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Jul 2, 2012 10:55 AM

Looking for food (and parking) tips for the San Diego fair

We're going on July 4, and I'm determined to not make the same food-related mistakes I did last year (I did not enjoy the Gyro I got). Anyone have any tips on which food is best to eat at the fair? I noticed the bbq looked good, and I'm not too into the big turkey legs and nachos I saw others eating. I might settle on a hot dog. Any tips?

I did enjoy the funnel cake, but I think next time I'll get it sans fruit and whipped cream. The toppings are good, but it makes the cake soggy, and I end up searching for only the crispy pieces. Anyone else ever get the funnel cake with just powdered sugar?

Additionally, if anyone can answer my parking question, I'd greatly appreciate it. How much time do you allot for traffic when leaving the fair? I (unfortunately) have to leave early in the evening, and I have no idea how much time to allot for getting us out of the parking lot and onto the I-5, and then whatever traffic could be on the freeway! How long did it take you to get home after leaving the fair at night? I have to leave around 8:00 p.m.

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Edit to add: If you have any experience parking in their 'preferred parking', please share. I'm considering whether to park in regular ($10) or preferred ($15) parking, based on which would get me out of the park faster.

    3 Replies
    1. re: crindy

      As far as food goes, I always get a cream puff (the shells of the large ones are always made fresh) and an artichoke sandwich at Roxy's. I also had a blooming onion, ear of corn and meatballs on a stick (at Pignotti's). I have had the funnel cake in prior years and only get it with powdered sugar, although this year they are also making a red velvet funnel cake which everyone seemed to have. There is a list of the new Fair Foods here:

      Fourth of July is closing day and the most attended day of the run of the Fair (opening day has around 42K people and closing day around 100K). People are going there for the Fireworks and when you say you will be driving home, other parts of the County will all be gearing up for their Firework shows at 9 p.m. (the individual City shows are coordinated to match up with music played on several radio stations at the same time). You don't say where you live, but that route home and possible Fireworks displays along the way will determine the timing of your trip. (I live in Santee, but go to the Fair to be there at the gate opening the three times I went this year and I left the Fairgrounds around 3 p.m. each time. I parked in the Horse Park/free lot, which tacks on about 15 minutes, but being able to get off and then back on the bus right at the front gate and sit before having to drive home is helpful after walking around in the sun for a few miles). This is a list of the free parking areas (which have shuttle buses to and from running all day: ) It is very efficient and I see they allow buses out of the parking lot and let them turn left (when autos can't) and holding up traffic of the regular cars leaving the lot.
      When I do leave around 3 p.m., the parking lot close to the entrance is always full and the dirt lot across the street (which you also pay $10 for) where they are directing the cars to park is pretty full then also.

      Maybe there is someone who leaves before the fireworks on the Fourth who can give you more specifics. I've never gone on that date.

      1. re: Cathy

        Thank you so much for your reply! I was planning on leaving at 8:00, in the hopes that I'll be in Carlsbad by 9:30. I have to be there at 9:30 :-(

        1. re: Cathy

          I also did think about whether taking the bus or the car would take less time. We have used the Mira Costa Cardiff parking/bus, but I assumed that parking there would be faster. I might consider doing that again, but a bus seems to move slower than my car...

      2. When we went, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get in after getting in the "line" on the freeway. Getting out wasn't nearly as bad.

        Regarding parking, we went at 2pm and we were told the Preferred Parking was full, so, if you want to go that route, you need to get there early. We could see there were spots available but there doesn't seem to be anyone patrolling the lot to make that determination.

        I haven't had a funnel cake in years but I've never had it other than just powdered sugar.

        4 Replies
        1. re: phee

          Thank you for your reply! Do you remember how you got into preferred parking? Is there a different entrance for that?

          1. re: crindy

            We never got into preferred parking - we were told it was full and there were signs up indicating it was full. However, when walking into the fair, we saw several open spots in the preferred parking area. As far as getting into preferred parking, just stay toward the right - you'll see the signs.

            We did enjoy the fried artichoke hearts on a stick. Find those in the Plaza de Mexico. Pink's Hot Dogs - good snap, lots of options - if you haven't had one before, give 'em a try.

            1. re: phee

              I see, thanks for clarifying. Wow, artichoke hearts on a stick sound right up my alley. I wonder if they were served with some kind of aoili or sauce? I didn't know Pink's was there! Great tips, thank you!

              1. re: crindy

                There was a sauce in the bottom of the paper holder, but I thought they tasted best all by themselves. Have fun!

        2. Did you see my post on the SD Fair?
          Going on 4th of July from what I hear is horrific on all counts..parking, crowds, long waits..
          I park across from the polo fields and take the bus over for free and its easy peasy and usually no waits.
          You also, might want to park off property if you want to make a somewhat quick escape.
          Leaving around 8pm does not guarantee it will be smooth sailing to Carlsbad..lots of revelers trying to get to their fireworks destination.
          Food wise, the side of zucchini on the corner for $6 for 4 huge battered zuc is delicious and worth the money and you gussy it up with ranch and sirrachi sauce...located on the main drag next to the car display...grilled char corn is good, artichoke hearts, turkey corn dog and happy hour at the paddock bar but the bartenders are surly pricks, so put on your game face.
          Things are very expensive everywhere and for crap food, I would pass on most stuff.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Beach Chick

            Hi Beach Chick! I clicked on your name and found your post about the Tuesday two buck taste thing. Didn't know there were lobster rolls! Artichoke hearts sound great.

            I'm considering taking the bus from my local Mira Costa. I've decided to leave at 7 pm! Thank you for your reply!

            1. re: crindy

              Take the bus from Mira Costa and tell the driver you want off at the back gate They have been letting people off in the back this year. Unless your tickets are at will call then you are stuck. It really is crazy crowded. The food lines are not that bad once you are in the fair. The best deal bar none is the carved sandwiches at surfside race place and you can get splits of chandon there, you gotta be 18 to enter.