Ahh….the county fair. The celebration of rich and varied farming traditions, not to mention a five day extravaganza of killer music, fantastically fab firework shows and carnival rides a’ plenty. Don’t forget about the face painting, the dance performances – and did someone say funnel cake?! Lucky for us Bay Area folks, the 2012 Marin County Fair, one of the greenest fairs on Earth, returns June 30th – July 4th. Want to be sure the kids don’t miss their favorites ride or exhibit? Check out this handy-dandy guide filled with great info and awesome tips to make the family fair adventure an unforgettable experience.

When to Go: June 30th – July 4th, 2012, regular fair hours are from 11:00 am – 10:00 pm daily.

Insider Tip: The best day to come is Tuesday, July 3rd. With the kiddos in tow it’s a lot easier and more fun to enjoy carnival rides and see the exhibits with a lighter crowd.

How Much and How to Get There: Admission is $16 for adults; $14 for seniors 65 & older; and children under 4 are free! Car and Motorcycle parking is $6 in all lots. The Fair is a one-price gate: Admission includes concerts, exhibits, entertainment, nightly fireworks and 28 free carnival rides. Tickets are available online via the Marin County Fair Facebook page, the Marin County Fair website, or may also purchased in person at the Marin Center Box Office from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm, June 4th – June 29th. Call 415-473-6800 or visit the website for more information.

The fair is located at the Marin County Civic Center Fairgrounds. Thinking about biking in? Bicycle valet parking is available at the Main Gate, 11:00 am – 7:00 pm daily. Fair guests can also ride Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit to stops at the Marin County Civic Center campus.

Insider Tip: Children 12 and under are free, Monday, July 2nd! There will a $2 off discount coupon available in the Marin Independent Journal and at marinij.com for visits on June 30th.

Planning Your Visit: Ice chests, coolers, pets, cans or glass bottles are not permitted but be sure to prepare for the hot and long day by stocking up on water, sunscreen, back-packable snacks, hand-sanitizer and plenty of wipes for those messy treats. Strollers and wagons are okay if running feet need a rest.

What to Do: Since there is just too much to see in one day, figure out what interests the kiddos the most, then narrow it down to a few choices. Need some ideas to start? There will be multitudes of squealing but hopefully no ruffled feathers at the Clover Stornetta Farms petting zoo. Who doesn’t like to watch little piggies race for Oreo Cookies? The Ham Bone Express Pig Races are held daily at 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Your budding Jedi Knight or Storm Trooper will die for with a pic with his/her fave Star Wars character, so head for the Marin Galactic Outpost in the Exhibit Hall from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm daily. The whole family will be able to enjoy the new Grown in Marin Pavilion, offering hands-on activities for the kids and a fantastic poster exhibit featuring the iconic “Clo” the lovable quirky cow from Clover Farms.

For the wee ones, the Puppets and Players Little Theatre is a marvel; this years’ Thumbelina is bound to be a hit with toddlers and tots. Amazing tricks and stunts a little more your daredevil’s style? Well be sure to grab seats for the daily performance of the ShangriLa Acrobats, a whirling dervish of leaps, jumps and thrills! If heading to any of the 28 free carnival rides, be sure to take a trip on the solar powered carousel! The Marin County Fair concert lineup includes Steel PulseLos Lobos, Joan Jett, and The Temptations, musical talent guaranteed to get little toes a tappin’ and little hips a wigglin.’ The nightly fireworks show is spectacular over the Civic Center Lagoon and every night is brighter and more sparkly than the last. Be sure to arrive early and park blankets on the edge of the island; it’s the best place for fireworks!

Insider Tip: Children’s Day is Monday, July 2nd and the best event of the day is the Play Fair 1K Fun Run. Families with children of all ages are invited to join in for a fun-filled afternoon of racing, healthy food options, awards and goodies! This event is free and online registration is available. Registration is limited to the first 300, so sign up early!

What to Eat: With 35 food vendors offering healthy food choices as part of the menu, options are varied, running the gamut from healthy and fresh to greasy goodness. Corn on the cob, classic corn dogs, sandwiches, gyros and baklava to start. How about some Drake’s Bay Oysters – raw and BBQ’d, or vegan and raw dishes from Marin landmark restaurant Lydia’s Organics? Hungry yet? Imagine the smell of Country Cinnamon Rolls, the freshest and most gooey cinnamon rolls on the fair circuit or Organic Lemon Tree, serving fresh-squeezed lemonade; all of it is delicious and perfect for noshing during the fair.

Foodie Alert! Upon entrance, cheeseheads and food lovers will be be able to snag some stellar local treats, including Marin beer from local breweries Marin Brewing Company and Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant. Don’t forget to pick up a “Cheeses of Marin” plate offered by the Agricultural Institute of Marin!

Insider Tip: Best time for food – 1:00 pm each day. Lines develop before for the 5:00 pm performances.

Do you have any tips for taking your kiddos to the Marin County Fair? What should we see and what should we definitely avoid? 

— Gabrielle Cullen

photo courtesy of Marin County Fair via Facebook, and abbybatchelder via flickr