San Mateo County Fair to return this year, as one of California’s first major events since start of pandemic

San Mateo County Event Center announced on Monday that its long-running and beloved annual fair will return this June, in another show that pandemic restrictions were easing in the Bay Area. 

This photo is from the last time San Mateo County Fair was held in June 2019. County officials announced a return of the event this year.

Last year was only the second time in the fair’s 87-year history that the the family-centered event was cancelled. 

Organizers said that the county's orange tier status under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economic plan allowed for such outdoor events with up to 25% of maximum capacity. They had been toying with the idea of a hybrid drive-through and virtual county fair, but those plans were scrapped. 

The fair's return will make it one of the first major events to be held in the state since the start of the pandemic, according to fair officials. 

"...we will certainly bring the favorite traditions of animals, pig races, BBQ, funnel cakes, carnival rides, and the Ferris Wheel back, with the innovations that provide a healthy and safe space for our community," said Dana Stoehr, CEO of the San Mateo County Event Center. 

San Mateo County officials announced the return of the County Fair in June 2021.

Stoehr stressed that the health and safety of the fair’s guests will be the top priority. In that vein, the county said that guests should expect modifications in place, including a requirement to wear masks and a scheduled timed entry for all visitors, which allows the fair to maintain capacity limitations. In addition, all tickets will be sold online with digital tickets to be scanned at the gate to provide a touch-less experience. 

"We have some partners unfortunately that are out of business and we've had to look to different contractors that we've worked with in the past, but not at the county fair, to fill in those shoes," said Justin Aquino, the San Mateo County Fair Operations Manager.

And for those who have survived, like Big Bubba's Barbecue, the news came in the nick of time.

"It's our living. If we don't have fairs or festivals we have to totally shut down and do something else," said Sergio Guitierrez of Big Bubba's Barbecue.

This year's theme is Where Tradition Meets Innovation. "The annual Fair represents a celebration of our community's talent, interests, innovations, and rich agricultural and artistic heritage," organizers said. 


The Western Fairs Association said for an industry that's been on hold, restarting isn't easy. 

"They laid off most of their staff, they changed their business model into survival mode and so gearing up for an event like this is a huge endeavor for some of these fairs," said Sarah Cummings, President and CEO of the Western Fairs Association. 

Contra Costa County's fair is still canceled, according to their website. In Santa Clara County, the fair will still be a drive-through event.

San Mateo County Fair is scheduled for June 5-6 and then from June 9-13.

As in the past, the fair will be at the San Mateo County Event Center, which during the pandemic has served as a COVID-19 testing site as well as a vaccine distribution center. To date, health officials have administered 250,000 COVID-19 tests and vaccinated more than 90,000 people at the site, according to the county.

"We are proud that the San Mateo County Event Center has been here for our community during this time of crisis," said Aquino. "We are now overjoyed that we can be here for you in the return of celebration."

KTVU's Ann Rubin contributed to this story.