PLEASANTON -- There is truly something for everyone at the Alameda County Fair -- a good time, a good education, good eats and fun.
"When you get to this fair, you can spend the entire day and have all of that education and entertainment wrapped up in it," Angel Moore, the fair's marketing manager, said. "With our discount days, often you can do it for a dollar or cheaper."
Fair admission is just $1 on opening day Wednesday and again on June 25. Admission is $2 on Tuesdays and kids enter free every Friday. Senior citizens get in free on Thursdays, while military personnel with a valid I.D. enter free every day.
"It's our thank you to our service people," Moore said.
This year's fairgoers will see added attractions such as zip lining and a high dive act, an improved racetrack with more skilled horses and more spectacular fair food ranging from the outrageous (macaroni and cheese stuffed bacon burger) to the healthful (grilled chicken).
This year also marks the return of fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The fair partnered with Kaiser Permanente this year to give out 105,000 free tickets to every public elementary school student in Alameda County, plus some students in private and home schools.
"We want to invite them to see how they can learn while having fun at the fair," Moore said. "We do have kids free Fridays, but working parents aren't always available to get here on Fridays."
The free kids' tickets are good any day of the fair.
Students can take part in the free Discovery Quest Program that guides them to answer science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) questions while exploring the fair.
"They're doing it in a fun way, but they don't realize they're learning about math, data collection, probability and statistics," Moore noted. "They're learning about gravity or centrifugal force by being on a ride. We really try to keep it interactive and fun. They get a little prize when they finish that."
Students may get their Discovery Quest passports at any gate or at guest services.
The fair also hosts a LEGO building competition and solar-powered remote-control race cars to further promote STEM education. Special STEM education attractions will be located throughout the fairgrounds on Fridays.
"This is a vision of our new CEO," Moore explained. "Something he's really passionate about is letting all the kids in the county see all the educational programs we have. We have a lot of STEM programming at the fair."
In addition to the educational aspects and, of course, the adorable farm animals, fairgoers will be treated to a greatly improved horse racing experience at this year's fair. The fair has partnered with the Southern California-based Oak Tree Racing Association to improve the fair's 12 days of horse racing.
"Oak Tree was able to bring to the table higher purses for us," Moore said. "It's a higher level of racing altogether that you'll see here. You'll definitely see the improvements at the track."
Racetrack improvements include a brand-new winners circle, an upgraded paddock and an expanded trackside terrace that can seat 300 spectators who can enjoy food and drink while watching the races.
The purses that go to jockeys, owners and trainers will range from $50,000 to $100,000 on six days of racing. In the past, the biggest purse was $50,000 to $75,000 and was offered for two days only.
"It helps us to bring in a higher caliber of horse, maybe horses that would come up from Southern California or Arizona," she said. "There will be more money and more horses in each race. The more people who place bets on those races, the higher prize money they win."
New exhibits expected to draw crowds this year are zip lines for fairgoers to experience, breathtaking high divers to watch and an exciting reptile show targeted at the kids.
"We like to keep our tradition, but we like to bring in a lot of new things," Moore said. "We try to be innovative and bring new and exciting things into our fair every year to keep our community excited and coming back." A county fair would be nothing without crazy cuisine that can be found only amid the sounds of the midway and the scents of the farm animals. This year's wacky foods include spaghetti-shaped ice cream, a macaroni and cheese-stuffed bacon burger and a breakfast funnel cake complete with powdered sugar, maple cream and scads of bacon bits. There's even a pickle hot dog — a pickle with a hot dog in the middle.
In addition to these gastronomic wonders, the fair has partnered with Kaiser Permanente to offer a slew of healthful eating options for those who prefer to stick to their diets. There will be grilled chicken breasts, grilled vegetables, veggie and turkey burgers, chopped salads, lettuce wraps, fish tacos, fresh fruit and more.
"Kaiser has partnered with us for healthy foods at the fair so that there's something for everybody," Moore said.
The Alameda County Fair is open Wednesday through July 6, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (closed Mondays). Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for kids 6-12 and seniors, with discounts for pre-fair purchases. Admission is $1 on June 18 and 25, $2 June 24 and July 1. Seniors enter free on Thursdays, kids 12 and under are free on Fridays; kids under 6 are free every day. Military personnel enter free daily with I.D.
Parking ranges from $8 (online) to $20 for VIP. The Fourth of July fireworks start at 9:45 p.m.
Free concerts are held nightly at 8 p.m. Early-entry wristbands will be given to the first 300 in line daily from 2 to 3 p.m. Early concert entry starts at 6:30 p.m.
Go to www.alamedacountyfair.com for more information; click on Learning Fun for educational programs for students.