You’ve arrived at the California Mid-State Fair with kiddos in tow. You’ve probably memorized your hands-down favorite fair eats or where to nab the cheapest beer, but do you know the best spot to wash your toddler’s sticky hands? Or, where to grab some free drinking water? Well, you’re in luck, my friends, because I have all the 411 for navigating the Mid-State Fair with kids. Read on for our favorite stops, stroller rentals, child-height handwashing station and best place for sippy cup refills. Is it sad that these are the things that excite me these days?

Also exciting is fair officials tell me that for the first time ever, carnival rides are free for everyone (not just kids) on opening day, July 17 with fair admission. Height restrictions still apply, but fairgoers ride free in the main carnival – including the Big Splash water ride – and in Cub Country with no wristbands required. The promotion doesn’t include attractions in the Fun Zone, Rancho Frontier or carnival games. 

Stop #1: Stroller Rentals

Directly adjacent to the main gate, you’ll find Funrider Rentals. It’s a total lifesaver if you didn’t want to haul a stroller onboard the free shuttle. Daily rental costs are: double stroller, $20; wagon, $20; wheelchair: $20; electric wheelchair-type scooter, $50. We’ve rented the stroller before and it was great. I’d love to try a wagon this year.

Stop #2: Buy Forgotten Essentials

From the stroller rentals, head south through Frontier Town toward the south gate. To your left, the Albertsons/Vons General Store is your stop to buy forgotten essentials like sunblock, hair ties, Tylenol and even a little sewing kit.

Stop #3: Rancho Frontier Area, South Gate

Keep heading south to find the entire tot-friendly Rancho Frontier area on the fairgrounds’ southwest side. This is your new homebase with enough stuff to do with animals and rides without all the sensory overload of the rest of the fair. Not only is this area home to the Cub Country kiddie carnival (for children 32” to 38” tall) but it also has pony rides (extra $), the Great American Petting Zoo (extra $), shade] and boasts close proximity to three separate restrooms. The popular Pig Races are also relocating to Rancho Frontier this year.

Why We Love It:

1. Free Drinking Water

Location: The Chill Zone, Frontier Town

Now called The Chill Zone, located where Rancho Frontier meets Frontier Town inside the former Good ‘ol Burgers restaurant, our favorite place ever is an industrial-sized system of ice and spouts for free drinking water. Boasting a new name this year, the area features multiple large blocks of ice, an eight-ton ice cube and something called an “ice campfire.” There will also be a 30-degree enclosed area called the Ice Bar. Fancy.

2. Hand-washing Station for Kids

Location: Under the big white Farm Fresh tent

Are you even a parent if you haven’t struggled to hoist your child up to those plastic foot pump hand-washing stations while simultaneously fighting them from squirting soap everywhere? Head on over to the Farm Fresh Exhibit’s hand-washing station, your new BFF. Think multiple spouts, soap AND paper towels all at kid height. No foot pump required! Make sure to use it after you eat (or before you eat post- petting zoo experience).

3. Speaking of the Farm Fresh tent… Location: Rancho Frontier near South Gate

The Farm Fresh Exhibit is a kid oasis of  much needed tented shade, hands-on activities and animals. Fair officials tell me that it’s returning this year featuring a baby calf-feeding demo and a butter-making exercise. Other years, the tent had a photo-op with a baby chick and a dried corn-filled sensory play area featuring toy trucks and scoops. 

4Easy Logistics 

The area is home to some handy logistical things — ATMS, a quieter pocket of food vendors, a handwashing station at child height, actual seating and THREE choices of bathrooms: my fave in the former Good ‘ol Burger restaurant, another directly across Frontier Lane in the Ponderosa Pavilion and a third option on the east end of the Frontier Stage. 

Elsewhere for kids, the new Camp Rattlesnake in Edna Valley Barn promises to be super cool. Open daily from noon – 9 p.m., kids can see, touch and learn about captive-raised reptiles, amphibians and arthropods in the “Indiana Jones Laboratory.” Science artifacts, nature field stations, hatching snake eggs, nature videos and even an alligator are included in this new exhibit. There’s also a live snake pit! Eek!