Donna Wade and her grandsons watched horses trot around the paddock area before the Wine County Racing began Thursday at the Sonoma County Fair.
Together they were checking the names of the horses, like Dashing Jack, and guessing which one might win the opening horse race on the first day of the 83rd annual fair.
“We come every year and enjoy the horse races the most,” said Wade of Santa Rosa. Her grandsons, Declan, 7, and Griffin Slattery, 4, have enjoyed the fair since they were babies, she said.
Thursday was Kids Day, which drew hundreds of families to the fairgrounds to kick off the nearly two-week giant carnival featuring everything from amusements, monster trucks, a rodeo, live music, a livestock auction, an inaugural watermelon obstacle course race and a full menu of food favorites. Organizers expect about 100,000 people to attend the fair before it closes August 11.
Each corner of the fairgrounds reflected this year’s theme of Back to Our Roots in Cowboy Boots, with activities such as panning for gold and mechanical bull rides, as well as beverage stations Honky-Tonk Bar and the Sierra Nevada Speakeasy and Whiskey Bar.
Sitting at a table under an awning in front of the speakeasy was Craig Wiesner, who for 15 years has donated tractors to display at the fair. Wiesner waved to dozens of people as they passed by where he was cooling off and many stopped to shake his hand and chat.
Being part of the longstanding community tradition means a lot to him and makes opening day always special.
“Everyone is so tuned into their phones and social media that these events are what it’s really all about in a community and teaching kids about agriculture,” said Wiesner, general manager of Garton Tractor in Santa Rosa. “Just to be able to come on down, eat a corn dog and sip a cold beer on a hot day is everything.”
Meanwhile, on the midway a group of excited fairgoers munched on funnel cake and other doughy treats, while others spooned chunks of fruit out of a hollowed pineapple topped with a miniature umbrella.
Cadence Ayoubpour, 15, said going to the fair on opening day is a summertime tradition for her friends and family.
“We all get really excited to keep these traditions going because it brings us all together to reconnect, be playful and just have fun,” said Ayoubpour, who lives in San Rafael.
Desry Guenther and her 18-year-old son, Joseph, live in San Francisco and have been attending the fair here in Santa Rosa for over 10 years.
“Going to the fair keeps you in touch with your roots and reminds you of where you come from and what’s most important, which is family,” Joseph Guenther said.
Another popular stop for families was the barn area, where children watched cattle and sheep snack on hay and grass.
“This is so good for the community and for children to be introduced to the animals at a young age,” Wade said.
At the gold mining station, where children were using small metal pans to sift for bits of silver and gold, Rhonda Loop cheered as her grandsons discovered gold.
Loop has attended the fair since she was a child growing up in Santa Rosa. Passing down the fair experience to her 8-year-old grandsons, Dawson Ballard and Lucas Indart, has been a treasured tradition, she said.
“I will always, always come to the Sonoma County Fair because it is part of our town,” Loop said. “I love tradition. It is the most important thing you can have to keep a community together and alive.”
You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or [email protected]