PLEASANTON -- One of the best places to celebrate the country's birthday may be the Alameda County Fair, which has a jam-packed lineup of Americana and wild and wacky events and the triumphant return of Fourth of July fireworks.

"People are thrilled with the return of the fireworks," Angel Moore, the fair's marketing manager, said. "We're just excited to have that tradition brought back. That's really the highlight of our day."

Fireworks were suspended after a July 4 shooting at the fair in 1998. Fireworks continued on other nights, but never on the national holiday.

This year's show will be at 9:45 p.m. with the best viewing by the grandstands.

The fair theme this year is "Taste the Red, White & Blue", and with July 4 falling on a Friday, it made it a logical year to return the fireworks to their traditional holiday showcase.

"We call it the Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular," Moore said. "It's a 15-minute presentation set to music and a tribute that celebrates Alameda County."

While the fireworks are the much-anticipated highlight of the holiday, the rest of the day and final weekend of the fair, will be chockful of events.

This year marks the sixth July 4 to feature the wildly popular chili relay and hot dog eating contest. It's a zany event that pits four-member teams against each other as they race with bowls of chili before racing the clock to inhale hot dogs in record time.

"It's amazing," Moore said. "They have to scoop the chili in the bowl. They put cheese, onion and sour cream on it. They actually have to hold the bowl in their mouth and pass it off to the teammate with a ball between their knees. They also have to pass off the ball to the other teammate."

At the end of the chili relay, the teams scarf down 20 hot dogs total or five per team member in a race against the other teams.

The contest begins at 12:30 p.m. at Festival Square.

If hot dogs and chili aren't your cup of tea, you can opt for horse racing (post time 2:15 p.m. Friday, at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), or enjoy hours of jazz at the Red, White & Blues Jazz Festival at the main amphitheater. Eleven bands are slated to play from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 4.

Holiday fun continues into the weekend with more kooky events planned for Saturday.

Since fried foods are a big draw at any respectable county fair, dougnuts will take center stage Saturday as the fluffy treats are dangled from strings to see who can eat the swinging fried dough faster than their opponents. No hands allowed, of course. The contest begins at 1 p.m. at Festival Square.

Festival Square will also feature a mystery flash mob at 2 p.m. Saturday, but Moore refused to reveal the flash mob theme. It is, after all, a mystery.

Sunday's events include the fair's first-ever hot wings eating contest, at 1 p.m. in Festival Square. It will be followed there at 1:45 p.m. with a patriotic tattoo contest, and at 3 p.m. with a cake walk.

The popular San Francisco rock band Night Ranger closes out the fair with a concert Sunday at 8 p.m. in the amphitheater.

alameda county fair
The county fair, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., is open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through July 6.
Gate admission ranges from $8 to $10. Parking is $10. For information, call 925-426-7600.
Visit alamedacountyfair.com for details on fair events. Click on Home and then Daily Schedule to find daily events. Click on Festival Square for details about food contests or to register as a participant.