Vegetable Va-Voom: Ventura County Fair

Prized zucchini and stellar pumpkins go on display near the midway.

MIDWAY MAJOR: When we want to describe something as particularly attention-catching, we tend to say it is shiny or blinky or full of lights or full of sound. These are just the sort of descriptive terms that can be easily applied to the midway of any county fair, a spot that's rife with blinking bulbs and calliope soundtracks and shiny rides and glittery signs above the carnival games. It makes sense, then, that the midway is often the place first cited when one talks about the opening of a county fair. And while the Ventura County Fair has a lively and oh-so-traditional clutch of rides and games -- all experiences that are further enhanced by the breezes coming in off the nearby Pacific Ocean -- let us land in another place, to start with, when talking about this sweet fair. A fair, by the by, that just opened for its 12-day run on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

THAT OTHER PLACE... is the competition sector of the fair, the place where growers set out their finest zucchinis and sunflowers and tomatoes and pumpkins. Is there anything that says "autumn's just ahead" quite as forcefully as a shelf full of fine fruits and vegetables, all looking plump and tasty and adorned with winning ribbons? It's a big sign of fall. Other competitions include textiles -- think quilts -- and jams and woodworking and art. It's all good stuff to admire, and a fair staple, so make the time.

ALSO MAKE THE TIME... for concerts -- Huey Lewis and The News'll be playing the Ventura County Fair -- and the racing pigs and the puppet shows and the horse racing and the hypnotist act and the cotton candy and the 19,074 things, give or take, that make up a fair, even a fair that's on the more petite side, as Ventura is (as compared to its longer-running neighbors, Orange County and LA). But its smaller size has many a plus, including the ability to do it all in a day, if you put your mind to it and arrive early. Also, is there another fair in the nation as snug with a magnificent ocean? On charm, location, and those pretty vegetables, Ventura County Fair wins the blue ribbon.

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