Anderson Valley and Mendocino County Fair

When we last visited Boonville last May, we promised to return for the Boonville Rodeo on September 13 & 14, 2008. It seemed like the perfect weekend: camping at Hendy Woods State Park under the redwood trees, a day at the old-fashioned Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show with the Boonville Rodeo, wine tasting at local boutique wine growers in Anderson Valley and lunch at the Boonville General Store for organic pizzas and killer chocolate shortbread cookies. Mission accomplished!

Our friends Heather and Jason and their children Lily and Gus joined us for the occasion. On Friday night after three hours in highway 101 northbound trafic, we met them at the campsite in the dark. The air was chilly, the neighbors feisty and we couldn’t wait til morning.

After a solid breakfast of pancakes and crepes, we headed to Boonville. I didn’t realize until after we got the program that the day was mostly county fair stuff and the evening mostly rodeo events. Time planning was of the essence.

Between 10am and 3pm, we covered all we wanted from the fair. Our first stop at the local produce hall was a funky introduction to Anderson Valley’s natural bounty.

From blue or red ribbon vegetables displayed in paper plates to apple growers sharing tastings of rare or unusual varieties (such as the juicy Jonathan or the tart and pink Pink Pearl apples), Anderson Valley was well represented.

Some people even made a map of Anderson Valley entirely out of natural materials such as rice, beans and cattled feed. Groovy. As we tasted apples, sheep shearing was taking place in the hall next door and cattle penning in the rodeo arena.

That’s a county fair I like: old-fashioned and slow-paced, authentic and low-key (unlike the loud and noisy Sacramento County Fair we attended two weeks earlier.)

Right behind the produce hall was the Humphreys Barnyard Fun area for children, a place where our four munchkins milked a fake cow, pumped water onto a wooden gutter to drive a rubber duck into a pail, played in a corn box, dug potatoes in a dirt box, made a dirt baby (a sock puppet filled with a dirt and seed mix that’s supposed to grow “hair” in a week when placed atop a jar of water) and attended a magic show by Mother Goose. How’s that for kid-farm entertainment!

Next on our list was lunch in typical unhealthy county fair fashion: “kurly” fries driping with oil, corn dogs or tri-tip sandwiches and for grown-ups, Anderson Valley Brewery beers. See for yourself how it makes grown-ups cheer up.

After a well-deserved break back at Hendy Woods, we returned in the evening for the CCPRA Rodeo Semi Finals. Floodlights and country music, patriotic speech and national anthem, bucking broncos and rodeo queens, that was Americana at its best and we loved it.

Our children, standing right behind the fence, were mesmerized by the way cowboys and cowgirls roped and tied up calves shooting like darts in the arena, whereas us adults gulped as cowboys broke their backs and held on fast to the broncos.

The Diablo Ladies Rodeo Drill Team performed a pleasant (if somewhat long) horse dancing show after which we left because it was getting too late for little people anyway.

The next morning we nicely packed up our tents and went winetasting, a different kind of tourism.

Our first visit was for Husch vineyards where we got some delicious Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Then we crossed the road to Roederer Estate and got a champagne magnum for Christmas.

On our way back to the Bay Area, we stopped at Gowan’s Oak Tree in Philo to stock up on apples, pears and tomatoes. Such a bargain! You don’t find ten-pound cases of pears for $14 in San Francisco.

Our choice for lunch was the Boonville General Store where pizza still tastes as good (chevre, garlic and tomato) but unfortunately they didn’t any chocolate shortbread cookies that day. Yet another reason to return…

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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