Insider’s Guide to the California Mid-State Fair
The California Mid-State Fair is held annually, usually running for ten days at the end of July. It’s the biggest music, food and culture event of the year for Paso Robles!
Since its inception in 1946 we’ve hosted performances from greats such as Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Journey, Rod Stewart, Fergie, Justin Bieber, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney. In 2019 guests include Smokey Robinson, Smashmouth, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Idol, Cardi B, Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge. Unsurprisingly the Fair’s fame has reached beyond San Luis Obispo County and it’s become so large visitors may need to a little insider help to maximise enjoyment of the event.
Here we’ve compiled advice and wisdom from fairgoers via the organisers, our local San Luis Obispo newspaper, The Tribune and our own personal experiences and recommendations!
We’re a local firm and proud of our heritage and we want all visitors to enjoy themselves safely, save money and beat the crowds.
WHERE TO EAT
You can’t bring your own food into the fair but don’t worry as there are more than 80 vendors sell food and drinks inside.
It’ll be pretty hard to keep to a strict diet at the Mid State fair! Your choices will include cotton candy, deep-fried corn dogs, salty pretzels, battered-and-fried artichokes, salt water taffy and ice cream cones coated with chocolate. As always, expect fantastic artisanal burgers, tacos, burritos and more.
That’s not to say there won’t be healthier options available. Look for Thai and Chinese cuisine wagons which may suit you. Also look for Jimmy’s Watering Hole which has an assortment of salads and wraps to go along with staples like pulled pork. Island Grill, next to The Corn Shuck, has fish options like the Ahi Mango Salad and the Grilled Wahoo Fish Bowl. The Wine Shop & Bar next to Estrella Hall and The Market Place pavilion also has guilt-free choices.
If you don’t fancy the idea of eating on the go there are dozens of seated restaurants within a short distance of the fairgrounds. For example Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ offers beef ribs, grilled chicken, dinner salads and more. Numerous fast-food restaurants are also within walking distance of the fair.
Paso Robles is also an up and coming foodie destination and has many great restaurants for every price point. Those seeking to craft a dining out experience around their fair activities have plenty of options.
Visit The Paso Robles Downtown website to view some choices.
Once you’re inside the fairgrounds with gate admission ($12 per day for adults; $9 per day for kids; $11 per day for seniors ) you can find plenty of amusement for free.
Free concerts this year include performances by Smashmouth, Berlin, Luis Coronel, Dany Gokey, Mason Ramsey and a cappella country music sensation Home Free.
Many commentators note that the music from the main stages are largely audible across the fair space!
For more free fun, tour the livestock area to see the impressive lineup of hogs, steer, rabbits, goats and more. And watch the 4-H and FFA animals as they’re auctioned off- a real taste of country life!
For kids there is a free arts centre, petting zoo, pony rides for $7, and free farm activities. Cub Country is a new area of the carnival for smaller kids! This area has rides specifically designed for smaller children which include Bubba Bear Attraction, Cub Country Fun House, Wild West Inflatable, Crazy Taxi, Frog Hopper, and Turtle Races.
WEATHER AND CROWDS
At Smart72 we supply solar power, heating and cooling solutions across San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and South California. We know what we’re talking about when we say the weather during fair time can be extremely hot, particularly during those long California afternoons. Go early to beat the crowds and at least some of the baking heat. Better yet, visit after the sun goes down and temperatures dip to more comfortable levels- but in this case pack a sweater as it can get cool very quickly after sunset! Local business owner Doug Swarts says to stay hydrated you can bring up to two unopened plastic bottles of water. Bottled water is also available to buy from various vendors, and you can refill at the fountain at the Main Quad. We are still waiting to hear back if canteens are allowed to help reduce single use plastic waste. One With Nature, a local environmental advocacy group, has been trying to get the Mid State Fair to adopt more environmentally conscious rules for the annual Central Coast fair.
Arrive early to concerts to avoid the bottlenecks getting into the main Arena. For most convenient entry, be sure to arrive before the opening act, even if you’re there just for the main show.
While most promotions on the fair’s website are time limited. Check immediately at the Mid State Fair website to see what is still running.
The Domino’s Family Pack deal offers admission tickets for two adults and two children, pizza slices for four, and water for four for $40.
The winner of the Verizon Front Row Instant Upgrade receives two tickets located directly in front of the world-famous performers — enabling them to ditch their current seats.
The Mid-State Fair’s box office also sells discounted tickets before the fair starts but availability is very limited.
Making good use of free shuttles and decent walking shoes can save a chunk of change when parking.
Parking fills up quickly near the designated lot on Riverside Avenue across from the fairgrounds. Remember pricing goes up and spaces disappear later in the afternoon.
Nearby private property owners typically charge between $5 and $20 for on-site parking. But some have jacked rates up to $40 or more for desperate concertgoers right before shows.
Some spaces can be found for free along neighborhood streets within blocks of the fair- but be prepared to walk! In fact for the quickest getaway, park farther away from the fairgrounds and plan to do some walking to save wait time. After popular concerts, lines for the shuttle become so long it may be quicker to walk a few blocks extra.
With a little scouting, you may find your hideaway. Just make sure you’re not on private property.
The shuttles bring people in from free parking locations throughout Paso Robles. The routes are extensive so please check the Mid State Fair Website Travel and Lodging.