It’s Time to Celebrate Your Imagination at Imaginology!
88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
April 15-16, 2023
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s party time again in Southern California, and that means it’s time for Imaginology! This fun-for-everyone celebration is only here for two days, but because Imaginology is a fantastic and kid-friendly day trip inside the Orange County Fairgrounds, it’s definitely worth putting on your calendar.
Imaginology, a celebration of all things creative that’s held every year on the Orange County Fairgrounds, offers a whole bunch of hands-on, family-friendly STEM and STEAM activities for everybody to enjoy and a little bit more.
Curious about Imaginology and the Orange County Fair? We’ve got all the information you need to have a great time.
Pro-Tip: The Imaginology exhibit follows all the latest health and safety guidelines. Check here before you go so you know what to expect.
What Is Imaginology?
If imagination is one of the wonders of childhood, Imaginology is the kind of family-friendly day trip that celebrates it. If you’re looking for something to keep your kids’ attention, this is where you want to go.
The event motto is “Imagination + Play + Experimentation = Learning”, so it’s no surprise that this annual event features STEAM-based competitions, exhibits, entertainment and hands-on activities.
Right inside the gate, grab a card for the Imaginology Scavenger Hunt (look for the Info Booth to get them). The Scavenger Hunt turns a walking tour into an interactive live-action video game as kids go through the grounds looking for exhibitors and collecting stamps. Even teenagers can get in on the fun, since the age range goes up to 18 years old.
Indoor and outdoor activities, performances and exhibitions are scattered throughout the fairgrounds. There’s literally something for everyone here:
- Music and dance (UNSUNG, Foundations Dance Company, LaRocco’s Music, Tupua Kids)
- Livestock competitions and education (Sheep shearing and vaulting)
- Living history (African American Experiences in WWII, Fort Blisters Boot Camp, Hands-On History)
- Animal interactions (cow milking, chick petting, Sky River Butterflies, the Reptile Zoo)
- Farming (OC Beekeepers, Radish Seed Planting, Dig for Roots)
- Interactive activities (Orange Coast Musical Arts, Clay Play, Crafting, Sew Easy, Coloring)
- Interactive play areas like Recess Revolution and Imaginology Hula Hoop
Imaginology is packed with events and performances guaranteed to delight and entertain the whole family… but that’s not all.
During this two-day extravaganza, kids from preschool to high school are encouraged to show off how they can “Power Your Imagination” with their themed contest entries.
Yes, you read that right: there’s a contest! Imaginology isn’t just a top pick for hands-on edutainment for kids of all ages, it’s also a curated STEM and STEAM competition for students in grades PreK through 12th.
Judging Contest Entries at Imaginology
If the age range seems a bit wide, don’t worry: kids in transitional kindergarten and kindergarten are allowed to enter the contest but their projects will earn a participation ribbon.
All other entries (1st through 12th grade) will be judged using the Danish judging system (each entry is judged on an individual basis, so kids aren’t competing against anyone other than themselves.) Grades are divided to make sure the competition is balanced:
- Division 1-00: TK (transitional kindergarten), kindergarten & 1st grade
- Division 1-02: 2nd grade through 5th grade
- Division 1-06: 6th grade through 8th grade
- Division 1-09: 9th grade through 12th grade
- Division 1-10: Any combination of grades
Contestants who’ve won blue ribbons will be able to advance to the Division competition. Kids with projects going up for judging in this level of competition will be judged using the American system, so those entries will be competing against others in their category.
Interested in entering an Imaginology STEM contest this year? Click here to see what to expect, as well as entry forms.
Pro-Tip: Projects don’t have to be picked up immediately after judging. Check the Imaginology website for the end dates to take your contest entries home.
OK, we just said that Imaginology had a contest for kids, but we were wrong…
… There are actually two contests.
The Mural Project allows kids to work solo or with their classmates to create a mural of their choosing. The only requirements are that the project must fit on a 4’ by 8’ horizontal or vertical area, it must contain a STEAM component, and only one mural project per division per school is allowed.
Cardboard Engineering, on the other hand, is the kind of invention you can make with those boxes you’ve been storing in the garage and by raiding the paper towel roll stash you’ve been saving for craft projects.
This is the kind of hands-on activity that kids love, using a material that’s easy to find and easy to work with but very strong when used right (if you’ve ever tried to open a particularly stubborn cereal box, you know what we’re talking about).
Like the Mural Project, this contest is limited to one project per student or group, but there are a few extra things to know. Each Cardboard Engineering entry must be durable enough to be moved, and it has to be able to fit through the door (so if your kids are set on building a life-sized cardboard T-rex, you might want to scale it down a bit).
Great! When is Imaginology this Year?
Imaginology runs from 10am-5pm April 9th through the 10th. Admission is free.
Imaginology and the Orange County Fair
Of course, the unique and educational Imaginology isn’t the only reason to make the drive to the Orange County Fairgrounds to see all the exhibits. The Orange County Fair is there, too, and it’s definitely worth your entertainment dollar.
Fun Fact: You might know that California is America’s leading agricultural state, but how good is your farming know-how? Try taking the agricultural quiz to find out.
And in some cases, that dollar is actually zero. The Orange County Fairgrounds has some fun things that won’t cost you anything more than time.
Open from late March through early May, Centennial Farm is your free family-friendly fun time. They’re open from 1-4PM on weekdays and 10-4PM on weekends (they do observe holidays by closing).
After you finish at Imaginology, Centennial Farm makes a great day trip for you, your little ones, or anyone else you know who’s into farming, gardening, and animal husbandry. It’s an actual three-acre farm right there in the heart of the Fairgrounds, with year-round crops growing in raised beds, farm and garden classes for anyone age 16 and older, and a full complement of farm animals from bees to sheep.
Fun Fact: Love pigs? You can watch a litter of adorable piglets on the official Pig Cam.
What to Eat at Imaginology
There’s a variety of food vendors available to attendees, so don’t worry, you won’t go hungry. Outside food is allowed only under very strict circumstances: check the “What to Bring to Imaginology” section for the guidelines.
If you don’t feel like packing a store-bought lunch, you can still choose from such county fair classics as lemonade, Dippin’ Dots, hot dogs, tacos, bratwurst, hamburgers, cookies, Dole Whip cups, and more. (Don’t worry, everyone sells bottled water.)
Pro-Tip: The bathrooms are located in three places; at the center (in the Play Area and Action Gallery South buildings), one at the north end of the grounds, and one at Heroes Hall. All bathrooms are unisex and handicapped-accessible.
A dedicated changing area for babies is located in the Silo behind the Millennium Barn near the entrance.
Ready to get out there and get your imagination on? Here are some other things you need to know:
How to Get to Imaginology
Easy access via the 55 freeway means that you can find the Imaginology grounds – and the other fair events and activities – at the Orange County Fairgrounds on 88 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa.
Pro-Tip: Imaginology and the Fair are popular! It’s not uncommon for there to be long delays getting off the freeway because of a crowded exit ramp. You might want to try going at an off-peak time unless you’re the patient type.
Admission might be free but parking at the fairgrounds is $10, so plan accordingly.
What to Bring to Imaginology
- Water bottle (if factory sealed. If you have an open water bottle, you’ll be asked to empty it. Don’t worry, you can refill it at the nearest drinking fountain.)
- Outside food is only permitted if it’s stored in a factory-sealed container. Homemade isn’t allowed.
- Service animals (as defined by the ADA)
What NOT to Bring to Imaginology
- No cans or glass bottles
- No hard-sided coolers are allowed
- No folding chairs
- No indecent clothing or clothing that has offensive slogans
- No visible indecent or offensive tattoos
- No pets or other animals of any kind with the exception of
- No outside alcohol (Alcohol may be purchased inside the Fairgrounds)
- No selfie sticks
- No umbrellas
- No photography tripods or professional camera equipment
- No drones or remote-controlled surveillance devices
- The OC Fairgrounds does not permit guns, knives, stun-guns, tasers, mace, pepper spray, tear gas or any other firearms or weapons (concealed weapons permits do not grant exceptions to this rule)
- No narcotics or other illegal substances
- The OC Fairgrounds is a no smoking/no vaping environment
Imaginology is a great introduction to everything from farming to history to engineering and coding and a fun (and free) event. With everything from food to music all on the grounds, Imaginology should definitely be in your weekend plans.
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.