If you’re a King of the Hill fan, then you may remember the episode about the renaissance faire. Hank goes to sell the “King” propane, only to find himself – and wife Peggy – cast inside a time-warp dork fest. While there will always be people who think the Ren Faire is dorky or weird, it’s actually a pretty fun and chill time. Not only do the workers/volunteers dress up in period garb, so do many of the paying customers who come to enjoy the fair (my mother and stepfather, among them). While my friend Jim and I did not dress up (because the cost of each piece of clothing is outrageous), we didn’t feel out of place in the slightest.
Renaissance faires are held all over the United States, and I’m sure in many other countries as well. We went to the one in Irwindale, California, at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, about 30 minutes from Los Angeles, give or take for traffic. This Ren faire claims to be “the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire”, and it’s so intricate and gigantic that I think they may be telling the truth. Admission is $29.95 for adults, $15 for children ages 5-12 (4 and under are free), and $28.95 for seniors or military members with I.D. Discounts are available if you pre-order. It costs $10 for general parking, or an extra $20 ($30 total) for “preferred parking”. The general parking is in a large dirt lot and can be a bit of a walk to the entrance, but if you’re able-bodied, don’t splurge for the extra $20. It’s simply not worth it. The fair runs from the first week of April until the third week of May (total of 6 weeks) and is only held on Saturday and Sunday. You can imagine that this means it’s going. to. be. packed. And it was.
The crowds at the Ren Faire rival those at Universal Studios, Disneyland, or any other major theme park. It’s not impossible to walk around, but you’re certainly not going to be able to wander around aimlessly without smashing into someone. Despite being held in April and May, given that it’s southern California – and SoCal is hot all year around – expect it to be hot. There is limited, to no shade throughout the fair, and the shaded parts are swamped by people (but to be fair, the whole place is basically swamped by people).
For those who’ve never been to Renaissance faire, it’s not just people running around pretending to be kings and knights. Well, there’s definitely some of that, but a main component is the booths full of things for sale. The booths are endless at this Ren Faire. People come from all over to sell their goods (usually handmade), and the merchandise ranges from period clothing and accessories, to hats, stained glass windows, jewelry, flower crowns, beads, drawings and other art, swords, furniture, rugs, metal items made the old-fashioned way by a blacksmith and fire, candy and other foods like jam or jelly, children’s toys, and much… much… more. I would say that 80% of the Ren Faire is people trying to push their stuff for semi-ridiculous prices. The other 20% is rides, events (like jousting and aerial acrobatics), games (like archery), shows (like fire eating), and hands-on things like craft classes.
Of course, as is true of everything in a capitalistic society, many of these costs extra (like classes and games). However, the events and shows are free (they do accept, and encourage, tips). We didn’t sit and watch any shows because, well frankly, it was too damn hot. We did glance at them as we were walking by and we saw the fire eater, belly dancers balancing swords on their heads, and singing groups. They perform these shows periodically throughout the day, and at the entrance they hand out a schedule.
Two events we did stop to watch were jousting and aerial acrobatics. I didn’t have high hopes for the jousting because of course it’s fake, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was, as well as how talented the riders were. They did various jousting games, like sticking their pole through a tiny little hoop as they rode past (I apologize, I don’t know the technical term), and “hitting” each other in the chest with their lances (the “jousting”). Of course, this isn’t real, so they must take precautions not to harm one another, so they are only hitting a small wooden plate that is strapped to their chest/shoulder area instead of trying to actually kill each other or knock the other person off his horse. The whole show lasts around 20 to 25 minutes and was surprisingly lighthearted and comical. Afterwards, the “knights” brought their horses over to the fence, so people could pet them, as well as take pictures with them. They were all very nice and I highly recommend watching the jousting show.
The aerial acrobatics show was incredible to witness, and I had never seen one in person before (just on social media). I was beyond impressed by the woman’s upper body strength, because without it, well, it would have been a different kind of show. Shows like hers are completely free to watch, although they like their tips (I know she did).
After that, we headed towards the food court, which is just a very large open area with multiple food vendors and picnic tables. We ended up saying “Screw this” and waited to eat once we left, because the lines were so long. Word to the wise: either bring your lunch, wait to eat when you leave, or be prepared to stand in line for a while. Most people will gladly stand in line because they want “that Ren Faire food”, but I’m not most people. I could care less about a giant turkey leg if it means standing in line for 15-20 minutes in the hot sun. No thankssss.
All-in-all, if you’re ever in an area that is putting on a “renaissance pleasure faire” I’d highly suggest going (if you go to this one, go in April- when the temps are cooler). It’s a fun time, kids go absolutely gaga over it, there are games and rides, a lot of food, and even more shopping. If dressing up tickles your fancy, don’t be ashamed to dress up here! Truthfully, the people who aren’t dressed up stick out more than the people who are. It’s a great place to let your artistic side run wild, buy a bunch of s*ht you don’t need, and just have some ye’ time ole fun.