractions.

More than a hundred years later, fairgoers are still enjoying the same traditions as their ancestors— from farm animal exhibits and horse racing to carnival rides and corndogs. But there are plenty of newer events to discover as well, like the popular Surf & Turf BBQ Contest with homegrown celebrity chef Guy Fieri, a rejuvenated Friendship Square stage featuring a week’s worth of entertainment, and incorporated displays throughout the fairgrounds paying homage to the beloved fair’s history.

With the 2017 Humboldt County Fair set to start this Wednesday, we caught up with Justyn Sequoia of the Humboldt County Fairgrounds to talk about what makes our fair so charming for locals and tourists alike – and why a visit to this favorite Northern California county fair should be at the top of your family’s summer bucket list.

This year’s theme is “121 Years…a Million Memories.” How important is history to the Humboldt County Fair?

The first Humboldt County Fair was held 1861 in Hydesville, with the fair bouncing around between Hydesville, Ferndale, Eureka, and Rohnerville until it finally settled in Ferndale in 1896. We are fortunate to boast that Ferndale is now home to the oldest continuously running Fair and horse racing track in the state, with the only exceptions being the war years from 1942-45. This makes the Humboldt County Fair the oldest legacy event in Humboldt County! We wanted to pay tribute to this legacy knowing that there are families here who have been a part of the fair for generations, as well as new fairgoers who will be making memories that last a lifetime. 

Best Old-Fashioned Fairs | Historic Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California

Aside from history, what makes the Humboldt County Fair so unique?

The Humboldt County Fair is the only small fair in California to still feature live horse racing just likes its big brothers in Sacramento, Fresno, and Alameda County. This gives attendees a unique experience that no other small fair can offer. Our seven days of racing, August 25-27 and September 1-4, are highly enjoyable events that can be enjoyed by both older attendees and new younger millennial-aged fairgoers who have never experienced the thrill of live racing. 

Horse Racing at Historic Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, CA

What’s new and exciting at the fair this year?

The Fair will feature three nationally acclaimed acts with The Cortes Family Arial Show, NBC's "Americas Got Talent" contestants The Chicago Boyz, and the XPOGO Stunt Team, who will put on spectacular live performances throughout the week and be sure to warrant multiple viewings that make attendees go, "How do they do that?!" In addition, a rejuvenated Friendship Square Stage will host a variety of entertainment though the week headlined by country music singer/songwriter McKenna Faith on our opening evening. We are able to showcase the history of the fair with incorporated displays like those found in the Marie Giampaolo Museum, our brand new livestock office, and our marketing that has incorporated the fair's history throughout. 

McKenna Faith at Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale CA.jpg

What hasn’t changed? What can fair goers always expect to find at the Humboldt County Fair?

The sense of community has been as prominent leading up to this year’s fair as it has been in years past, with families who continue to come and support the fair as well as new fairgoers who are taking it all in for the first time. The last five years have offered the best entertainment the fair has ever seen, with fairgoers excitedly telling others of the amazing acts and live shows that are a must-see, along with recent staples like the Surf and Turf BBQ Contest (August 24) hosted by Guy Fieri and the Bull-O-Rama (August 31), which offer fun and exciting times for the whole family.  More intimate events such as Date Night (September 1) allow couples both young and experienced to take a whimsical journey through the fair for a chance to win fabulous gift baskets.  

What’s your favorite thing to do at the fair?

We asked this around the office with the result you may find typical of a fair that offers such a variety of amazing things to do: Everyone had a different answer. While some enjoyed the thrills of the carnival, Bull-O-Rama and horse racing, others enjoyed the fun food aspect to be found at local vendors and the BBQ contest, while still others enjoyed the chance to spend a romantic evening with their significant other during Date Night. There is a little something for everyone. Where else can you watch live high wire acts, music, horse racing, and go to a carnival with rides and games all in the same place with a great family atmosphere? The Humboldt County Fair is where!

The 121st Annual Humboldt County Fair runs Wednesday, August 23 through Monday, September 4, 2017 (Labor Day) with a one-day closure on Monday, August 28. General admission is $10, seniors (62 and older) are $7, children 6-12 years are $5 and free after 3pm Tuesday-Friday.

Can’t wait until Wednesday? Get a sneak peek at the annual Humboldt County Fair Gala Preview on Tuesday, August 22 from 5:30 to 8pm in the Fine Arts Building and Flower House. Gala tickets are $15 per person or $25 per couple. Call (916) 662-5268 for tickets.

For more information about the 2017 Humboldt County Fair, to view the schedule of events, or to buy pre-fair tickets at discount, go to HumboldtCountyFair.org.

All photos courtesy of the Humboldt County Fair.