The Marin County Fair, it isn’t just about the rides, an Interview with Gabriella Calicchio

"On With The Show" is the theme to this years Marin County Fair and no one knows the in's and out's better then first time director, Gabriella Calicchio. I sat down with Gabriella to find out more about the 74th Marin County Fair, running from July 1-5 at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael. 

What is the most exciting thing to you at this years Fair?

One of the things I find most extraordinary about the Marin County Fair is the number of people that enter the different competitions. We have a huge array of exhibitions including photography and fine art. Last year we had over 13,000 entrants and this year we will surpass that. Our goal is to turn observers into participants and the Marin County Fair embraces that ideology. Most people who come to this fair are not only participating in the event, such as the rides, but they’re also involved in the competitive exhibitions expressing their own creativity.

The two other events I'm really excited about are the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art & Math) initiative and the LEGO Jeep. We are bringing in a group from Los Angeles called The Two Bit Circus and they’re doing what they call a 'STEAM Carnival.' It’s a 7,000 square foot space that is the intersection between a digital and physical playground in our Exhibit Hall. It’s completely interactive and fun for everyone. I’m also really excited about the LEGO Jeep. It’s an ex-US postal army jeep covered in the LEGO green panels and we'll have thousands of LEGO pieces for people to build on it over the course of five days.

What makes this Fair a great family event and how is it different from your typical county fair?

The Fair is so uniquely Marin. What I mean by that is statistically we have more artists per capita in the County of Marin then any other county in California besides Los Angeles.  Amazing artists of every age are exhibited here. Marin is also so steeped in agricultural tradition, we showcase that in the barnyard area and with all of our community partners from the Ag industry. We're continuing to do the amazing environmental work we’re known for. We have the "Greenest Fair on Earth" with a 94% waste diversion rate, solar powered rides and more. 

Plus this fair caters to families. We have a  'Baby Sanctuary' which is a great place to go with little ones when they’re exhausted. You can sit, feed them, there is a diaper changing station stocked with diapers, wipes, snacks, and cold drinks for everyone. It’s really conducive for families to spend the whole day here and it’s safe. Thanks to everyone in our community; the Marin Sheriff’s Department, San Rafael Police, Barbier Security and all the people that guarantee that you can have a ten year old wander around the fair and be safe. I don’t know any other fair like that. 

Are there ways to save on ticket price?

In an effort to encourage advanced ticket purchases, we’ve reduced the online price to $15 (it’s $20 at gate) and if you order your tickets before June 15, we wave the $2 service charge. For seniors and child under 13 the online price is $12 online ($15 at gate). 

What’s new at this years Fair?

New this year is our wine and beer garden (21+ only) to support our new non profit, Marin Cultural Association, which supports the facilities and programming to fill the gap of what the county contributes and what we can raise through ticket sales. Drakes Bay Oysters are back and they will be barbequing Oysters right next to the wine and beer garden.

We have a line up of great headline bands that have not played here before including KANSAS and Aaron Neville. And for first time we are selling up to 300 tickets each day for reserved seats for the bands in the pavilion. People no longer have to sit for four hours to hold their seats for the concerts. That is $50 and includes entrance into the fair. There are still 601 non-reserved seats available. Once the island is full the fire marshall closes access but if you don’t get onto the island we will be projecting the concerts on two screenings in the wine and beer garden and a huge screen in front of the Special Events lawn at the edge of the lagoon. 

And we have Health Ambassadors.

Can you tell me more about this program?

Our Health Ambassadors are a group of people, ages ten and up, who greet fair goers, hand out sunscreen and snacks, and talk about the healthy initiatives at the Fair. We’re the first Fair to ban smoking, we're the first to mandate that every food vendor carry a healthy food option and require the nutritional facts posted on their booth. Most of our wine and beer vendors are local nonprofits, and we have a tough alcohol compliance policy to ensure that our Fair continues to be fun for the whole family. 

With so much happening at one time, do you have any recommendations on anything that should not be missed?

If you haven’t seen the Chinese Circus of Beijing, it’s unbelievable. They're free and perform three times a day in the Auditorium. Don't miss the fine arts exhibition. This is a juried exhibition and showcases the best of Marin and beyond. You don’t have to be a Marin County resident to submit something but it’s a tough jury process. I also really love the pig races, headline bands and fireworks.

There are three complaints I hear about the Fair: traffic, parking and long lines for the bathroom, rides, and food. Can you tell me if these areas are being addressed?

They are and they're huge issues. I wanted to pilot a program this year with shuttle service to address the traffic and parking issues. It became apparent to me that this is a bigger ordeal then I anticipated so it will be piloted next year for the 75th Marin County Fair. There will still be challenges. The traffic gets so bad when everyone wants to leave at the same time that the shuttles will get stuck in that same traffic, but we’re going to give it a try. In an ideal world, everyone is shuttled to the Fair the same way they are shuttled to the Mountain Play and Muir Woods. But that’s going to take time. 

Parking is going to be a problem unless we have more public transportation available. I hope when the SMART train comes in next year that will alleviate much of the parking and traffic. The Bicycle Coalition is staying open until 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights for the bicycle valet. They used to close at 7pm but we heard many requests to extend that so no one should have to chain their bikes to a tree.

In terms of the lines, I’m afraid they’re always going to be there. There may come a day when we decide to add more days to the fair and that may help spread out the crowds but I don’t know if we can completely elevate the lines. If you want to avoid the crowds, come early and maybe leave before the fireworks or plan to stay a little while longer. If you’re want less crowds consider coming Thursday; it's the least busy day. Opening day is crowded because it is a kids free day and a lot of summer camps come. Thursday, the second day of the Fair, is usually a good day because most people are still working and it’s not the holiday. Expect Friday-Sunday to be busy.

After serving as Managing Director of the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley and the Managing Director of the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis and CEO of The Walt Disney Museum in the Presidio, Gabriella Calicchio brings her passion in the arts to her new job as Director of Cultural and Visitor Services, overseeing all programs at Marin Center and the Marin County Fair. The Marin County Fair runs from July 1-5 at the Marin Civic Center. Learn more online at