SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Under ideal weather conditions, the Santa Barbara County Fair opened its gates at 11 a.m. Wednesday, signaling the start of the much-anticipated event.
"Every year we just like to up the 'wow factor,' said fair spokeswoman Shelly Cone. "I think it's a great value for your cost of your admission. You get access to all these great attractions and also the free entertainment, which is a great lineup this year."
In addition to the top-notch free entertainment, fairgoers this year will notice several new changes that have been implimented at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
"This year we also changed the layout a little," Cone said. "So if they're parts of the fair you haven't gotten to in the past, you might do it this time because things are a little bit different."
Cone noted many exhibits that have been displayed inside in years past have been moved outdoors.
"We brought out some of the exhibits that were in Armory before. You'll find some of the arts and ag projects will be out in front area near the main gate" said Cone. "It just gives people a chance to walk around and see things that they haven't maybe didn't see before."
As always, several new attractions are in place for fairgoers to enjoy this year.
Among the new features is "Bugology," an interactive insect-themed experience located in the Armory.
"We have all kinds of creepy crawlies live bugs, from centipedes to scorpions to tarantulas, and if you can't get enough, we also have shows daily," said exhibit curator Karla Majewski.
Perhaps the highlight of the experience is the "bug bar," which allows people to sample one of three different insects.
"We've got shield bugs, people describe as sunflower seeds," Majewski said. "We have the crickets. Kids tell us it tastes like bread and we have the grasshoppers, which are pretty crunchy, might want to bring something to drink, but they are a delicious and a bit salty on the salty side.
Also popular in Bugology is the butterfly house, which includes dozens of butterflies who are very people-friendly.
"I had a lot of butterflies all over me," said Brianna Kemp. "It was a lot of fun. It was cool to see them. You have to be gentle with them, so it was kind of nice to have them all over me and tickling me."
Just to the right of the main enterance, fairgoers will notice the new BMX Stunt Show.
"There are premiere BMX riders here today," said stunt show owner and host Eric Soto. "We have the best of the ramps, the best of the tricks and the best of the half-pipe."
The 20-minute show runs several times throughout the day.
"People are going to leave here with a smile on their face," Soto said. "We get people from the crowd. We do involve them, we put them on the top of the ramp, we jump over the them."
Another new attraction is the CoastHills Wine Bar in the Honda & Toyota Marketplace Pavilion. There are also Princess character photo opportunities strolling throughout the Fairpark and Sterling the Bubblesmith near the front entrance.
Each day is themed at the fair. Opening day is "Dollar Day."
In the past, its meant one dollar admission fee and one dollar carnival rides.
This year, Dollar Day was changed to include only the carnival rides, disappointing some visitors who came out to enjoy what has traditionally low entry fee.
Still, the Fairpark was packed with people as soon as the gates swung open, including Marika Horton, who came out with her children for the first time ever.
"Felt like it was about time," said Horton. "I've never been and I've lived in the area for a long time, so it was about time that I brought the kids."
After having been at the fair for only a few minutes, Horton was already happy to spend the day at the Fairpark.
"Fun. Fun energy and great weather," Horton said. "I'm not much of a carnival ride person, but the girls are on the ride now. Good food. Checking out the food soon."
Other themed days include Senior Appreciation on Thursday, Agricultural & Cattleman's Day on Friday, Military & Law Enforcement Day on Saturday and Fiesta Day on Sunday.
As always, the fair food, which runs the gamut and includes just about everything imaginable possible on a stick, was a feature attraction.
"I like to eat a lot of junk food," said Makayla Lopez. "I want to get shave ice. I love shave ice. It's so good. I also want churros. I haven't seen them, but I'm sure I can find them."
Also expected to be popular is the free headline entertainment on the KCOY Main Stage.
Scheduled to perform during the fair is rock band .38 Special on Wednesday, comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias on Thursday, and country stars John Michael Montomery on Friday and Leann Rimes on Saturday.
All shows are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
The Santa Barbara County Fair opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. The carnival may stay open until midnight.
For more information, visit wwww.santamariafairpark.com