More than 140 years of fun! This is how the San Diego County Fair was born

Learn all about the history of this emblematic event

When San Diegans think about the San Diego County Fair, the first thing they think about is amusement rides, popcorn, corn dogs, fried food, farm animals, competitions, and concerts, all of which are present or take place during this summer celebration every year. It may surprise you to know, however, that the origins of this event are more than 100 years old.

The first historical record of the San Diego County Fair says that it took place on September 22 and September 23, 1880, when a group of San Diegans organized an agricultural fair in National City. The goal of this event was to gather the county's farmers to exchange ideas, compete to see who had the best citric fruits, demonstrate their baking skills, and show who had the fastest horse.

Back then, the winner list was published on the Premium List pamphlet and the main categories were agricultural products, fruits, mechanical products, embroidery and needle work, and fine arts.

After this event's success, the San Diego County Fair was established as a yearly tradition and it took place in several places in the county such as National City and Balboa Park, until it was moved to its current location at Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936.

Starting in 1980, the San Diego County Fair became a yearly tradition as it celebrated its 100th anniversary. During this time period, its themes were all inspired by agriculture and nature until 1998 when, in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary of California, there was a themed exhibition about the state's history.

It should be noted that the Del Mair Fairgrounds and the San Diego County Fair are part of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which was created by the state of California in 1891; they are the ones who organize the fair.

This district is managed by a board of directors with 9 members directly appointed by the governor of California. The board approves the district's policies, the themes, and the dates of this annual fair. To lead and manage the district's operations, the board appoints a managing director.

The San Diego County Fair has a very important role in the community as every year thousands of people gather together here to celebrate traditions that reflect the state's diversity. Visitors are delighted by the unique performances, special events, and artistic and agricultural exhibitions that they find here, all of which creates a special bond between farmers and attendants.

Throughout its history, the fair has been known by four names: San Diego County Fair from 1880 to 1953 and from 2022 to the current day; Southern California Exposition and San Diego County Fair from 1954 to 1969; Southern California Exposition from 1970 to 1982; and the Del Mar Fair from 1983 to 2001.

Since it began in 1880, the San Diego County Fair has only been suspended twice: during World War II and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Themes of previous years

Since the 1990s, the fair has had several different themes with activities and creative costumes based on them. Some of them are:

2023 "Get Out There": Happy campers were invited to explore their environment and disconnect at summer camp.

2022 "Heroes ReUnite!": A superhero theme that filled rides with adrenaline! Guests met local heroes that, perhaps, are even greater than Superman.

2018 "How Sweet It Is!": People enjoyed the true flavors of summer with a variety of sweets, a world full of magic and sugar when compared to the normal world.

2017 "Where the West Is Fun": The Wild West came to life! Giving visitors the chance to learn all about this particular period in American history while taking part in it.


For the 2024 edition of the San Diego County Fair, it is important that you know the following:

The San Diego County Fair will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

It is open from 11 AM to 10 PM every day.

All children will be admitted for free on Fridays.

You can purchase your tickets on the following link:

To learn more information and recommendations regarding the San Diego County Fair, check out the following article: Discover the San Diego County Fair: your definitive guide to enjoy it to the fullest

The 2024 theme of the San Diego County Fair is "Let's Go Retro!”, which means you are invited to a nostalgic trip to the past, celebrating the fashion, music, pop culture, and fun of previous decades between the 1950s and the 1990s.

Remember: the San Diego County Fair will take place from June 12 to July 7 and you can purchase your tickets on its official website:

Learn everything about the San Diego County Fair on their official website and social media pages:

Website in Spanish:
Website in English:
Facebook: @sdfair
Instagram: @sandiegocountyfair

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