Marin County Fair brings thrills, chills to North Bay

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KTVU) -- North Bay residents looking for some fun and fireworks can now get their fill at the Marin County Fair, currently underway in San Rafael.

The fair, taking place at the Civic Center, runs five days through July 4 and is the site of a 15 minute fireworks display that lights up the night sky at 9:30 p.m. each night. Officials said over 100,000 people are expected to attend the fair during its five day run.

Although the fair is relatively small, it always tries to expand expectations. Along with the traditional offerings of exhibits, carnival rides and games, Marin County has baked in a distinctly healthful flair.

"We were the first fair anywhere to go smoke-free," said Gabriella Calicchio, Marin County's director of Cultural and Visitor Services. "We are uniquely Marin in many ways."

She points to a sign that requires all food vendors to identify a "healthy option" on the menu. At one of the funnel cake concessions, the healthy option was a frozen banana for $4.

"No, no one has ordered one yet," vendor Alber Valadez said. "And last year, I offered a fruit and cheese plate, and sold one. People want the funnel cakes, that's what they come for."

The fair also has "health ambassadors," who wear tie-dye shirts while strolling the grounds to offer people free granola bars, sunscreen, and bottled water.

"We've only gotten rejected three times," ambassador Elia Janes, 11, said. "I don't think they understood what we were doing, but I think we're doing a little good."

Another unconventional feature at the Marin fair: a poetry booth sponsored by the Marin Public Library.

A banner in front declared "The Poetry Doctor is In."

"I think we're the first fair with a poetry doctor, as far as I know, and proud of it," Marin Poet Laureate Rebecca Foust said while waiting for poetry "patients" to come by.

The booth offers poetry readings and coaching.

"Bring me a poem and I'll critique it," Foust said. "And we're doing an open mic on the 4th of July, so this is your chance, Bay Area poets, bring your poem and belt it out at the fair."


The theme of the fair is "Let the Fun Shine In," a nod to San Francisco's famed Summer of Love, which took place 50 years ago.

A large exhibit hall is dedicated to Marin County's deep rock and roll roots, with posters and other memorabilia documenting the iconic bands that founded and flourished north of the infamous Haight-Ashbury district.

At 6 p.m. each evening in the Showcase Theatre there is a 30-minute light show done the old-fashioned way: by hand and projected with slides and liquid. No electronics are used during the show.

Another area offers virtual reality headsets to anyone who wants to give that "ride" a try.

"I was in some robot world," said Kylie Gerrans, 13. "It was creepy."

"In mine there was a dinosaur right above my head (and) it really creeped me out," said her friend, Maddie Kavanaugh, also 13, and from San Anselmo.

Exhibits, concerts, rides and fireworks are included in the price of fair admission, which is $20 for adults and $15 for everyone else. Children under 4 years old and active duty military get in free.

"The county fair is the one place left in the world where you can come with your family and really relax, and there's something for everyone," Calicchio said.

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.