October 5, 2022

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Throwback videos of the San Diego County Fair, Del Mar Fair

These clips capture memories of the fair from decades past and prove some things have changed, but much remains the same – even the pig races!

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A year without the fair was well – not fair. It looks a little different this year but the San Diego County Fair is back as of last week. For this News 8 Throwback, we’re looking back at the Del Mar Fair through the decades. Animals, rides, music, and lots of food – fair essentials – are all in these stories from the vault.  

These clips capture memories of the fair from decades past and prove some things have changed, but much remains the same – even the pig races!

San Diego County Fair History as told in 1986

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In 1986, News 8’s John Culea explored the then 50-year history of the San Diego County Fair. The first fair was held in October but wet weather pushed it to August in following years and eventually it moved to June and July as it is held now. The fair was known by different names over the years: San Diego County Fair, Southern California Exposition, and the Del Mar Fair. In pictures from the first fair, attendees are seen dressed in their best for the event with many donning hats. Admission was 50 cents in 1936 and John noted it was 10 times that in 1986.  

John’s report also includes the history of a character from the fair – Don Diego – who was portrayed by Tom Hernandez for 17 years. Posing alongside the many beauty queens at the fair, Don Diego was always the dashing caballero.

Animals at the Del Mar Fair 1984

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Just like every year at the Del Mar Fair (now the San Diego County Fair), animals were on display in 1984. News 8’s Dave Cohen spoke with those who hand-raised the livestock about their various creatures. Some were being judged while others were part of exhibitions at the fair. The owner of a young mustang named Santana mentioned he wasn’t used to being out and the horse seemed to agree. 

Del Mar Fair Food 1989

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A day at the fair isn’t complete without indulging in fantastic fair food. News 8’s Unknown Eater went every year and made great suggestions to fair-goers. In 1989, he stopped by County Fair Cinnamon Rolls–the best of the best. Calories? Who’s counting? Monterey Bay Calamari looks delicious. Olibolle was a hit–one woman said “I came here to eat and these are the best things so far.” Eater said they’re basically fried dough with fruit and sugar on top. An ear of corn is always a good and healthy choice. His favorite was Pignotti’s Pasta where the pasta was handmade. 

Last day of the Del Mar Fair 1989

More than a million people attended the fair in 1989 and that was a record according to News 8’s Mitch Duncan. Those who attended the last day on the 4th of July were treated to a Crystal Gayle concert. A band entertained the folks on the midway–setting the mood for the nation’s birthday. 

Larry Himmel at the Del Mar Fair 1990

Larry says every reporter in the city covers the Del Mar Fair, and on this day, he had the lucky assignment. It’s safe to say no reporter did a story like this. In his signature style, he insults a carnival worker, pretends a game hurts him, teases a Hot Dog on a Stick employee, introduces himself to Miss Lakeside and Miss Santee as Mr. Ocean Beach, and proclaims his favorite ride is the Footsie Wootsie. He leaves the midway and enters Bing Crosby Hall where he finds Dave, a middle-aged man contemplating getting his ear pierced–not sure if Larry convinced him–but the next shot is the gun piercing Dave’s ear. Last stop is the photo booth because it’s a fair tradition. A nice family agrees to let Larry join them in the booth…a keepsake indeed.

Swifty Swine Pig Race at Del Mar Fair 2000

News 8 photojournalist Steve Zimbelman caught the excitement of pig racing…a highlight of the Del Mar Fair. Young fair-goers especially loved watching all the hog wild action and shared their pig impressions with News 8. See the swine move swiftly around the track–such a fun sight!!