Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival

The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival is a Coachella Valley staple—but the pandemic forced it to take an unplanned hiatus. COVID-19 meant no fair at all in 2021, and in 2022, another event, Thrillville, took over the Riverside County Fairgrounds during the usual February time slot.

Finally, it’s back: From Friday, Feb. 17, through Sunday, Feb. 26, experience the 75th Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival. The carnival games, rides, fair food, exhibits, dates and more will all be there, even though the festival is under new management. For more information and tickets, visit

Last July, Pickering Events took over management of the Riverside County Fairgrounds. During a recent phone interview with events manager Chris Pickering, he expressed relief about the County Fair’s return.

“They snuck in under the wire in February (2020) there and were able to have it before everything shut down,” Pickering said, “We’re excited to be back. One of the big ways we’re coming back is by still being presented by Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. They’ve been a longtime presenting sponsor. … That means 10 nights of grandstand entertainment, and the full facilities open, as well as the return of competitive exhibits. You can go online right now and enter to win a blue ribbon at the fair in all of the traditional competitive exhibit categories.”

Pickering said his team wanted to not only bring back the County Fair and Date Fest, but improve on it as well.

“One of the things that we heard is that there need to be more dates at the Date Festival, so we really wanted to deliver on that in a big way,” Pickering said. “We were originally set up as the celebration of the date harvests, so we are requiring each of our food vendors to have at least one date item on their menu. There’ll be a variety of date treats for everyone to try. … If you go to our website right now, we actually have a whole page on date recipes, and right at the top there, it’s got three embedded TikTok videos that have over 2 million views, each on these amazing date treats that you can make at home. My personal favorite is the date Snickers.”

In the past, all of the concerts, monster-truck rallies and dirt-bike events held in the arena were free with admission. This year, however, they will require a separate ticket.

“If you buy in advance, you can buy (arena event tickets) with your gate admission included, and that’s going to be at that same discounted rate at which you would normally get your gate admission online,” said Pickering. “… We’re doing reserved seats, so people won’t have to sit in line for hours waiting to get the very best seat. They can go in and out throughout the day. A lot of our weekend entertainment is actually centered around all-day activities, like a 3 to 9 p.m. show with five different acts performing; that way, people can come in, see a show for a little bit, and go out and experience the rest of the fair without being worried that their seats not going to be there for them.

“One of the things that we heard is that there need to be more dates at the Date Festival, so we really wanted to deliver on that in a big way.” Festival organizer Chris Pickering

“New this year, our box seats in the arena are all going to include VIP lounge access (with) air-conditioned restroom trailers, a private no-host bar, a couple of phone-charging stations, and shaded outdoor lounge furniture seating areas just outside the grandstand. You won’t see the show from there, but since we have these all-day activities, it’s going to be a great area to come and hang out and recover from the day at the fair.”

When I spoke to Pickering, he and his fellow organizers were seeking submissions for the junior exhibits in art, photography and more.

“We have all of those competitive exhibits up and running for accepting entries right now,” Pickering said. “Because we were kind of late in the game getting on board in July and learning the facility and getting these up, there are still some of those last-minute rules and regulations getting published on there, but the entries are all open now. The junior (exhibit) building is going to be full; it’s the largest ‘mom’s refrigerator.’ Every kid’s artwork will be in there.

“We still have the fine art and photography in the Queen’s Gallery. We still have the model railroad, the quilts and the crafts, and hobbies, and all the collections, too—and the gem and minerals and the woodcarving.”

Pickering said they worked to make the County Fair both better and as affordable is possible

“We always want to try to make it more than anyone could do in one day, and that’s why we offer a super-discounted season pass,” Pickering said. “Regular gate admission is $15 at the gate, but if you buy in advance online, there is a season-pass option for $30 that’ll get you in all 10 days of the fair. For our hyperlocal audience … that’s really going to be the option for you to keep coming back and seeing more and more.

“We have a lot of grounds entertainment that is free with your fair admission. Some fan favorites that are coming back are the pirate ship with Capt. Jack Spareribs, the sea lion splash, and a new BMX stunt show on the weekends. On Tuesday and Wednesday, there’s going to actually be a money cornhole tournament. We’re also going to have the all-Alaskan racing pigs, and we’ll have a beer-garden stage, with live music throughout the fair as well.”

Pickering said he anticipates a large turnout—in part because people missed the fair the last two years.

“For those who didn’t come in 2020, they certainly thought they had another chance, and they wish they had come,” he said. “… The fair is sometimes where you see friends you haven’t seen for a while, and we love seeing friends introduce each other to other groups of friends. It really is the gathering place in the center of the community.”

The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival will take place Friday, Feb. 17, through Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Riverside County Fairgrounds, 82503 Highway 111, in Indio. Advance admission is $10, or $15 at the gate; season passes are $30 in advance, and carnival wristbands are $30 in advance. For tickets or more information, call 760-863-8247, or visit

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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